Lord, bend us.

In 1903, Evan Roberts was 25 years old. He was a Christian, coal miner, and student who began to pray for God to fill him with the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this season of prayer, Roberts found himself at an evangelistic event where a man named Seth Joshua was preaching. Roberts heard Joshua pray, “Lord, bend us,” and at the sound of those words the Holy Spirit grabbed him.

That’s what you need, the Spirit said.

Roberts wrote: “I felt a living power pervading my bosom. It took my breath away and my legs trembled exceedingly. This living power became stronger and stronger as each one prayed, until I felt it would tear me apart. My whole bosom was a turmoil and if I had not prayed it would have burst … I fell on my knees with my arms over the seat in front of me. My face was bathed in perspiration, and the tears flowed in streams. I cried out, ‘Bend me, bend me!!’ It was God’s commending love which bent me … what a wave of peace flooded my bosom … I was filled with compassion for those who must bend at the judgement, and I wept. Following that, the salvation of the human soul was solemnly impressed on me. I felt ablaze with the desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the savior.”

After that experience, Evan would wake up at one in the morning and pray for hours, invaded by an intense love of God and a deep desire to see others come to Christ. He began to pray together with a few others: “Bend us, Lord.”

A few weeks later, after seeing a vision of God touching Wales, he predicted a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He began preach across Wales and within about nine months, over 100,000 people had come to Christ. Five years later, reports say 80,000 of those people were still in church. The effect on the culture of the country was profound. Bars emptied out. People used the money to buy clothes and food for their families, pay back debts and give to the church. People became kinder; there was a wave of forgiveness.

Sadly, Evan, didn’t last. Like firewood that wasn’t ready for burning, his own personal fires fizzled quickly. Losing his mental health, he became arrogant and short-tempered; his sermons filled with condemnation. He moved in with a woman who distorted his message. He spent a year confined to bed, pretty close to insane. He lived to be 72 years old but preached his last sermon when he was in his twenties.

Lord, bend us.

David Thomas has studied great awakenings and revivals and has written: “There is this built-in self-correcting, reanimating capacity in the Christian movement due to the Spirit’s residence in the Church. Christian history is in many ways the story of successive seasons of awakening. We love it. We yearn for it. We need it, desperately, more every day — in our culture, in our churches, in our families, in ourselves. We want to be in on awakening, to be in on a work of God in our day. Again, we have a soft spot for this, a longing for this: we want to be about sowing for a great awakening. But what about that sowing piece? … Where does it come from? Where does awakening start? How do we sow for a great awakening? … I’ve come to believe that the true seedbed of awakening is the plowed-up hearts of men and women willing to receive the gift of travail. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy (as it says in Psalm 126). Prayer is the precursor to the work of God … always the anticipating act of awakening.”

Lord, bend us.

Thomas says that a call to travailing prayer isn’t a call to feel guilty about how little we actually pray. It is a call to become more open to awakening, and to let that desire make us less casual in our prayers. “I wonder what it would take for us to move in the direction of travailing prayer,” Thomas writes. “How bad it will have to get … if we’re not there already?”

I wonder, too. Who among us is ready to take God at his word? Who is ready to spend time in repentance, time in surrender, time in confession of faith? Who is willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to be moved to their knees?  Who is ready to cry out, not just for ourselves, but for the effectiveness of the Church, for the effectiveness of the gospel flowing through us, for the gospel’s power to renew the world?

Lord, bend us!

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The Gate of Heaven is Everywhere

I’d just finished a memorial service when a man I’d not met before walked right up and said, “I know just what you were talking about up there. I couldn’t hear a word you said, even though I have my hearing aids in (at which point his wife said, “But no batteries”), but I know exactly what you’re talking about. I have been there. I have seen him.”

I said, “Seen who?”

“Jesus.”

“Really? You saw Jesus? For real?”

“Yes. Eight years ago, I died in a car accident. The medic cut a hole between my ribs and stuck an oxygen tube into my collapsed lungs and I died. Jesus met me. I didn’t see his face but I know it was him because I saw the holes in his hands. I have seen things we can’t even imagine on earth.”

“Like what?” I said, because I’ve just preached a funeral and times like that, these conversations seem less crazy, more relevant. I’m not about to let him go without finding out what he has seen.

“I saw a light,” he beamed, “that was about ten times brighter than the sun, but it didn’t hurt your eyes to look at it. You know how you can’t look directly into the sun? Well, you can look directly at this light but it doesn’t hurt. And it was golden. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”

“Did you see any other people?”

“There was one person at the end of the tunnel.”

“Who was it?”

“I don’t know. I never got there.” And then he waved his hand in the air as if directing someone to turn around, and he said, “Jesus sent me back here before I got to the end of the tunnel.”

“Why do you suppose you got sent back?”

“He didn’t say, but I think it was because my mother was sick and needed me to care for her. I can tell you this: I can’t wait to go back. I have absolutely no fear of death now. It is so beautiful.”

