My wife and I were worshipping at Bible Temple in Portland, Oregon. It was 1996 and the Toronto Blessing, as it was called, had gone viral. Churches, with Pentecostal leanings, all over the world, were being energized by the Holy Spirit in ways most evangelicals would never believe. However, the great evangelical radio talking heads had caught wind of some abuses and condemned the whole thing as demonic. Well of course it was demonic – people were laughing in church!
I had experienced enough and read sufficiently in the New Testament to know stranger things than laughter had happened among believers. Hanegraaff and McArthur could handcuff God to their interpretations of the written word if they wanted but I was recalling chapters 2 in the books of both Joel and Acts.
We had made the trip with our pastor and his wife as a reconaissance mission, asking ourselves, “Should we accommodate this phenomena in our local church?” I personally was quite open to a little laughter. In fact, given the gravity of life in our local church, I was 110% open to anything light-hearted. I was ready to laugh. Bring it on!
This church was huge! They even had a balcony and overflow rooms. There were several hundred people in attendance. Many had come to receive whatever God had for them. We were on the third row. The time of worship was unlike anything I had known. I felt safe. I poured my heart out to God in songs that reflected my hunger to know Him intimately. While I was awaiting the acclaimed laughter something else began churning within me. As I worshipped, it was as though a valve was being opened in my heart. It was apparently a water valve.
For reasons I still cannot explain, I began to weep. Something powerful was rumbling in the depths of my being. The trickle soon became a torrent and I became something of a spectacle. I wasn’t having sad thoughts or necessarily happy ones. The joy of the Lord was supposed to be my strength but my knees had just buckled. I was coming unglued… publicly.
The church quarterback had to call an audible and somehow accommodate myself and a few others who were being affected. The play? An alter call. Not unlike a Billy Graham invitation, the announcer asked if the two people now holding me up, might please haul me to the alter. I’m sure the coach was hoping God could do something for me because he and the staff had not seen anything quite like this.
For a good 10 minutes I wept (loudly) as worship music played just above my head. I was conscious of no one. I made no attempt to stop the flow. As far as I knew, this was the peace that surpasses all understanding – on steroids! A few men gathered around me. Given the volume of tears, I’m sure they had high expectation, “This fellow must have surely cheated on his wife then murdered the neighborhood!” I may have disappointed them because I had zero conviction of any specific sins nor did I feel the weight of my sinful nature.
You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8)
While I still weep upon occasion, I haven’t flooded anybody out in a while. What drawer does a person file something like this in? The 1996 Anxiety Attack? The Portland Mental Breakdown? “The Oregon Trail’s End? I actually have filed this away in my “Mystery” file with a few footnotes.
David had his wanderings and so do we. Our wanderings are not just from one geographical point to the next. They are from helplessness to strength and back again. They are from one job to another, from one relationship to another. They may be from obscurity to honor or from riches to rags. Our wanderings, from dust to dust, are myriad. While our mental notes are sketchy, our hearts miss nothing. All the joys and sorrows of our wanderings are recorded. Our hearts remember and so does the Holy Spirit.
And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:27)
The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. (Proverbs 20:5)
My Portland takeaways were; 1) The Holy Spirit is unpredictable. 2) There is a lot going on within us that we don’t see or understand. 3) Depression is un-cried tears. 4) I can’t spend my life chasing God. I must find Him where I live.
My community has heard me drone on about the inner life – this place where our hearts and the Spirit live together in an intimate and mysterious relationship. They have heard me espouse stillness and contemplation. They have heard my recommendations of the Blue Book and scriptural meditation. Why do I keep circling back on these ideas? Because they have proven to be meaningful pathways of honoring the unseen realities that govern life.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)
While, being with God, may sound plain vanilla it is within that idea, I make space for God. More accurately, it is the space He has made for me, in Christ – God’s mystery. This space is not limited by geographic location nor is it constrained by time.
For in Christ we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)
We can partake of God’s presence in each moment of our lives if we don’t tie His hands, demanding laughter or goosebumps, or expository preaching, radio prophets or a good worship team. It is in the simplicity of my heart, while presuming upon His, that I have been able to best celebrate the limitless heights and depths of who God is and the particulars of what He is saying. MwM has been my experience of dipping into the well and drawing up something that is hopefully alive for myself and those whom I love.
While I hope it has been a refreshment – even more than that, I pray it has been an example for some. We must all taste and see that the Lord is good. He is much closer than we realize.
Father, pour out Your Spirit on all people so that Your sons and daughters may prophesy, so that Your old men will dream dreams and Your young men see visions. Teach us the mystery of encountering You in the hear and now, in body, soul and spirit. Let it be.