Jesus, a Failed Revolutionary

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

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Many who followed Jesus hoped for a revolutionary, a leader who might liberate Israel from its imperial oppressor. Christ could have been the answer.

But he died.

And I wonder, if Jesus wanted an insurrection, then why did he die on the cross? Why didn’t he accomplish a revolution?

I’ve been sitting on this question, waiting and thinking. In the meantime, my apocalyptic theology has grown more and more anarchist. I’ve been impatient and angry. But my sense is that this isn’t the way of Christ.

God in Christ reveals what it means to be human. It is love – to live in communion with God and with your fellow children of God. It is to be surrendered to God’s liberating love, embracing the way we are all connected and bound to one another, and following the riskiest and most beautiful implications of this connection, even unto death.

Jesus embodied the truest, fullest way to be human.

And the cross reveals the cost. It reveals that this liberation work, creating a new society marked not by hierarchy but instead by equality and mutual yielding, might cost something. And it is worth it. It must be worth it. People are worth it.

I think the problem is that following God makes us feel like failures. We work and we work and we work, but we do not see the authorities and systems we fight come crashing down. We die fighting for revolution, contending for Heaven to be realized on Earth.

Living into God’s kingdom takes the same commitment that Jesus had, one where laying down your life for your friends is not just the greatest way to show love, it’s also the only way to undo imperial oppressors.

Jesus modeled the life of a true revolutionary, absolutely committed to the way and politics of heaven, even to the point of arrest, torture, and death – even to the point of failure. Living into Christ’s revolution means that failure is both possible and probable. But if resurrection is Christ’s insurrection, then failure might also be the only way to win.

There’s another lesson here: the destruction of the systems and authorities on this earth and the realization of God’s kingdom cannot be accomplished by one person. Christ’s ministry wasn’t a one-man show. It can only be realized through his people, through his body. Through us.

Jesus revealed to us that we need to actively live into another Way. We heal one another. We feed one another. We provide for one another. We work together. We fight for the liberation of all people everywhere. The Lamb’s war is our war.

It could cost us everything. But people are worth it.

We Need a New Quakerism

Early Quaker Meeting

We do not want you to copy or imitate us. We want to be like a ship that has crossed the ocean, leaving a wake of foam which soon fades away. We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation.”
—Extracts from the Writings of Friends, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Faith & Practice

A phrase that keeps coming to mind is “a new Quakerism,” and oddly enough, I’ve been hearing other Friends unknowingly echo this phrase back to me. It seems to me that many Friends, even those who consider themselves “convinced,” are hungry for more than what the Society has to offer. We keep coming back to the same point: we desperately need to re-imagine Quakerism.

We need a new Quakerism.

I’m not talking about re-imagining structures or techniques. We need a complete change of course. We need a revival. A brief breeze of enthusiasm is not enough. In order to survive, we need to do what I’ve heard C. Wess Daniels refer to as committing “faithful betrayal.” We must betray what-we-know in order to discover what is true – what is at the heart of the Quakerism we need.

In order to get to the heart of that Quakerism, the radical vision of early Friends might be a good place to start. From the basics of our movement, from the simplicity of the Gospel, that’s where we can find the power that George Fox lived in and that lived in George Fox. In stillness, in Light, centered on the imperishable Seed within, the living “One, Jesus Christ who can speak to thy condition.” The Society of Friends was not built; it was born – a community of prophets. In the shared worship, where egos were hushed and Love was magnified, there was an abundant life and conviction that led Friends to corporately reject the abusive and unfair ways of the world and seek (and demonstrate) a better Way. A transformative and subversive faith was discovered. Thousands of Friends were imprisoned for their faithful subversion, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to
suffer shame for his name.

At the heart of Christ’s good news and the faith of the early Friends is a vision of the Kingdom – transformative apocalypse. Daniel Seeger wrote a brilliant article in Friends Journal, “Revelation and Revolution: The Apocalypse of John in the Quaker and African American Spiritual Traditions,” that eloquently expounds on the radical implications of Quaker eschatology:

“What the Apocalypse of John revealed to George Fox was not the end of the world but its rebirth, a rebirth instituted by Jesus and continued by his disciples as the disciples act concretely to advance the cause of justice and truth in human society. Using imagery from the Book of Revelation, George Fox describes this struggle for truth and justice as the Lamb’s War, a war carried out by the meek through gentleness, nonviolence, self-sacrifice, and peace. While there is a lot of mayhem and violence in the Book of Revelation, this is violence and mayhem perpetrated by oppressors against each other and against the weak and innocent. The single weapon in the Lamb’s War as described in the book of Revelation is a ‘terrible swift sword’ which proceeds from the mouth of Jesus. In other words, it is not a humanly devised killing machine, but only his truth which goes marching on into battle with the forces of evil.”