I stood there in the doorway of that little chapel and let that conversation sink in. I looked at that man who seemed to glow with faith and I let the truth of Heaven wash over me. I wondered to myself: how many normal, every-day, average people have died from heart attacks and snake bites and allergic reactions, only to see Jesus and taste that golden light before being sent back here to live another life? How many have seen those hands with holes in them? Have been handed the gift of assurance in the form of a car crash they didn’t survive, then did?

I suspect it’s more than we think. As Thomas Merton has said, “The gate of heaven is everywhere.”

How would I react if I died and went to Heaven then lived to talk about it? Perhaps more relevant is this question: would I recognize it if Heaven came to me?

In Luke, chapter nine, there is a line that grabs my imagination and stirs me to look for heaven. Jesus has just been talking with his followers about the connection between his glory and our faith, and now he is heading up a mountain to pray with Peter, James and John. As he is praying, the appearance of his face changes and his clothes become as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appear in glorious splendor to talk with Jesus. They talk about his departure from this earth, among other things. Peter, James and John are sleepy but the story says, “When they became fully awake, they saw his glory” (Luke 9:32).

“When they became fully awake, they saw his glory.”

Meditate on that line for a moment. When they became fully awake, they saw his glory.

I am both educated and exposed by that line. I recognize myself in the state of Jesus’ disciples. What must I be missing, because I’m not fully awake? If I am not seeing God’s glory is it because God’s glory is absent, or is it because (spiritually speaking) I am slogging through life half asleep?

Would I recognize the gates if they were opened to me? Would you?

When they became fully awake, they saw his glory. I dare you to walk through this day looking for the gate of heaven as if it might actually be real, might actually show up. I challenge you to develop that kind of eyesight — the kind that can see corners of the Kingdom exposed for our benefit, our pleasure, to build our faith and prove again that what we talk about is true.

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The DNA of the Church

In the final verses of Exodus, of all places, we find the first hints of Pentecost. The people have just pulled together all their resources to build a tabernacle for the Lord. They have detailed instructions for crafting this most holy of places, which would become a sign of God’s presence among them. The tabernacle would also be their launching pad, a place from which they would move out of the desert and into the promised land.

When this tabernacle was complete, the final verses of Exodus tell us that “a cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. … Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted” (Exodus 40:34,36-37, NLT).

Depending on the translation, the word for “tabernacle” can mean a place to meet or a place that moves. That tells us that from the very beginning there has always been a relationship between the presence of God and the journey of faith. It also teaches us that God never meant for his tabernacle to get stuck in one place. It was built to move when God moves, always in the direction of his promises.

That scene from Exodus is our backdrop for Pentecost. The book of Acts begins with the resurrected Jesus telling his followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8, NLT). What God did first with the tabernacle in Exodus He is about to do with all believers, placing the laws and commandments of Moses into the person of Jesus Christ. Those who receive Christ into their hearts become God’s tabernacle. On that first Pentecost, this plan was confirmed with cloud and fire, just as with the Exodus tabernacle. And just like the first tabernacle, when he moves, we are invited to move with him.

Movement has been in the Church’s DNA from the beginning. The Kingdom of God is designed to move. It goes where God goes. He has no desire to make us comfortable out there in the desert. Nor does he intend to leave us to fend for ourselves.

Acts 1:8 promises power. “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power”—the same power the Israelites had who fought with enemies twice their size and won, who found food enough to feed hundreds of thousands of people, who received miracle after miracle of God’s provision. The power they had, we now have. When we accept the Holy Spirit into our lives we are no longer victims but people with power to move out of our bad circumstances and into better ones.

Of course, in Exodus it was not a person but a community that built the tabernacle and moved out of bondage and toward the promises of God. In Nehemiah it was a community that rebuilt the temple and restored the wall. In Acts, it was a community that received the Holy Spirit, then flowed out into the streets building that community from a couple-dozen to a few thousand in one day.

Clearly, the filling of the Holy Spirit is not first of all an individual, emotional experience but something given the community to strengthen and empower us for the work of the Kingdom. Paul asks the Corinthians, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, NLT). He says to the Ephesians, “Together, we are his house … carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20-21, NLT).

The tabernacle is where God meets us and how we know when to move. As William Temple says, no one who is filled with the Spirit of God can keep that Spirit to himself. “Where the Spirit is, he flows forth. And where there is no flowing forth, he is not there.”

Is there a flowing forth in your life? Are you going someplace spiritually? Are you closer to God’s promises for your life than you were a year ago? Five years ago? Or are you still out there in the desert of indecision, waiting for one more sign? 

Meanwhile, God is calling us forward and His design for His children is not to make us comfortable but to make us great. May you be filled with the Holy Spirit and placed in the path of his promises.

 

This post first appeared as a Seedbed article on June 12, 2012. It has since been published in Encounter the Spirit, a Bible study for individuals and groups (find it at seedbed.com).

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