Finding the Glory
I was so close to quitting the ministry that I actually had done so in my mind several times in the past couple of years. But God wouldn’t allow it.
I had decided to take a sabbatical. God said, “No.” I could hardly take any more. I was living the truth, as far as I could understand it, but it was all words and no power; all truth, but no vital relationship with God. I prayed and pleaded with God for more, for a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him. It didn’t come.
My wife, Marcia, was in the same place I was in spiritually. There had to be more to pastoral ministry, more to the Christian life than what we knew. We just didn’t know what to do about it. I felt like a guy lost in the desert, stumbling along, hoping I’d find water before I died of thirst.
This period of dryness lasted at least two years. That’s a long time to wander around in a spiritual desert. I was diagnosed as clinically depressed and put on an antidepressant. The medication helped depression, but also helped me see more clearly what I was depressed about: I felt stuck in a calling I couldn’t fulfill on my own, and God’s help never seemed to come. Oh, we prayed. We searched scripture. We read good books. We talked to people, asking for their support and insight. Still, we remained dry and weary in the parched desert of our spiritual lives. Where was the glory?
In September 2003, Marcia same back from visiting some friends who gave her a copy of The River Is Here, by Melinda Fish. She said emphatically, “We need to go to Toronto.”
Exercising my family headship, I laid down my objections and said, “Okay.” After all, what did I have to lose? She obviously wanted to go. She was looking for something she hoped to find there. I didn’t expect to find anything there, but I thought, you never know. Maybe, if things got really weird, we’d just get a few days alone in a hotel together. That didn’t sound bad either.
DRAGGING MYSELF TO TORONTO
So in January 2004, Marcia and I went to Toronto for the annual leadership conference at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF). I hadn’t heard much about TACF, but what I had heard made me very suspicious. Hadn’t they been kicked out of the Vineyard movement? Wasn’t this the laughing church, where people were falling over and into all sorts of weird behavior, calling it the Holy Spirit? I had already dismissed it as mass hysteria, or wishful thinking, or the unending pursuit of the bizarre, masquerading as spirituality.
On the plane from Seattle to Toronto, I read The River Is Here. I was impressed with what I read. But what really struck me was how much I identified with what Melinda and Bill Fish had gone through prior to their first trip to Toronto. They were dry, depressed, thinking of quitting the ministry, wondering whether their dryness was all there was to being a Christian. That’s where I was! In fact, I had become so desperate to leave my dryness behind that I hardly dared hope in anything, though I couldn’t help but hope anyway.
I’ll admit that I was very skeptical about what we’d find at TACF.
Why should we have to go there? Couldn’t God do His mighty work in north western Washington, too? I wanted to find something real there, but it didn’t make much sense to me. I didn’t think they had anything, but if they did and if it was God, I wanted it. I needed it. I was ready for it.
In the first two days, we went to everything we could. As a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, which is a conservative, Calvinistic denomination, my antennae were up for theological errors and psychological manipulation. I didn’t see any (at least not from the speakers or worship leaders). Oh, we saw our share of strange behavior. I still wonder whether some of those present were what I call “spiritual tourists.” What struck me most, however, wasn’t the strange behavior, but the hunger for God that was present in almost everyone there.
We prayed, asked for prayer, had others pray over us, stood in every prayer line, but despite wanting it, we didn’t find what we were looking for. While I was becoming convinced that people were really meeting the living God there, we weren’t - at least not in the way we needed to meet Him. There was no way we were going to settle for pretending that we had gotten it, or letting others talk us into thinking we had gotten something that we didn’t get. We weren’t going to settle for anything less than a Divine encounter.
The second night in the hotel became a turning point for both of us. Marcia wept that she hadn’t met God yet in that personal, intimate way that she needed to. Although I didn’t cry, I was also frustrated and hurt. I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t face going back into a ministry that had me gasping for spiritual breath. I just couldn’t do it anymore. This wasn’t an ultimatum, just an honest assessment of where I was.
The Sunday before we left, I had preached on the New Commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34). I realized as I prepared the message that the most significant source of our love for each other is our experience of Christ’s love for us. I knew it was true, but I also knew that I had little experience of Christ’s love. I had bumped my head against the ceiling of my spiritual growth. Merely knowing the truth had brought me as far as it could. I needed to experience it because experiential faith is what the Bible is talking about!