Early Friends were bound together by faith in God’s Kingdom, one where God reigns as Lamb and the Spirit of God was upon and within all. This was both present reality and future hope. It is true. It must also be sought. Does that conviction still, in some way, fuel the work that we do together? I hope so. Because it is that conviction that pushed Friends to prophetic work that shook the social order. It’s what made them Friends.

Without that conviction that God reigns and that God will reign, only the empty forms of Quakerism persist. That is the way of death.

We need a revival of that apocalyptic faith. Without it, we may provide folks with open-minded communities and strong, progressive values. Without it, we may provide kind spaces and opportunities to grow in intimacy with God. But without that apocalyptic faith, without that conviction, we lack the full gospel that shocked the world, liberated the oppressed, and empowered the saints. We do not have to be fundamentalists to have an eschatological conviction, nor do we have to be spineless in order to be inclusive. Early Friends knew of God’s wide, generous activity throughout creation, of the innate value and dignity of every child of God, and the need to fight against the oppression of Empire.

Those who fight the Lamb’s War will discover James Nayler’s words to 
be true: “Their paths are prepared with the gospel of peace and good will towards all the creation of God.”

We fight, we wage war, with peace and good will towards all the creation of God, and through this we crush the spirit of the age’s power and extend God’s reign. We usher in a new heaven and a new earth. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., we are confident that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” and we are called to live out this hope.

If we do not or cannot, then we have failed as Friends.

I wonder, is institutional Quakerism a contradiction to our apocalyptic faith? If we have unknowingly abandoned our core beliefs, what’s next for us? How do we come into Gospel Order? Can we re-center our vision and our hope? What does that even mean? I’m not sure. But I know many who are hungry for a new expression of faith, and I know that the world could use us.

We must follow the Spirit.

Let’s Discover the Gospel Together

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This is my gospel-preaching face

Dear Friends,

My journey into the wacky world of Quakerism began in Barnesville, Ohio. At that point in my life, the writings of George Fox, Margaret Fell, and Isaac Penington often played a role in my morning devotions, but my interaction with Quakers was, to say the least, limited. I came to the Friends of Jesus Fellowship (FoJ) gathering in Barnesville having little idea on what to expect and never having met the other participants, but I believed that there was something special about this group’s vision. I read their Advices and Queries a year or so prior to this gathering, and I remember being pleasantly surprised by how their words describing life in the Church and the gospel of Christ deeply resonated with me.

This FoJ gathering played a major role in my own participation in the Religious Society of Friends. I found something in the silent worship that I barely encountered before: a space to wrestle God and a way to dive into and draw from the wells of Christ’s Spirit within me. I realized I was hungry for that silence. Starving, even.

It was also the first time in a long while where I felt at ease in a spiritual community. My then-boyfriend came along, and I remember not being used to having my gay relationship so naturally affirmed and blessed by a Christian community. It was a bit disorienting, but so healing for my soul. Also, most of the participants had not been involved in the Charismatic Church or no experience with charismatic phenomena, yet I found my perspective as a tongue-talking, miracle-believing charismatic was affirmed and honored. I had never met these people before, yet my gifts were so welcomed. I was welcomed.

Since getting involved with the FoJ, I have gotten more and more involved in the wider Society of Friends. I’ve found myself caring for our very diverse and very fragmented communion. I have been a regular attender at both Liberal and Evangelical Friends meetings, served a year with the Quaker Voluntary Service, worked (and still work) at the Friends World Committee for Consultation – Section of the Americas, and have had several opportunities to meet and worship with Friends from all over the world and from every branch. I’ve experienced the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit in diverse ways among the different flavors of Friends, but still, I find something very uniquely rich and nurturing at the FoJ gatherings.

