How the River Changed My Life.
Experiencing the reality of His love, which leads to discovering how to live before the Father with child - like faith and expectancy.
It was early June 1994, the third night in a row I had ventured to a meeting in a little known former industrial unit somewhere in the suburbs of Toronto. I had ‘assumed the position’: eyes closed hands held out expectantly awaiting prayer, when I heard a voice ask:
“Can I pray for you?”
I turned around, and at first, saw no one, but then realized that I had almost poked the eye put of a sweet little old lady from the ministry team. My heart sank, as I realized that. Secretly, I wanted a leader to pray for me! I smiled at the lady whilst inwardly seeking to repent of such a wicked sentiment. She explained to me that she had not prayed for anyone before this ‘blessing’ had been poured out just over four months previously.
(This did nothing for my unworthy feelings, but I continued to smile.) She went on to say, “But you’re a pastor.”
I was flabberghasted. How did she know? Was there a holy glowing around me?
She went on to explain, "You see, they're hardest to pray for."
I had seldom fallen over when prayed for in the past (despite being hit so hard by enthusiastic prayers that I almost sustained a concussion), but those words had the effect of draining all my strength away, and I hit the floor like a ton of bricks.
As I lay there, I was aware of someone close by laughing like a quiet version of Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s Laughing Policeman.
Then the embarrassing reality hit me, it was me who was laughing! And laugh I did for almost an hour; an hour filled with a sense of well-being with God and an awareness of the intimacy of His love.
That hour changed my life. I had been brought up in a Pentecostal Church and had some knowledge of the thing I was seeing from testimonies of the past, but the reality of personal experience was even better.
I saw much evidence of the Father’s Heart, with people establishing a genuine love affair with Him. As evangelicals, we were very much in love with Jesus, and as Pentecostals, we enjoyed an experience of the Holy Spirit. Now the Father became much more real in our experience.
On my return to City Church, St Albans, England that first Sunday morning almost everyone in the congregation was swept up in a wave of the presence of God, and there were piles of formerly sober English saints collapsed in heaps of unrestrained joy in the Lord. We were still carrying people out to their cars at two o’clock in the afternoon. We’d always struggled to start meetings on time, now finishing them was impossible!
The explosion of God’s presence amongst us was like a second Pentecost. It thrilled the church, causing us to fall in love with Jesus all over again, and propelled us out into the world in a procession of mission.
In that first year of the River flowing, our church launched five teams out into short-term missions and planted another church. Out of a congregation then of only 200 people, nearly 100 (including teenagers) went to other nations at their own cost to preach the Gospel and strengthen the church. That pattern has been repeated almost every year since, and I have seen world missions birthed in our church.
I am no longer worried about keeping meetings ‘tidy’.
My understanding of ‘everything done decently and in order’ has changed radically. I now think that a meeting that is ‘out of order’ is one that has broken down and doesn’t accomplish what it was designed to do.
The River’s arrival also signalled an equipping and releasing of the Body of Christ into effective ministry. Gone forever are the days when one person does all the prayer ministry at the end of a meeting, rather in our churches there are large ministry teams of devoted followers of Jesus who love bringing the Father’s presence and healing release to perfect strangers and old friends alike.
Perhaps the most enduring changes have all been internal, and I have found myself falling in love with Jesus over and over again in a deeper and deeper way that is better than I ever thought possible. People who know me best say that it has had a positive effect on me and that I am a nicer person as a result! I have a deeper hunger for His presence now than ever, even though I know I have more of His presence with me now than ever. It is as if he puts hungry pills in the food He gives us and salt in our drink. I just hunger and thirst after Him more than ever.
I have always been blessed with a healthy picture of God the Father, but the River has shown me more of His fun-loving side. Who would ever have thought that the Father would throw parties in church or that you can get ‘drunk’ by walking through a ‘fire tunnel’? I have even seen a few ‘elder brothers’ turn up to the party and get ‘blasted!’
Healings happen in the River.
Many people have testified to miraculous touches, not only physically but emotionally and relational healing, too. In effect the River is looking for any opportunity to break out and change deserts into fruitful land. I have learned that the River follows the path of least resistance, and I am constantly seeking to yield to Him.
As the barriers between us and the Father have tumbled, so have the sense of intimacy with Him and the joy of soaking in His presence and being saturated or marinated in the Holy Spirit increased both in accessibility and potency.
Perhaps one of the best things the River has brought is a whole wave of new friends who are passionate about taking this love of the Father to the ends of the earth and enjoying the experience.
I’ve got a feeling there’s a bit of white water rafting just around the corner of this river ... I can’t wait!