My wife and I are visiting a couple we dearly love but only get to see occasionally. The men are in one room; the women in another. I am listening as my friend speaks of some ideas that have been of paramount importance to him in his conduct of pastoral ministry. I find myself marveling at his wisdom and spiritual depth. Suddenly, almost impulsively, I say to him, "Do you think it's possible that God is laying the tracks for you to become a bishop some day? You'd be a great pastor to pastors."
He gasps and calls out to his wife in the other room. "You have to hear what Gordon just said." The women join us, and he asks me to repeat myself, which I do. Now, both friends seem incredulous, and he finally asks. "How could you know that in the past two weeks I have been asked to stand for election to a bishopric? We haven't shared this with anyone."
What follows is a long discussion that assists our two friends in clarifying those issues that are facing them in this potentially life-altering opportunity.* * *
I am leading a board meeting in which I have the privilege of being the chairman. As one person after another speaks in favor of a motion, I find myself observing one board member who sits in silence. When all the extroverts at the table have exhausted their noisy thinking, I turn to the silent board member and say, "Would I be correct if I said that something bothers you about this discussion?"
She seems embarrassed by my question, but after a pause says, "I wasn't going to say anything. But since you asked, I'll take that as an indication that I should say that I have a strong check in my spirit about this matter despite the fact that I seem to be alone in my opinion."
For the next minutes she makes her point, and when she finishes, one board member after another thanks her for her comments. Some admit that they have been trying to talk themselves into approving something that they now see is a bad decision.
A board of directors is saved from making bad policy.
It is Saturday night, and I am struggling to finish my preparation for a sermon. All the material is on the desk before me, but I find I cannot assemble it into a sensible presentation for the congregation the next morning. Too tired to think cogently any longer, I head for bed breathing a nervous prayer that I might be able to get up early and finish the job. As I drift into sleep, I continue to toss sermon thoughts around in my mind.
When I awaken at five, I am suddenly aware that, overnight, a fresh way of organizing my sermon has come to me. The sermon is now in a new format, even accompanied by a "closer" of a story that I hadn't thought of the night before but which will perfectly fit the point I was hoping to make.
A congregation is saved from a mediocre sermon.* * *
All three of these stories speak to something we all know about but probably take for granted: the power of intuition. How do you describe this mysterious part of the human being other than to say there is something deep within us, below the trap door of our conscious minds, that is regularly at work receiving and sending signals, mixing and remixing ideas, and sending up discernments that inform, warn, revise, or energize our course of action.
In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell takes on the challenge of describing this intuitive side of life and speaks of "the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that spontaneously arise whenever we meet a new person or confront a complex situation or have to make a decision under conditions of stress."