Now, I do not mean to sell another brand of Quakerism, nor am I claiming that the Friends of Jesus Fellowship is superior to other Quaker fellowships. What I am saying is that where I personally gain the most vision, experience Quakerism most fully, and feel the most spiritually at-home, has been at the FoJ gatherings… and well, I believe our gatherings have something to offer every disciple of Christ, and even every seeker. At the FoJ gatherings, I’ve found a space to communally reflect on the radical implications of the gospel, I’ve found a community offering mutual support in one-another’s ministries and sojourning, and I have seen what leaning on the Holy Spirit looks like, in the testimonies of Friends and in the Spirit-orchestrated worship. More than anything, I’ve been thankful to be so welcomed to dream and discover the gospel alongside some very honest, beautiful, and real people. From my experience, I’ve experienced a genuineness and authenticity at these gatherings that is rare in the world.

I do not see FoJ enaging in sheep-stealing anytime soon, as we do not aspire to grow into another denomination or even strictly a church-planting network, but I do see the gifts that FoJ has to offer the Society of Friends and the wider Church. For those who hunger for a contemplative yet embodied worship, who need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit, and need to hear the gospel again, especially in a time where good news is hard to find, I encourage you to consider coming to our fall gathering in Silver Spring, Maryland, this upcoming October 7th-10th.

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For more information on this upcoming gathering, check out this post by Micah Bales. You can buy a ticket for the gathering here.

I hope and pray you’ll consider worshiping with us as we learn what it means to confess Jesus in a chaotic world.

In friendship,

Hye Sung

 

Political Protest is Spiritual Warfare

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Philadelphia City Hall

When I was a freshman in college, my friends and I were discovering charismatic spirituality together. We often had long prayer sessions, and we always expected to experience and hear God. It was messy, naive, often fueled by fear, but God was somehow in it as we experimented with this bizarre mysticism that was so confident in Christ’s Spirit being within us. Some of us walked through our campus often, quietly praying in tongues, rebuking the spirits among us causing fear, spiritual drought, depression, etc., and declaring a better way for the Church and for the school. We called this spiritual warfare.

I still believe in the power of spiritual warfare, even if much of our demon-hunting was a bit silly. I’d like to think that Holy Spirit interpreted our prayers the way they needed to be interpreted, and maybe we did push the devil out of our campus a bit. Hopefully. But still, before Friends of Jesus retreats, I often try to spend time in intercession, praying for the outpouring of the Spirit and protection from the enemy, who loves to stir up quarreling among believers and quench the Holy Ghost. I’m still a firm believer that Christ handed an authority to the Church to be declare, prophesy, and shake things on this earth, and in the spirit realm, to realize the reign of God among and within us.

So I still command demons to shut up and back off. I still pray in tongues when I sense something off, which sometimes is a valid spiritual concern, and other times just my social anxiety acting up. That being said, I very much believe these things are helpful, real, and good. I’ve seen God heal dozens of sick people when hands were laid upon them, and the word of God was declared over them: “be healed.” I’ve felt the power of deliverance, having the weight of shame torn off my spirit instantaneously through a prophetic word. I’ve felt shifts in the atmosphere during worship, and then I’d notice somebody quietly praying in tongues, or interceding, and I’d feel that they probably were helping cleanse the environment for God’s presence to be realized.

I think these things are real.

And as we go in the streets to protest, to demonstrate, we are engaging with the enemy: oppressive, abusive, and corrupt systems. We wage war against the spirit of racism as we declare that Black Lives Matter, and as we point out the sins of our country, the sins of our people, and reveal a better way. One of compassion, one of hope, one of generosity, one of love. Even if we are marching with those who do not identify as followers of Christ, they are carrying a mantle and anointing as well to crush the work of the enemy and extend the reality of God’s love.

All that to say: To protest is to rebuke. To protest is to war against the devil. To protest is to prophesy. And as dangerous forms of religious and political fundamentalism continue to grow in all directions, and as the Empire continues to slaughter innocent people all over the world, we need to be loudly warring against these spirits that are strangling the Church and the world, and we need to preach the Good News. We need to be the Good News.