I needed an experience of God.
We agreed on a few things that night. First, we couldn’t buy the blessing like Simon Magus wanted to do (Acts 8:18-19) with good deeds, sincerity, or even desperation. If it’s a gift from God, He’ll give it in His time and in His way. Second, we had to be truly ready to say “whatever” to God, “Whatever You want, Lord. Be it spectacular and wild, or gentle and soft, or anything else.” This has become our “Whatever Prayer.” Third, we have to recognize how important it is for us to be like little children toward our heavenly Father. After all, we are!
We knew we needed to be authentically humble, to receive whatever He would give. Then we prayed. We humbly laid it all out before the Lord: our desperation, our need, and our willingness to receive whatever from Him. Somehow we eventually went to sleep.
The worship time was sweet the next morning, and we went to our first workshop on “Soaking Prayer”. It was a very helpful workshop. It ended with John Arnott praying with everyone there to receive an impartation of the Holy Spirit. We were ready to humbly accept whatever God wanted to give us. To our surprise and delight, both of us ended up on the floor, overcome by the presence of God.
I was overwhelmed with His presence in a way, and to a depth that I had never known. My whole body was buzzing, or humming with His presence. But that wasn’t what I was focusing on. God came to me! I don’t remember any images, or words, but I remember meeting God and thinking, It’s true! God does want to be with me!
Experiencing God was overwhelming and overwhelmingly good. When the Divine encounter ebbed, my body hardly wanted to move. I had to concentrate, and lean on Marcia to walk back to the main building! I wasn’t laughing, groaning, jerking, or crying. My body just “hummed” for a while. I was in awe.
God came to meet with me!
Marcia had an experience of God at the same time, though not quite as intense. However, she was to be next. It seemed that God was having us take turns. Marcia would pray for me while I was down, then I would pray for her while she was down. She had a more obvious physical manifestation of God’s presence: a jerking in her arm, which later included her torso as well. This was intense and physically tiring for her, but she enjoyed it! Still, she wasn’t sure she wanted it to stop!
Later that day, it was my turn to be on the floor again. This time I saw an image of blocks inside my heart. God was removing them one by one. There was a particularly large block that I was surprised to see called pride.
At about that time, some friends we had met there, Roy and Yvonne Browne came over. Roy put three fingers on my belly. That’s when I saw how absurd my pride was. Was I so self-conscious and proud that I would refuse to laugh? How silly! I laughed out loud at my silly pride. It’s still funny.
During the rest of the conference as we began to reconnect with people we had met, they noticed the difference in us immediately. One of them said that when they first met us, our eyes were dead, but now they had come alive!
Others just looked at us, smiled and said, “Ooo! You got blasted, didn’t you!” We smiled and nodded. We knew exactly what they meant.
When we got back home, we didn’t know what to expect from our church, Alger Community Covenant Reformed Church. I wasn’t sure what to expect from other pastors in my denomination. Yet, that didn’t seem as important as being honest about what had happened to us. We shared honestly and openly and to our surprise everyone seemed almost as happy as we were. My pastor friends had questions, but they too were genuinely happy for us.
Thanks to about an hour per day of soaking in God’s presence, the fire is still alive in us! The church here is still moving toward a revival breakthrough, and we are patiently waiting for God’s timing. People are watching us to see if this experience will fade, as so many mountain top experiences do.
It’s not fading! Each Sunday seems to bring us a step closer to that breakthrough we’re praying for. Tears and a sense of wonder are beginning to fill our entire service each week! This past Sunday, in a time of prayer ministry following the service, God miraculously healed one of our members of a painful case of shingles! As far as I know, nothing like that has ever happened in our congregation before! Praise God!
Now I can hardly wait for Sundays! Ministry is a joy. I’ve taken a whole different kind of sabbatical: I’ve stopped doing my things, and now just do God’s things in His way (1 Peter 4:11). And we’re staying where God wants us: way out here in little old Alger.
The River of God’s presence and glory is flowing where once there was only desert. And it’s getting deeper!