When the Fire Came
In 1993, I found myself sinking quickly into a deep depression. I had rarely ever been depressed before, but this time I felt like my world was shrinking.
My neck ached. Stress made me feel much older than I was. God seemed to be calling my family and me away from the church I had founded and given nineteen years of my life to, and we knew that this separation was God’s doing. Leaving the pastorate had caused us to drift into the uncharted waters of financial struggle. Church conflict had severed us from long-term relationships, and we had no idea what was coming next. After six months of itinerant ministry that yielded little fruit, I wondered if spiritual death would be the only outcome of these difficult circumstances.
Early in 1994, a new wind began to blow. God lit a fire in Toronto and the winds carried the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to Anaheim, CA. As I was attending a service at the Anaheim Vineyard, I noticed a group of young people who were receiving prayer. The church was sending them out on a mission trip, and the power of the Holy Spirit fell on them causing them to experience unusually strong outward manifestations.
The next week that same Vineyard was holding its annual conference. So Lou Engle, my precious brother in the Lord, and I registered, having no idea that we were flying close to the flames of what would become a new revival. As the meetings commenced, we saw with our own eyes the Holy Spirit falling on people, producing laughter, shaking and other loud cries and noises. Although we were part of the Vineyard movement, we had never before seen this level of power.
I was cynical about what was occurring. I had heard and read of the “holy laughter” that people claimed to experience at Rodney Howard Brown meetings, but that was foreign to me. I figured the whole phenomenon was either mass hysteria or the power of suggestion and certainly not the Holy Spirit of God. And I was wrong.
On the first day of the conference, waves of Holy Spirit laughter swept through the auditorium. You could sense the waves of power rolling toward each section. Excitedly, Lou Engle poked me and yelled, “It’s coming towards us!” I remember saying, “Well, I’m not going to laugh.”
But when the winds of the Holy Spirit hit our section, I could feel myself coming under the influence of a holy inebriation. I laughed for 20 minutes and discovered that I could not stop laughing! Everything seemed funny to me—even though no one was saying or doing anything funny! I gazed at the shiny head of the bald man seated in front of me, and suddenly, it seemed inexplicably funny. I came from a conservative Korean Baptist background and was certainly not given to demonstrating physical contact with strangers. Nevertheless, I began unashamedly massaging his head and laughing all the more. He didn’t care; he was laughing hard, too!
The experience that afternoon invigorated every part of my being, and I didn’t notice until later that my depression was gone! The curious fruit of this experience was immediate. I was excited about ministry again! More importantly, I was in love with Jesus again! I felt His presence, and I knew something incredible had happened in my life; but that was only a precursor.
MY FIRST TRIP TO TORONTO
In early October of 1994, I took my first trip to Toronto. Lou Engle and I had been “champing at the bit” to go since the beginning of the year. We knew that Toronto was becoming the new “Azusa Street” for this wave of the Holy Spirit, and we wanted to experience what God was doing there. Although multiple thousands had already flocked to Toronto, Lou and I were so consumed with starting a new church in Pasadena that we had not yet been able to make our pilgrimage there. We arrived in Toronto to a sense of excitement as thousands more also flew in to attend their first of what would become the annual Catch the Fire Conference.
My first meeting in Toronto was not at all what I expected, but it yielded far more eternal fruit than I could have imagined. John Arnott was speaking that night, and afterwards he invited people to come forward to receive personal ministry. I almost ran to the altar. Having been so powerfully touched by the tangible presence of God in Anaheim and knowing about the joy and manifestations that had been spreading from Toronto, my only goal was to get “blasted” by the Holy Spirit. I wanted all the “manifestations” and more. I was so revived in January from the one dose at the Anaheim conference that my hopes were to return to our new church plant overloaded with “more.”
When a member of the ministry team came up to me and began to pray, I felt a gentle presence of the Holy Spirit and went down on the carpet of the hotel meeting room. I could hear my friends who were in line next to me laughing as they hit the floor one after another. Frankly, I was envious. I wanted the laughter, but I felt almost nothing.
As I lay there, I asked the Lord to show me what He wanted me to receive that night.
Immediately, God began to show me bitterness in my heart toward a particular brother in the Lord. The Holy Spirit’s conviction hit me so hard that I began to weep at the sinfulness of my heart. While my friends were engulfed in laughter and joy, I lay there sobbing.
