I was an evangelical intellectual. My Christian formation after making Jesus my Lord at the age of 28 was through the influence of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, an intellectual lot in the best sense of the word. I had no interest in, or understanding of, the Holy Spirit, beyond that He was the spooky part of the Trinity.
The local IV leadership had recognized a nascent teaching gift in me and had taken a chance on a very rough diamond – very rough. Today I doubt I would take a chance on me as I was then. They had already used me to teach kids at summer camps and now they were ready to loose me upon college students. They must have been very hard up for a speaker.
The retreat took place at a very beautiful place in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. The weekend went well, without surprises, until Sunday morning. After breakfast, I returned to my room to prepare myself to teach. I was quietly giving thanks to the Lord and asking Him to speak through me when I was overcome by His goodness. That is the only way I can describe it. I felt His love so powerfully that I just had to weep. This was at 9:00 am.
It felt so good I just went with it. I cried for 30 minutes then I thought, “Church starts in 30 minutes, I need to stop this now and pull myself together.” I began to “control myself”, but then I had this thought, “Wait a minute. This is God doing this to me. Do I have the right to stop this?” In tears, I wrestled with this question for a few minutes and then decided, “Lord, I don’t know what you are doing, but I am certain it is You so go ahead as long as You want.” So, on I wept.
At 9:45 am I checked my watch and went through the same issue; do I “control myself” and shut this down or do I let it go? I again chose to let it go and on it went. At 9:55 am my friend opened my door to tell me it was time for church. He saw the mess I was in and I saw genuine shock on his face. He said, “What’s going on, church starts in 5 minutes and you have to speak, what’s wrong? Are you going to be able to speak?”
To be completely honest, I was not sure I could get up and teach. I pulled myself together and said to God, “I don’t know what You want from me. I know I am supposed to teach, but I also know this is real and this is You. I am going to go down and try to teach, but whatever You want to do, I will do. If You want me to get up in front of those kids and cry I will do that.”
I survived the worship without breaking down. I was barely holding it together when I got up to speak. The message began without incident. About a third of the way through the message, I hit the part about how much God loves us, and I began to speak about His all-powerful, overwhelming love. I started to cry, but I kept teaching as best I could through the tears. Soon several of the kids started to cry. Soon the whole room was crying. It was not what I had any intention of causing. It just happened. We cried for about half an hour and then it stopped. No one moved. We just sat in silence. I had never experienced anything like that. I had no words to describe it, but I knew it was God.
That afternoon I returned to the city and my band was scheduled to play a concert for a Christian charity. After the show, a girl I did not recognize came up to me and said, “I was there when it happened!” I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you are talking about.” She said, “This morning at the retreat, when you spoke, I was there when it happened, and it was the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced! What was it?” I said, “I don’t know, but it was God.” She said, “I know.”
I have never forgotten the way she described that experience as “it.” Neither of us had the words to describe what we experienced, but we both knew it was God. It was not until years later that I understood that it was the Holy Spirit that we were “in.”
That experience was the beginning of what many call the “anointing” of the spiritual gift of teaching. Tears are now a part of my life. Although it doesn’t happen every time I speak, it happens more often than Mark the ex-lawyer and intellectual would like. Fortunately, Mark the Christian lets it happen and never tries to stop it. I think that is because he fears that if he had “gotten control of himself” that Sunday morning at the retreat, that experience would likely not have happened, and he and they would have missed what for him was a life-changing encounter with God.”
Questions for discussion: Let’s talk about this…
- What is your explanation for what happened to Mark that Sunday morning?
- What would your normal reaction be to being overcome like that? Do you think you would have “gotten yourself back under control”? Why or why not?
- Have you ever had an experience of being out of control with something you believed might be God? What did you do?
- What is our biggest risk in opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit?
- What is our risk/ loss if we don’t?
- What questions does this story raise for you in your life with God?