Before I allow myself to get overly rational or lose the element of newness and awe, I have to document, in black and white, one of the most colorful things that has possibly ever happened to me in my life.
Just this past weekend, I went with a group of women from my church to our yearly retreat. (I say that like I am a veteran or a pro, even though this was only my second year.) Like a lot of the women who went (I think) I went to the retreat full of bottled up emotion and stress, hoping that in one fell swoop God would rain down love and relief and wash away all my worries, and that I would emerge from the Silverdale Beach Hotel a newly cleansed, refreshed woman of God, all because I paid my $60.00, endured the back seat of a 15 passenger van and made the effort to attend in the first place.
The speaker had wonderful energy. Us women had wonderful fellowship. We laughed, we cried, we stayed up late sharing stories and ate Domino's pizza much too late at night. But at the end of the final session, one of the women stated my feelings exactly… "I was hoping to get more out of this." That stirred something within me that God knew I had been keeping bottled up. But I had been hoping He would just clean it up without me having to spill anything.
I have spent almost four years now as an effectively saved prodigal daughter. I basically grew up in the Assembly of God church, walked away and returned to God after I started having children and realized how much I needed Him to help me in this! Of course, I had known it all along, but I had big plans of fixing myself up real pretty and then returning to church with fireworks and a bang… then I would change in one altar call and become a powerful woman of God. It was like I was hoping God had a "Miracle Gro on Crack" formula that would grow me into a strong, perfect Christian almost immediately with little to no effort on my part.
All along I have been resisting God's call to humble myself and totally give into His perfect plan. I wanted to be saved but secretly follow my own plans. Fire insurance in a room full of candles. (Maybe not the best analogy, but anyway.) I'm not really a "sinner" anyway, at least not according to the world. In fact, I am a goody two shoes. I don't smoke. I only drink a glass of wine after dinner on occasion. I don't swear. I go to church. I am a darn good Christian. But not a powerful witness, not someone completely given over to God, definitely not the woman I know He wants me to be.
I kept thinking if I sit around long enough and just do good things, God will come and get me when He needs me. But that's not how God works. The prodigal son's father waited patiently. And although there weren't milk cartons at that time, he didn't put up posters or hire detectives or go out looking for him. The son always knew he could return, but he was the one who had to walk the long road home. When he got there and the father knew he was truly returning, only then did he run to him! God has been patiently waiting for me. Not to be saved, because I know I am saved, but God has been waiting for me to take the next step in growing more in Him. I have known all along He wasn't going to run all the way to me.
God began to really convict me at the retreat. He firmly reinforced His point. I KNEW that the only way God would truly move and use me is if I would let go of my pride and start stepping out in faith. Stepping out of my pew and up to the altar. Stepping out of my comfort zone and into the line of fire. All my churchgoing life, I have resisted the altar calls, the "raise your hand if…'s". I compare my problems on the scale and decide they aren't really that big. Kind of like my sins. Well, I'm not THAT bad, so I don't NEED the altar call…. Over and over. Okay, fine, I have gone up a couple times, but I haven't ever completely lost it. I have kept up any barriers and walls that would preserve my dignity, my façade. If only they knew! I emerge from my house with my hair pulled back because I don't have time to brush it, let alone curl it and people think I purposely pulled it back? My blogs about how dirty my house is are really true… I am a horrendous housekeeper. How can people think I have it together? Why do I even bother pretending? So, I could go on and on about this, but the heart of this paragraph is that God sent many messages my way letting me know that I really did care too much about what people think, despite my constant denial of that fact. Why else would I refuse to put myself out there at the altar in front of everyone? He has been weighing heavily on my heart that I have to be the one to make the steps forward.
Our speaker talked about pride being the deadliest of the seven deadly sins (From a quote, not from the Bible! God doesn't rate or prioritize sin.). She talked about how Jesus accepts the smallest of gifts (bread and fish) even though he doesn't need them in the first place. The important part is that we need to be willing to give. Once He is given a gift, He blesses it, breaks it and shares it. The speaker pointed out that Jesus did this when He fed the 5,000 and He did this at the Last Supper. Her point was that when we fully give ourselves to God, He will bless us and then break us. Not because He wants to, but because He knows we have to be broken before we can be shared. I am scared to be broken. I was able to talk to some amazing women of God this weekend who God has allowed to be broken and they are happier and closer to God than ever before. God allowed me to hear from them to further reinforce what He has been trying to convince me of all along.
So back to our discussion at the end of the conference... As a group of us stood around, I took a step forward and shared that I knew it was my fault that the conference wasn't as good for me as it should have been. I was the one who held myself back. God had shown me in so many ways that He was ready, if only I would be the one to take the first steps forward. I never responded to an altar call. I cried, but I didn't bawl. I remained in my seat. I never shared any of my prayer requests. I never spoke when I felt led during prayer time. I kept it in hoping that God would deal with me privately and hoping I could grow in the dark without having to step completely in the light where my faults and fears and shortcomings would be seen. I hate taking risks. All of my retirement is in the low risk, low yield section. I rarely speak in large groups, and I would never do something crazy like skydive or ride a ferris wheel. You just never know. Stepping out in God means you risk criticism. Going up for prayer means people will know something is going on, and then they might gossip about it, or worse, ask you how they can help! And I always want to help myself!