The Church in America, in this mind-boggling and disheartening political climate, needs to speak. We need to call out the systemic sins of the world, including religious institutions, and live and preach a way forward. Your tongue has the power of life and death (Prov. 18:21), and when you choose not to speak out for Life, you are often giving power to death. So speak. Loudly. For the oppressed, for the forgotten, for the lost, for the hurting, and for all God’s children. And in doing this, you bind the enemy and you confess Christ.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” —Ephesians 6:12

 

Further Thoughts on Quaker Revival

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FWCC’s World Plenary Meeting in Peru

A few weeks ago I wrote on the subject of a Quaker renewal. This post was a flood of thoughts, questions, doubts, and all I knew by the end of the post was that the Society of Friends desperately needs the Spirit of God. This is not a unique conclusion, nor a particularly specific one, but it’s all I could confidently claim as vital in Quaker renewal. The thing is, I’d go as far as saying that we need more than renewal; Quakerism needs a revival in order to survive. We don’t simply need a refreshing move of the Spirit to encourage us on our way but we need the Spirit to crash down on us and to confront us with the Good News that was so dear to the hearts of the apostles and early Friends. We are rapidly shrinking, and many meetings and churches have little vision guiding them. It seems to me that we need the Spirit of God more than ever.

These are trying times for institutional and historical churches, as all of them are losing numbers and as the percentage of the non-religious increases each year. It seems that we’re currently experiencing the collapse of the American Church as we know it, but I’ll say that I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. The Church as we know it has a whole lot of good, but also has a whole lot of bad. American Christians have too often succumbed to individualism, capitalism, violence, and the ways of the world, and we need to relearn faithfulness to the distinct and profound teachings of Jesus Christ. Though we like to think of ourselves as not nearly as bad as Evangelicals, us Quakers are no exception. We too have inherited much from the world.

It appears that the Church is being called to lay down many of her old ways, letting whatever is quenching the Spirit within her to die so that she may even more fully experience Christ’s resurrection-power. I see these trying times to be a time of liberating the Church from the lies of the world, and I see Christ pushing us to earnestly seek spiritual vitality and to creatively and prophetically reach the world with his good news.

So what are we to think of all those who label themselves “spiritual but not religious” or those believers who have fled our Sunday morning services for more organic fellowship, found in pubs, living rooms, and coffee shops? I see both these trends as potentially gifts from God, as the hierarchical tradition preserved in institutional churches is being done away with, and as people are less tied down to dogma and more often seeing themselves as spiritual seekers. In my opinion, this is the perfect recipe for a Quaker revival. We are in a world that is hungry for wholeness, simplicity, integrity, community, and authentic spirituality, and our tradition has that to offer. Perhaps the huge wave of “nones” and “dones” are the result of the Spirit moving.

As I’ve made clear, I don’t necessarily find the decline of institutional and historical churches to be tragic, but what I do find tragic is the gifts these traditions offer being lost. I’ve come to love so much about Quakerism: the testimonies, history, communal mysticism, discernment practices, Spirit-led activism, prophetic ministry, and contemplative spirituality. If I am led to abandon institutional Quakerism in order to bring these gifts elsewhere, I will. In a lot of ways, this would be easier and perhaps more effective. But I personally feel led to honor the living and deceased Quaker saints who have built up this beautiful and bizarre community since the mid-17th century by continuing my involvement and fellowship within Quaker meetings. Our community has a lot to offer the world, and so I will continue to contend and pray for revival in the Society of Friends.

Out of discussions with other Friends at the World Plenary Meeting, and further reflection, two specific things came to mind on how we can actively pursue a Quaker revival. Both are not spectacular, but they keep rising in my spirit.

  • Organize a prayer meeting. Gather Friends to pray for each others’ needs, the local meeting, and other issues that need to be held in the Light. Pray for vision in the Society of Friends. Pray for the Children of God to rise and manifest, among Quakers and in the wider Church. It does not have to be complicated or elaborate, but simply a space to enjoy the presence of God and corporately invite the Kingdom of God. You can ask for this to be held at the meetinghouse, or invite Friends over your house for cheese, crackers, wine, and spiritual warfare. I think it’s wise to make it clear that these meetings are not in competition with meeting for worship on Sunday, but rather a supportive, complementary element to the meeting’s worship. These smaller gatherings can be a centering presence for the meeting, offering vision and nurturing to the wider community. It would also be helpful to make this a space where everybody is invited to participate, offering their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12). This space of eager, expectant open worship, where inspired vocal ministry, intercession, and whatever else the Spirit orchestrates is welcome, can also overflow into the life of the meeting, encouraging the pursuit of Spirit-led worship.
  • Support efforts of unity in the Society of Friends. Connect to Friends from other regions, yearly meetings, and branches of Quakerism, and try to build dialogue and partnership for the edification of the whole Society. I am convinced that each branch of Quakerism preserves and builds upon various convictions and impulses that existed among early Friends. Therefore, I find inter-branch fellowship to be extremely helpful in discovering a fuller vision of Quakerism. Perhaps you can visit another yearly meeting’s sessions, or make it to a Friends World Committee (FWCC) event, such as the Section of the Americas meeting in March 2017, or attend the Midwest Interbranch Young Adult Friends gathering next month in Richmond, Indiana. I would also like to remind Friends that you can also monetarily support these initiatives and gatherings, even if you are unable to attend. For very biased examples, you can donate to the Friends World Committee, which does amazing inter-branch work and Quaker education, and the Quaker Voluntary Service, which brings together birthright, newly convinced, not (yet) convinced, Liberal, and Evangelical Friends into a year of service, spiritual exploration, and communal living. To further reveal my bias, I also have to recommend attending the biannual gatherings of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, where there is gathered worship that is thoroughly informed by Quaker history and spirituality, but not held back by it. These gatherings draw folks from throughout the “Quaker spectrum”, as well as Quaker-curious Christians, and offer a space to dive into the experience of the Risen Christ and receive counsel and empowerment to extend the reign of God in the world.

