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)
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.’”
“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