I felt an urgency about that, like I HAD to take the chance. I also had the small feeling that God planned for me to step up in front of my whole congregation, not in a "safe" place like the conference, where it's just a bunch of women being overly emotional anyway, and if I had to, I could attribute it to that.
So Sunday morning, today, February 17, 2008, I had considered how things would happen. I almost had myself thinking that maybe I could get away with not going forward this Sunday, maybe I could spend the week reading more in my Bible and praying… maybe then by the next Sunday I would be ready for going forward. Fat chance. The Sunday school lesson was "Jesus Feeds the 5,000." The kids ate crackers and cut out pieces of bread and fish. I laughed inwardly at the irony. I love the way that God uses EVERYTHING!
The sermon was about stepping out in faith and doing what God wants us to do (Blondin and the wheelbarrow). Pastor covered everything. If God used flashing neon signs, there would have been a giant pink arrow right over the top of my head. Pastor challenged us to step out and step forward in God. He talked about how God will give us chance after chance, but eventually, if we keep resisting God's call, our hearts will slowly become hardened to His will.
Then there was a word in tongues, both that and the interpretation were from women who had gone to the conference. God said that He wanted us to trust in Him, now is the time, He wants us to come to Him. He loves us. He wants us to have His plans for us, if only we will give ourselves to Him. Oh, man. He knew what it was I needed to hear, and He just kept hammering it in. Jesus is the ultimate carpenter.
That's not the end. I had already resisted the first call for prayer. Can you even believe me?! I just stood there, rooted in my spot. So at the end of the service, Pastor Jim asked for all those who were ready to take the next step, to get in the wheelbarrow so to speak (tightrope walker story… Google it), to come forward for prayer. I KNEW I HAD to get my butt out of the pew and go. Only one amazing woman knew when I went forward that I had admitted I always held myself back. I thank God that she came and stood beside me. So there I was. I gave in, I walked up. I even held up my hands and prayed out loud. Wow, I can imagine God chuckling at me, so thankful that He could stop hammering and start moving. And HE moved!!! Like a mighty rushing wind, like a joyful summer rain. I stood there laughing in relief, laughing in the Spirit!! This is where it gets "woo woo" as a dear friend and colleague would say.
The Assemblies of God are Pentecostal Evangelical, meaning they believe in the gift of "tongues". Speaking in Heavenly languages not understood by man, but through the Holy Spirit. Yet God still makes the meaning known. If one person in a congregation speaks in tongues, there must be an interpretation. The Book of Acts is a great book to read if you want to know about tongues. But if you're not used to it, a person speaking in tongues will freak you out, or even turn you off to the idea of it at all. I still remember my jaw dropping when I heard tongues spoken for the first time.
But the Bible is not meant to be treated like a buffet. We can't pick and choose what we believe and what we don't. If you believe one verse, you have to believe it all. And the Bible is clear that tongues are real and they happen. So, in a church where many people have the gift of tongues, I had agonized (inwardly, of course) over whether or not God wasn't allowing me to speak in tongues because I hadn't been "re-baptized" after returning to God and the church. I also became cynical of those who constantly spoke in tongues. I began to think, 'Oh, not AGAIN! Why do they ALWAYS speak?' Ooooo, I am so frustrating! I even went so far as to challenge God one service to prove to me that it wasn't just a hoax or one person working the attention. And He did! He moved someone totally new to speak in tongues and He didn't give just one, He gave THREE interpretations! A total of four people who rarely spoke out, spoke that day. I knew that day the Holy Spirit was for real, because the Bible is clear in many places that three witnesses (or three times... think Peter) sealed a deal. I should have run up to the altar bawling and begging forgiveness, yet I sat back and wedged my butt tighter into the pew. Forgive me Lord. Still, I just wrote it all off as speaking in tongues was not my gift. I decided I wasn't the "type" to speak in tongues. God reinforced to me through many people this weekend that he doesn't work in a box. He doesn't categorize or put limits on anything or anyone. Silly, stubborn me. And who am I to determine which gifts God will give me anyway?
So – long story short. God allowed me to speak in tongues today, in between my prayers and tears, I felt my tongue tingling. I felt the muscles in my mouth moving in a way I hadn't felt before. And this will tell you what a stubborn, resistant fool I am, I started to rationalize that it couldn't be that… I was just overly emotional. At that moment, Pastor Jim spoke to receive what God had for us. He said the Bible says that the gift of tongues is for everyone! Holy cow, God knows me well. (He should, He made me!). I began to laugh, almost uncontrollably! God just wanted me to step forward! All this time that I have been resisting, I could have had this experience months ago! God baptized me in His Holy Spirit today. A day I will never forget. And I know some will think I'm woo woo. I don't care. Because a couple of months ago, I would have had a hard time defending the whole concept of speaking in tongues. It's not Miracle Gro on Crack, but God did work a miracle in me today. I am humbled and ecstatic about it.
God has begun illustrating the black and white box I put myself in. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. I was the one weighing myself down. He is the author and the illustrator, and I am ready to allow Him to begin a new chapter in my life!