I suppose I can only follow up these suggestions, ideas, etc., with some queries.

What are some others way we can seek vision, new Light, and revival as a community and for our community?

What is keeping us from growing and what do we need to change?

What message do modern Quakers preach, and is it the same as early Friends? If not, is that a problem?

How do we create strong-visioned communities that are also inclusive of all people?

 

 

 

Reflections on Quaker Revival

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The Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles– 6th century,

I’m currently in Pisac, Peru for the Friends World Committee’s World Plenary Meeting. There are Friends from all over the world and from every Quaker Tradition—Evangelical, Liberal, Holiness, and Conservative—worshipping and enjoying fellowship together. The sight of these mutually affirming interactions between Friends has been profoundly touching, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed, in a glorious, beautiful way, but in a way that is still exhausting and feels like a burden. I am seeing the gifts that every branch has to offer, and have met so many Friends who truly care about the well-being of the whole Society of Friends, and I am finding some hope to believe that renewal, and perhaps even revival, is possible in this strange Religious Society I’ve stumbled into. But part of me feels the weight of the challenge of renewal.

My head is flooded with questions, concerns, and doubts.

What will it take to usher in renewal into the Society of Friends? What does a revival that includes both Christian and non-Christian Friends look like? Is it possible? Does a Quaker revival have to include institutional Quakerism? Part of me would love to be done with institutional Quakerism and carry my Quaker convictions elsewhere, perhaps in a more organic Christian community.

I feel the weight of old wineskins, the static ritualism and unspoken etiquette, clogging up our meetings. I feel the individualism flaunted in Liberal Quakerism blocking us from truly becoming an inclusive community. I am haunted by the lack of spiritual identity and a focused vision in Liberal Quakerism. I know in my heart that Proverbs 29:18 is true: where there is no vision, the people perish. I see it happening right before my eyes.

And programmed, pastoral Quakerism has me equally concerned. How are these dividing yearly meetings reflecting the reality of Pentecost and the reconciling work of Christ? What will it take for Evangelical Friends to affirm, support, and bless their LGBT+ sisters and brothers? What makes progressive Evangelical Friends distinct from other liberal Protestant churches, and even Liberal Quakerism?

And I wonder, what authority do I have to raise these questions, let alone critique this established tradition and try to offer solutions?

Maybe those issues shouldn’t concern me. Maybe this is all in fact a good thing and I don’t doubt that I am unable to see all that God is up to. And as a person without theological training, and even without a degree, I often doubt that I have a role in this conversation, let alone the fact that I’m a newcomer to the Society.

Somehow, though, I feel a loyalty and commitment to this Body. I don’t know how it happened exactly, especially since I am so often unable to connect and relate to Liberal Quaker culture (and I am an attender of a Liberal meeting) and to be frank, I don’t feel welcome in any branch of Quakerism. But my personality and faith tend to be quite communal, and I cannot help but feel gratitude to the Quaker Saints of the past who lived shameless, prophetic, and radical lifestyles and built up a community that knew the love and power of God. I cannot help but sense that I was led here to inherit the gifts, graces, and mantle of these saints, and continue their laboring for the gospel. I am blown away by the good news they preached and lived, and I personally feel led to honor them by being active in the Society they met Christ in.

