Soaking in His Presence, Ministering to the Poor
Many people have asked us, how do you survive and sustain revival? How do you grow in intimacy with the Lord and stay focused on Jesus when the needs of the poor press in on you each day? Before 1997 I would have answered that question differently.
We felt like quitting because the pressures of ministry were so great.
I began preaching when I was sixteen years old and have always known that I was called to the poor. When I met Rolland in 1978, our first conversation was about missions. His parents and grandparents had been missionaries. Since our marriage in 1980 we have served in Indonesia, the streets of London and in Hong Kong for four years with Jackie Pullinger. Through a lot of hard work, we helped plant three churches and the first Bible school in China.
While we were still in Hong Kong, we read about the war in Mozambique in an article in Time Magazine. When I heard about the poor there, I said to Rolland, “Let’s go there.” When we finally arrived in January of ’95 it was to an orphanage where children had been left to themselves. They were behaving like animals, defecating on the floors. We had never seen such filth. After a few months of working with them, the children became Christians, but we were growing very tired of our missionary life after eighteen years of hard work. We were then overseeing two churches and 300 children, but we felt like quitting because the pressures of ministry were so great.
IMMOBILIZED IN TORONTO
So in 1996 Rolland and I, desperately hungry for God, went to Toronto. The church that had furnished the largest portion of our support threatened to remove it if we went there, but we felt the Lord saying that we had to go. In Toronto, the Lord broke us, healed us and filled us. For the first time in my Christian life, I felt loved and accepted by Father God for who I was and not for what I did. I had been preaching since I was born again as a teenager, and being a type A, driven person, the concept of resting and soaking in God was not at all appealing to me. I thought committed, Spirit-filled Christians always worked hard for the King and His Kingdom. I spent ten years in formal theological training, earning a Ph.D. in systematic theology at King’s College, University of London. I thought the more committed I was to Jesus, the faster I would go and that only less committed Christians rested and took days off.
He soothed away all the years of exhaustion as I rested close to His heart.
During one week at TACF everything changed. John Arnott was preaching about the weight of the glory and the anointing. Suddenly I felt heavy and ended up stuck to the floor in the morning service, unable to move. It was as if I was being cradled in the loving arms of the Father. He soothed away all the years of exhaustion as I rested close to His heart. I could hear His voice clearly, and felt affirmed in His intense love and acceptance of me. After midnight Betty, the security guard, announced that it was time for everyone to go home. I was worried at this point because I could not even lift my little finger.
The Lord began teaching me life changing lessons that night. He told me I could do nothing in my own strength and nothing without the Body of Christ. He told me that He would send an anointed servant to help me, and that she was just as anointed as any person who stood behind the pulpit. Betty Richards, who was a security guard for the conference, came by and sweetly asked me how I was doing. I told her I could not move, and she lovingly had me carried out of the building. We have been wonderful friends ever since.
God allowed me to be helpless so I could learn sheer dependence on Him.
Rolland helped me back into the church the next morning. Again I was stuck to the floor all morning and evening. This went on for seven days! I learned more about the Lord, His nature and His priorities in those seven days than in ten years of academic theology. Ephesians 6 came alive to me. I did not have any desire to eat that week. I needed help to even get a drink of water or go to the hotel. I used to try to control things. Now I realized it was all about dying to self and being filled with the Holy Spirit. This could only happen as I soaked in His presence, and that takes time.
You can’t work your way into a revival. You can’t strive or plan your way into church growth. There is no way to force God’s hand. It is as we lay down our life that we find it. I believe that God allowed me to be helpless so I could learn sheer dependence on Him. When we strive to do things in our wisdom and strength, we may accomplish something, but we always fall short of God’s plans.
In Richard Foster’s book on prayer he describes the prayer of relinquishment. Although he does not use the term soaking, I believe he means the same thing. He explains that at first our will is in a struggle with God’s will; we demand, we pout, we beg. We want instant solutions and we pray manipulative prayers. As we learn to soak in God’s presence, we enter into a grace-filled place where we release our own will and flow into the will of the Father. I believe that it is in soaking prayer that we move from striving and manipulating to releasing our lives and ministries into the arms of the Father.
Soaking is embracing the easy yoke. Jesus says in Matthew 11:29-30, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
As I lie down, I find that His burden is light and find my soul’s rest even in the intensity of a revival. There is an almost universal belief, as Dallas Willard puts it, in “the immense difficulty of being a real Christian.” G.K. Chesterson expresses it this way: “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.” It is, however, a different thing to find rest in Christ Jesus. In soaking prayer we meet grace and are fully conformed to the Father’s will.
THE REAL FRUIT OF SOAKING
As our ministry began to grow, I found the need for soaking prayer increasing daily. Our house and office are connected. The demands of the children, community, churches, staff and pastors are never ending. After twenty years of full-time missionary service, I am learning to say “no” to the crowds and “yes” to the voice of my Father beckoning me to come away with Him and rest in the presence of Jesus. Daily I retreat to my room at different times throughout my busy schedule to soak in His presence. I worship, wait and listen for His voice. As He speaks to my heart and gives rest to my soul, I find the wisdom I need to continue in the ministry before me. I often wait in silence and simply am myself before God. Soaking in His presence gives me His rich fullness. It is the place where I rest in the loving arms of God and find His acceptance and my peace in Him.
Rolland and I teach the children in our orphanage to soak in God’s presence, too. We ask them to lie down and wait for Jesus. There have been several meetings where the divine presence of the Lord has come and no one could stand. The children began to see visions. One little girl saw a big, white cross in the prayer hut. Another little boy saw a lake of fire, and then he saw Jesus take him by the hand, and they leapt over the fire and stood on the other side. Children who were once severely abused often see God lifting them up to sit on His lap.
Since the Lord touched us in Toronto and we learned to soak in His presence, Iris Ministries went from four churches in 1997 to 620 churches in Mozambique, over 100 churches in Malawi, and 63 churches in South Africa by January of 2001. We are caring for over 1,000 abandoned and orphaned children. There are approximately 1,200 full-time pastors in our ministry. We now run medical clinics, schools, a Bible College, eight farms, countrywide food distribution, and host 2,000-plus visitors per year. This renewal has helped us learn that abiding in Jesus is the secret of real fruitfulness.