“David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel – I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.'” 2 Samuel 6:21-23

In the spring of 1997 I was in Benin, West Africa, on one of the Mercy Ships to teach in a Discipleship Training School. It was the first night and I couldn’t sleep because of jet lag, so I decided to watch a movie: Dead Poets Society.

Earlier that evening I had taught the first session and it had gone well. Afterwards, I was informed that I was to speak later in the week to the whole ship, which was an honor. But this night would be extra special, I was told, because Don Stephens, the head over all Mercy Ships, was going to be there.

I liked being on the ship and I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. I wanted people to like me and think well of me, especially someone as important as Don Stephens. I had planned a message on the Holy Spirit for the next session and was going to pray for an impartation over each student, but now I decided against it. The message was fine, but the impartation time could be dangerous.

The church I had left in November of 1996 was messed up by manifestations of the Holy Spirit during impartation times. People were “slain” in the Spirit, and experienced such dramatic healings and deliverances that other people became afraid and angry.

I was accused of all kinds of things, including being an instrument of the devil. Church, in my accusers’ minds, was supposed to be an orderly affair where no one got too excited or emotional. God is a God of order, they argued, and these types of manifestations were clearly out of order. Never mind that there was a fresh love for God and a new freedom to worship in those who were touched during those times. But no worries, I was confident there wouldn’t be any of that confusion on the Mercy Ship, because I was only going to teach and refrain from prayer for impartation.

Dead Poets Society is about an unorthodox professor, John Keats, who comes to an extremely traditional university. His approach was so filled with enthusiasm that students who only endured learning in the past came alive under the influence of his teaching and began meeting outside of class to recite poetry to one another. The administration didn’t know what to do with the disruptions he was causing, so they found a way to get rid of him.

A student who was emotionally unstable committed suicide. Because he was part of the group excited about poetry, the administration decided to put the blame on Keats. All the other students in the society were threatened with expulsion if they didn’t sign a document saying that it was his fault the student had died. They all signed.

In the last scene, Professor Keats comes back to his classroom to retrieve something, but the class is in progress with the new (old-school) professor in place. Those who had signed to save themselves are in pain because of their betrayal and want to communicate their love and appreciation for all Keats did for them. But they are afraid. Finally, one of them stands on top of his desk with eyes watering and declares, “Captain, my captain.”

The new professor begins making disciplinary threats, but to no avail. Students all over the room begin standing on their desks to honor their “Captain.” He smiles and says, “Thank you, men.” Their stand has clearly brought a healing to his heart.

As I watched this final scene I perceived the Holy Spirit’s presence. I saw clearly how I had planned on betraying Him to protect myself. Would I be ashamed of the only One who can give life, all so that people I would never see again would like me more? Did I think He brought me halfway around the world to give a little teaching? It became clear to me that the only reason I was there was to impart what He wanted to release into them. To hold back because of the fear of man would be a betrayal of the worst kind.

I don’t know that I’ve ever wept so hard and felt so much pain inside. I purposed in my heart that night that I would never be ashamed of the Holy Spirit, no matter how He chooses to move. I will gladly be “undignified” if it means being part of His glorious ministry that sets captives free.

All I can say about the next day and the rest of that week is that all heaven broke loose.

Tom Flaherty is Lead Pastor of City Church in Madison, WI.

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