And I know living saints today who continue to preach this gospel and reveal Christ in a way that expands on the revelations and work of earlier Friends. I want to walk beside these Friends and encourage them in the Way of Peace and the Gospel of the Kingdom.

More than anything, I would hate to see the potential gifts that Quakerism has to offer both the Christian and the spiritual seeker go unrealized.

The interdependent spiritual community, centered not on dogma but the dynamic experience of the Spirit of Love, is something I see many seeking but unable to find. We can be a community that offers a healthy, communal mysticism, not for our own “edification,” but so that we can be launched into the world to extend this love at all costs. Believe me, once you experience the love of God, you can’t keep it to yourself. We were meant to be a community of radical prophets. And people want this.

Yet so often Quaker legalism and what is perceived as a lack of Spirit in our tribe keeps these seekers from finding the treasures of Quakerism. We have other issues, too, of course, like the overwhelming whiteness in American Quakerism. But I believe that more than clever marketing, and more than new programs, the root of our issue is that we need the Spirit of God to be able to reach the people that want what we offer.

We need to be willing to be shaken by the Spirit in order to be revived.  We need the fire of the Spirit to refine us in order to fully embrace what God has in store for us. We need to be willing to be transformed, even if it means giving up our traditions and sacrificing our sacred cows. We need to be humbled so that God can do what God wants to do. We desperately need the Holy Spirit in order to creatively usher in this all-consuming revival. And if we don’t yield to the Spirit, we will perish.

Who am I to say these things? What authority do I have? None really. But I can assure you that I say this because I care about Friends, and I care about those seeking an authentic spirituality and community, and I care about the burnt out Christians looking for a purer gospel. In the world, I suppose I have little authority, but I hope that me being a child of God will be enough reason for Friends to hear me out and join me in prayer.

There’s More to Revival

Worship at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, home of the in/famous “Toronto Blessing”

I was 16 years old when I was convinced that there was more to the Christian life than what I had been experiencing. I didn’t quite know what that looked like, but I found no reason to believe that what the disciples experienced in Pentecost was not for me. I prayed for over a month, every night, rain or snow, in a park nearby my house. I knew if my parents, who are not Christians, heard my pleading to God, they would be a bit freaked out. My prayers were loud, often whiny, sprinkled with shouting and screams, and always irreverent. I was God’s little brat child. (I still am. Sanctification is a process.)

At that time in my life I was a bit over-zealous, I admit, but I miss being filled with so much faith.  I really did expect God to intervene and answer my pleas. I imagined being filled with the Spirit as an absurdly dramatic encounter with God where the ground beneath me would shake, the skies would rumble, and I would be consumed by apocalyptic visions and inward raptures. Instead, each time I prayed, I felt love and peace warm my body, a deep assurance of God’s presence, and I’d shake, not from the bitter cold, but because I was overwhelmed by the love of God. For some reason, that wasn’t enough. I refused to count that as being filled with the Spirit. Eventually I got burnt out by what I saw as unanswered prayers, and stopped asking God to fill me with the Spirit and grant me with the same power as the apostles.

It was months later, when I was 17, that I actually spoke in tongues. For whatever reason, I had some frustrating prayers that night and no matter what I said to God, it didn’t feel right. It didn’t capture something that was stirring in me. My words felt dry and the Holy Ghost seemed distant. I began pacing my bathroom post-prayer, annoyed at both myself and God, and these clumsy words pushed their way out of my mouth. I asked myself, “was that… what I think it was?” Terrified of being deceived by Satan, I got on my knees immediately and asked for discernment and wisdom, and as I prayed, more of these strange words came out. After quite a good while of praying in tongues, I felt clothed in power, filled with peace, and overflowing with love. I got a great sleep that night, too.

After this undeniably charismatic experience, I was scared that this Spirit-baptism would be isolating for me in my very Evangelical church and was hoping I wouldn’t have to succumb to attending a charismaniac church in order to finally exercise these gifts. Thankfully, in my little Christian & Missionary Alliance church, I had found the space to practice these spiritual gifts. I found out some of the youth and young adults in my church recently experienced similar things through a local house of prayer (associated with the International House of Prayer in Kansas City). Almost simultaneously, some of the adults, including folks in leadership, were also starting to experience the charismatic gifts and even started having mystical and ecstatic experiences, such as visions, uncontrollable laughter, and “soaking in the Spirit.”

