I just returned Tues. eve from a last-minute retreat getaway and I thought writing a reflection on my trip would make a good start to this blog site. I had planned to make my first blog post on something much less “heavy” (!) or even so personal in nature, but the renewal I experienced during this trip is reason enough to jump right in. I am also aware that I’m writing here on things that may be strange and unfamiliar to some. Feel free to send me a note or ask for more info. I hope this simple little report provokes some of you to greater spiritual hunger, and maybe even inspires faith and openness if you have never experienced the kinds of things that I am writing about. The fact that I’m writing about some rather profound things in such short form gives me some discomfort, but I’d rather just be conversational here instead of heavily analytical.
I had originally planned to attend a group retreat at the nearby Abbey of the Genesee last weekend, which also happened to be my 40th birthday (2/16), but it needed to be cancelled. I still wanted to do something meaningful for the big 4-0, and I found out about a series of revival meetings in Baltimore, MD beginning on the same weekend and with a Christian ministry that I am familiar with. Something just sparked in my heart and mind. I’ve been growing increasingly hungry lately for a fresh encounter with God – not as some kind of quick fix, but in the biblical sense of encounter; to be filled with the Holy Spirit fresh and new, like I read about in the New Testament and like I have experienced at certain times in my life of faith.
What drew me was that these meetings in Baltimore were being led by a ministry that profoundly impacted my life in my early 20s – better to say that my life was transformed, so much so that what happened to me in those meetings when I was in my 20s was a turning point in my life. Too long of a story for this blog post but it’s worth saying that I learned what it means to feel and know the immediate presence of God in a very real way. The name of the ministry is Revival Ministries International, with Dr. Rodney Howard Browne. He is a pastor in Tampa, FL, and a world-traveling evangelist that is widely recognized as one of the greatest revivalists of our time due to the way that the effect of his ministry (and many others like him) has introduced millions of people around the world to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. I knew that attending meetings he leads means one will be confronted with sights and sounds not usually heard in church or Christian meetings – and that are themselves the subject of much controversy. This blog post is in no way an analysis of his ministry, but I can at least say that I do not feel it is necessary to agree with everything a minister says or does in order to be able to value the investment his/her ministry can make in people’s lives. I don’t agree with everything I’ve said or done in ministry! What mattered to me is that I’ve been feeling a need for spiritual renewal recently, and I believed that this would be a good place for it because I know the reputation of this ministry.
I was able to stay for four of the services, two on Sunday and two on Monday. From the very first service Sunday morning I could feel a tangible, explosive joy in the air of that place. This congregation was supercharged with joy and faith in the Lord, and you could tell they really loved each other. As the congregation sang I felt waves of joy and peace flooding my spirit and I openly wept. I don’t know exactly why, but when I am powerfully touched by God’s presence, even when it makes me unspeakably happy – I weep. As the personal prayer ministry time began later on in the service, many people were being dramatically effected – with shouts of joy and laughter, others openly weeping like myself, and plenty of others quietly reflecting as they took it all in. Some were physically shaken as they experienced renewal in the presence of the Lord. Other people were confessing sin and turning back to God. Broken hearts were being healed up. Some were being set free of deep spiritual problems. This same kind of thing continued in each of the services I attended. I felt like a sponge getting soaking wet with fresh joy and faith in the Lord. It’s probably important to mention that I value the non-dramatic moments as well. Altogether I spent hours quietly enjoying the prayerful environment of that place. But it was during the last meeting I attended on Monday evening, and then my waking moments Tues. morning in my hotel, when I received the greatest gifts of the whole trip. I’ll finish by sharing briefly on those two moments.
Late into the Mon. evening gathering the speaker was praying for a whole family, all of them standing about 10 ft. away from me. Suddenly an invisible wave of power swept over me – the only way to describe it is that it’s like electricity suddenly passing over you. The speaker, sensing that this had just happened to me and the group around me, turned to us and said, “The anointing of the Holy Spirit just came upon about 8 of you. Please stand and come here for prayer.” Again, I began weeping with joy as I realized that my quiet hunger for God was being met with a fresh touch of the Spirit’s power. When I was thinking about all of this later in the evening I remembered a moment recorded in the Bible when people were supernaturally healed by God’s power that was working through Paul, so much so that even cloth and clothing that touched Paul had power to heal! Sounds crazy still, even after reading that Scripture so many times (Acts 19:11-12, in the Bible). As strange as it sounds, I believe that it was my nearness to the prayer ministry going on that “swept” me into the activity of the Holy Spirit in that moment.
Some question the legitimacy or soundness of these things. That’s fine, I have no intention of trying to work all that out here. What I know is that I woke up Tues morning, and before I even moved in my bed, I felt the nearness of the presence of the Lord, and just the thought of spending time with Jesus and living my life for him that day warmed me all over. I felt a renewed love for God, and for people, and a fresh desire to live as a follower of Jesus. To me, this is proof enough of the goodness and value of all these things.