That night God began to show me that instead of confronting deep hurts, I had been denying that they even existed. Because the hurts were real, as I suppressed them they had developed into the “bitter roots” spoken of in Hebrews 12:15.
Having the loving presence of the Holy Spirit ministering healing to me that night, I could now face the pain that was too deep to acknowledge in everyday circumstances. Though it would be difficult to walk it through to a resolution, there was now a Presence leading me by grace that I had never before experienced.
In the months ahead, God enabled me to resolve the bitterness directly with that brother, ask forgiveness for my wrongs and to see our relationship restored. As I lay on the floor in Toronto that night, the Lord showed me my heart. He laid a foundation for a deeper work in my life that began at the very same time.
While I was still lying on the floor repenting of my offense with that brother, God revealed to me deep wounds of rejection that I carried from my relationship with my father. I had not been the “ideal kid,” but rather rebellious and quite a handful. Everyone else saw my dad as kind, generous and hard working. But to me he had seemed to be absent and often physically abusive. I needed to receive a deep heart healing toward my dad, and I knew that I had hurt and disappointed him, too.
There in God’s presence, in His secure loving arms, I was able to see clearly and accept what I might never have been able to confront on my own. God opened the door only months later for that healing to come when my father came to California on a family trip. At that time, God truly fulfilled His word in Malachi 3. He “Restored the hearts of the fathers toward the children, and the children toward the father.” Today my father and I enjoy a completely different relationship.
That healing launched a snowball effect that changed nearly everything in my life. I began to feel clean and secure. My newly found sense of worth changed my marriage. It gave me openness and ability to have intimacy with God and with my wife and my family. I now have ease in my relationships with others and a new love and strength for those to whom I minister.
THE POWER OF GOD’S PRESENCE
If you ask me whether or not what God is doing in Toronto changed my life, I don’t hesitate to answer. One minute in the presence of a loving God did more for me than I could have received in twenty years on a therapist’s couch. It has certainly done more for me than all the time I wasted seeking peace in false religions before I came to Christ. God restored me more in that one encounter than I was able to experience in decades of church services. He is in the business of restoring us and making us “every whit whole.” This is what He intends in renewal.
When God reveals Himself in a deeply intimate and personal way as He has been doing in Toronto, the power of it accomplishes more than anything or anyone else can. He enabled me to see myself the way He sees me, with grace and truth. The hits of life can mold our perceptions, but in His light we can see ourselves and others as He sees us. Here, lovingly present before the Lord, we let Him operate.
What may look like wild laughter to one may actually be the supernatural anaesthetic for God’s intimate surgery to the person receiving healing from abuse and rejection. Sometimes we are watching fear and despair literally being “shaken” out of someone when an individual seems to us to react too violently to God’s presence.
I noticed that in God’s presence it was easy to be transparent.
Whereas under normal circumstances it is possible to resist the need for repentance, in His presence I found it easy to let go. I have noticed that I have been able to trust God more fully since those unparalleled moments of experiencing Him.
I have actually become dependent on His kind and loving initiative toward me. In His presence, I saw that I was vulnerable and weak and that my wholeness is not now nor ever was dependent upon myself but entirely upon Him. Time in the King’s presence ends self-dependence and self-promotion. There we receive humility only God can impart when we see Him as He is. We remain humbled when He kindly but realistically shows us who we are through His eyes.
I recommend continual exposure to the presence of God, which we have come to call the “Toronto Blessing.” While soaking in God’s presence, I receive “direct downloads” from heaven – be it revelation, visions of heavenly things, or encouragement and exhortation for others and the body at large. I call it “basking under an open heaven.” From this personal, ongoing encounter with our Father I have received the divine enabling to go and bring Jesus to all the world.
His love propels us onward now, not guilt.
God has brought priceless changes to the body of Christ through what He has been doing in Toronto. This renewal of mind, body and Spirit is the gift of God. We are meant to live in renewal so that we might have the grace to continually love the King and to fulfill our destinies. That is why I believe God’s hand is still on Toronto so mightily and the seedlings its wind has spread. These “seedlings” are now trees of renewal all over the world in which every creature may find refuge, healing and release. Lord, may you keep receiving all the glory!