A Pastor Keeps the Fire Lit
It was a Sunday night that I will never forget, the last meeting of a weekend celebrating the seventh anniversary of the Holy Spirit’s renewal breaking out at our church. The sanctuary was packed, God’s presence was tangible and ministry time was powerful. John Arnott was visiting and praying with those standing on the prayer lines. A new Christian who had just had her first experience with the power of God was resting on the floor nearby. Another had just been instantly healed of chronic pain induced by a failed operation. God was again showing His power to hungry hearts. I looked up and asked “Lord how could You have been so faithful to keep on visiting us for seven years?”
I am amazed at the resiliency of the renewal that began in Toronto in 1994.
Having been privileged to be the Senior Pastor of one of the churches to be touched early by the Toronto Blessing, I have been repeatedly asked, “Has it lasted?” People also want to know, “What’s happening now?” We can honestly answer that question by saying that God has continued to demonstrate His power while growing us through continuous seasons of renewal. Our church has grown four fold. Our home-grown pastoral staff has increased from two to seven. Many have been saved, healed, delivered and raised up into ministry and missions. We now have a street ministry, a prison ministry and a ministry to single parents. Our debts are down and our faith is up. However it wasn’t always this way.
Back in January 1994, the ministry was way too hard. Our church didn’t have enough money or volunteers to meet the needs of our own few members. How would we ever reach the world around us for God? I had reached an impasse. Driven by unseen fears, I had become a “control freak” in the name of serving God. My ministry, my marriage and my personal walk with God were all suffering as a result of my unrecognized need for emotional healing. Finally, I submitted to Christian counseling and began to see how much my own problems were affecting everyone around me.
Coincidentally during the same month, the renewal began at what is now Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, which was only a 45- minute drive from our church. Soon some of our folks began to give glowing reports of meetings in this warehouse- style church near the airport. I was suspicious. Like a “wise” shepherd, I warned them all of chasing after the blessing of the Holy Spirit. I knew some of the people at “the Airport church” because I had grown up nearby. I felt the way Nathaniel did when he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth; “Can anything good come from there?”
Everyone present knew that God had graced us with a powerfully rare visitation.
Finally at the urging of my wife, I visited a pastors’ luncheon at Toronto’s old building in May 1994 taking a friend along for moral support. At the meeting, a soft-spoken Baptist pastor named Steve Long asked us to sit in a circle of chairs. Immediately a few in the circle laid hands on me and began to pray quietly. The absence of noise greatly offended my Pentecostal traditions. This was not what I imagined revival to look like. However, I decided to receive their prayers with an open and hungry heart. About forty-five minutes later I peeled myself off the floor. Nothing spectacular had happened, but I did feel a deep peace. What I did not realize was that I had “caught the fire” of God which would be caught by many others for whom I prayed.
That evening, suddenly and unexpectedly, the Holy Spirit “fell” on twelve of us who were trying to plan a church picnic. Then on Pentecost Sunday it swept through our children’s church. The following week it landed fully upon us on an unforgettable Sunday night where the Spirit moved through the sanctuary unabated for three hours. People, cried, laughed, shook, fell, received tongues, and saw visions. Hearts were healed and lives set on fire. Everyone present knew that God had graced us with a powerfully rare visitation.
Now I was the one people were accusing of chasing after the blessing. I did not care what people thought of my new lifestyle. I was hungry to receive everything God had for me and so for awhile; weekly visits to the pastors’ meetings in Toronto were vital for me.
Fruit That Lasts
As we entered the summer of 1994, one question dominated my mind: How long would this move of God last? As a Pentecostal I had heard so many stories of revivals coming and going, I wondered if this one would be any different. Then the Lord spoke directly to me in prayer one morning revealing that this time His purpose was more than just a brief time of refreshing. As I read the scriptures, the Spirit showed me that the intention of this renewal was to break bondage that had existed for generations in order to bring lasting change. I decided right then that I would do everything I could to cultivate His abiding presence.
We began to hold Friday night renewal meetings.
In the fall we held our first week of meetings ever. Somehow despite regular budget shortfalls, we scraped together the few hundred dollars we required. The meetings attracted many people including other pastors. The presence of God was so strong that we still talk about it. Our people wanted more. In addition to Sunday morning and evening services we began to hold Friday night renewal meetings.
As result people came from all over the region. Over the next two years God constantly showed up at our meetings. The offerings increased dramatically. A friend was instantly healed of an ulcer. A missionary couple near burn-out received the needed healing to return to their country. A lady bound in New Age practices came to a meeting, went down under the power of God and came up believing in Jesus. A person who had spent a great deal of their adult life in psychiatric wards was born again and delivered from suicidal thoughts. Regular churchgoers received visions, dreams and emotional healing. A lady who had attempted suicide was saved, filled with the Holy Spirit and physically healed. (All of these people are still actively serving God today.) Our church became more missions minded. We began to send people out on mission trips. We were able to bring refreshing to various places including missionaries in China. God also began to call us to minister to other churches and pastors.
Intercession in the hearts of so many began to birth a revival of prayer. Also what I call “baby prophets” began to appear from among us. We had to learn as we went how to guide people without quenching the Spirit. As we struggled to interpret what God was saying and keep with what He was doing, the conferences and teaching from the TACF were a big help. Through them we were introduced to a whole new array of trustworthy, seasoned men and women of God who served as our guides. If it had not been for the boldness, passion and humility of the leadership at TACF, I doubt whether we would have been able to weather the first few years of the Holy Spirit’s visitation.
Visitation Becomes Habitation
Although we discontinued our Friday night meetings, we still determined to turn God’s visitation into a habitation. We began to develop weekend workshops for emotional healing and deliverance, which we have continued to this day.
We didn’t want a pond, we wanted a river, so we adopted the attitude of walking in God’s love and giving it away. We determined that we would make every attempt to bless other churches and ministries, giving away the anointing He so freely bestows on us.
I pray that our hunger for Him eclipses all other desires.
We also committed ourselves to prayer. We have early-morning prayer meetings, evening intercession meetings, pre-service prayer meetings and prayer during our services. Twice we have been led to engage in corporate forty-day periods of prayer with fasting and both times we have experienced miraculous healings including an instant healing of long-term cancer.
I believe that the Holy Spirit will stay with us for the same reasons He came to us: hunger and humility. For years I was determined to bring revival to my church by my own efforts in prayer. But prayer and fasting must lead us down the path of hunger and humility.
Only when God broke and humbled me did I risk going to the place where God had already brought fire. I immediately received a personal revival that transferred to my church. Now I see that it is the hunger and humility that cause our souls to be “combustible” when brought close to the fire of God. I pray that our hunger for Him eclipses all other desires and that we stay humble enough to go anywhere and do anything to experience Him!