With the support of the growing charismatic faction of the church, I began an ecumenical prayer ministry in the church basement where we’d eat cookies and then pound on Heaven’s door with simultaneous prayers, with known and unknown tongues. I also began interceding at the altar of the church with the youth every Sunday after service, contending for revival in our region. As I began attending the local house of prayer with my friends from church, I thought I was starting to see revival unfold before my eyes. It was there that I first saw healing, deliverance, and worship that flowed so smoothly yet so wildly. It was so raw, and at times even goofy, but somehow so beautiful and powerful.

Being prayed on a 'Miracles, Signs, and Wonders' conference (2012)

Being prayed on a ‘Miracles, Signs, and Wonders’ conference (2012)

I admit, at first I was terrified. I came to the house of prayer before a meeting and a leader warned me of what may occur that night. He started naming off different manifestations—shaking, falling, tongues, laughing—and I was disturbed. I had been speaking in tongues for maybe over a month, but I was offended that people would pull out something I saw as private and intimate in a meeting with dozens of strangers. As he named off the other manifestations, all I could think was, “I don’t want a demon!” Despite all my hesitation, much of it warranted as I look back on it, by the end of the night I ended up on the ground, squirming and sweating as I felt what I would describe as “fire” run throughout my body. I came out of this experience not knowing how to explain what just happened, but knowing deep in my soul that it was Jesus and I wanted more.

I still believe that it was Jesus, and I believe that fire was the love of God, as I experienced an unprecedented intimacy with God in the following months and came to experience the Christ’s refining work like never before. This was a special time in my life, but I admit that not all of it was healthy. The nature of these two years are such a mixed bag, filled with profound revelations and touches from God, but also much hype, disappointment, and irresponsible theology. There was an air of expectancy and fiery faith, but God was sometimes made out to be some cosmic vending machine and perhaps even a magic genie who automatically delivers your wishes. I remember being commanded to prophesy by a leader and I felt shamed when I was unable to spit out some oracles.

During this season, it had been promised by popular prophets and speakers that a national, and even a global, revival was to come out of the “current move of God”. There would be a new missionary movement, the Church would grow like never before, and a time of tribulation would come and test the Bride, and she’d rise in power and authority and bring back the return of Christ. We were the final generation; the manifest sons of God. But what really happened? I saw some people come to faith and I saw God renew and transform some lives, but I didn’t see transformation on a wider-scale, and I also saw a good amount of harm done. Eventually, even these “power encounters”, as some neo-charismatics label these experiences, started to die out. The testimonies started to dry up and we saw less and less healings and miracles, and even laughing, weeping, and being “slain in the Spirit” started to vanish from the meetings.

Ultimately, I didn’t see revival. At least not one that matched the narrative we were offered by popular charismatic teachers. What they offered doesn’t seem to count as revival anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in revival. I just think it’s bigger than doing signs and wonders and getting a bunch of people to say a prayer and go to church on Sunday. Revival, when it poured down on the Church in Pentecost, brought power from on high to do miracles and to preach the Gospel, but it also brought deep fellowship, discipleship, and selflessness in the Church. It created a radical community (Acts 2:42, 44-46).

Sometimes I wonder if much of the Charismatic world focuses on these elaborate prophecies and miraculous goals in order to avoid the hard stuff the gospel calls for us to do. I know too many people caught up in a cycle of mission trips, “schools of supernatural ministry”, conferences, etc., seeking to be equipped in the miraculous, but have no idea how to snap out of speaking Christianese and actually engage with the world. They are so often out of touch with issues of injustice in society and the ways the world desperately needs healing. It appears they are more concerned with winning people over to their club rather than living and manifesting redemption. Even their acts of compassion and mercy are frequently a ploy to gain a convert.

Jesus calls us to a radical mission, and sometimes it is to go across the world and serve the poor, but most often it is to bring the gospel to wherever we are. It does not take much searching to find brokenness. The truth is that most often the ministries we are called to don’t look fantastic or worthy of being on the front cover of Charisma Magazine. God almost always utilizes the situation we are already in and the resources we already have. Even if God breaks into our lives with the miraculous, let us never fool ourselves to think we are more than human. In the incarnation, and even on the cross, we discover there is glory in being human. There is even power in being weak. May we never forget to live boldly in the ordinary, bringing the seed of the Kingdom into every act, and the love of God into every moment. I think that’s what revival looks like.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”
Matthew 7:21-23

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:1-3