Weary, but pressing on…

Posted: December 18, 2007 in Church, Happenings, Perspective, Uncategorized

NOTE:  This was post I composed back in May of this year, right after my father died.  For one reason or another, I never uploaded it.  But re-reading it today – 7 months after my father’s death, 6 months after our church’s relocation to the theater, 3 months after Dave’s health crisis, not to mention all the things that can and do go wrong in any given month – I thought I’d post it.  I left the post “as is,” and I hope it encourages You, because re-reading it and remembering the things I’ve seen God do in my life and the lives of my friends has really encouraged me:

***** 

After the funeral last week and the round(s) of sickness we’ve faced this past week, it’s amazing I’ve been able to get anything done at all.  Finally, now (as of 9:00 p.m.) we’re finally ready for tomorrow morning.  But you know, as tired as I feel, I love Crosspoint, I love the people here, and I love what I do.  So no complaints.  You got to do whatever it takes.

It’s a big time for Crosspoint.  We’re moving to the theater.  Dave is going full-time.  You can almost feel God getting ready to rock our world.

On a related note, I read Gary Lamb’s post yesterday about Dave “growing a pair” and his warning about the certainty of more attacks from Satan, and I must admit that’s a bit discouraging at times to think about that.  But I keep reminding myself (as I blogged about previously) that Satan’s attacks, though painful and discouraging, are truly of no ultimate consequence. 

Still, I keep praying that God protects us.

Let me share this story.  It fires me up every single time I think about it, so maybe it will be encouraging to all of us as we get ready for something big (and maybe encouraging to anyone else in ministry).

About 8 years ago, I was on a week-long mission trip to West Virginia with a group of middle school kids from Mountaintop Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama (where I worked for 5 years).  Like most of these mission trips, it was a lot of hard work crammed into a little amount of time.

We were staying at a school in a mining town buried in the Appalachian mountains, literally sleeping on classroom floors.  Though the area was beautiful, the beauty of the mountains masked a poverty that was difficult to believe.  And given the crime that is often tragically associated with the ‘harshness’ of the existence there, we (and our students) were warned to stay on the school grounds at all costs – especially the girls, because there was, apparently, a real history in the area of crimes of rape or violence against teenage girls – especially outsiders to the town.

A typical day on the trip consisted of working all day long doing service projects, eating dinner, then having a time of worship and teaching at the school.  On our fourth night there, the guy speaking delivered a pretty powerful message that really challenged the kids in the group to connect with Christ and deal with all the crap in their lives.  In hindsight, the message seemed rather ‘typical’ (though powerful) for an evangelistic message delivered by a speaker who has a week to try to impact kids’ lives. 

However, that night turned out to be anything but typical.  Here’s where it got weird – even other-worldly, now that I think back on it:

Immediately after the service ended, two of the girls in our group began bawling and literally ran out of the room.  I mean they were gone!  I learned later that something the guy speaking had said really challenged them and they honestly did not want to face God or their own problems and instead chose to flee from God at full speed.

Because I’d seen God do amazing things in the lives of these young teenagers throughout the week, these girls’ response honestly made me angry and I immediately dismissed their attitude as one of immaturity and rebellion.  That had to be it.  My knee-jerk response was more along the lines of frustration than compassion or any real inkling that something “spiritual” was happening.  I remember callously thinking, “Good grief, it was just a freakin’ message…you hear these all the time on youth trips like this…this makes no sense,” as I wandered the halls of this dilapidated school looking for these two wayward 14-year-olds.

There was some expected relief when one of the girls turned up on the playground in front of the school within the first hour, but it was short-lived, since the second girl remained missing and more and more time went by.  Knowing the danger of the surrounding neighborhood and the warnings we had received about guarding our girls, all of us who were leaders in our group literally began to panic .  We checked classrooms, bathrooms, storage closets, the courtyards, the gym, the lunchroom, the outer grounds.  Then we checked them all again.  Still, we couldn’t find her.  None of the other students had since this missing girl, either.

Here’s where my words will begin to fail me, since I – to this day – can barely begin to truly convey what unfolded in words.

As we frantically searched for this girl, the feeling that began to dominate us was unreal.  To this day I still cannot explain it.  The best way I can describe it is to say there was a tornado in my brain.  And all of us felt the same way.  We were confused and panicky.  Our heads were spinning.  We couldn’t think straight.  There seemed to be this weight pressing in on our chests.  Our minds were filled with terrifying thoughts of what could be happening to this girl if she had left the grounds or left the building and wandered off into a dark area by herself.

And for what reason?  All this over some preacher-guy’s message?  What the heck?  This kind of thing doesn’t happen.  Does it?  Nothing made sense to us.

Eventually, I wandered into an upper hallway by myself and opened a door to the outside that led into a grove of trees behind the school.  I’d already checked the area.  Other leaders had already checked it.  But I went back anyway.  I called the girls’ name out and, hearing no answer, started to close the door.  But before the door latched, I heard a cough back in the trees.  I shined a light in the direction of the sound and saw the girl sitting up against a tree.  She was crying.  I asked her if she was okay, and after a brief exchange of words, I learned she was safe and had been hiding out there the whole time.

I told her I wasn’t going to try to talk to her.  I wasn’t going to push.  I wasn’t going to pry.  But I insisted that she come inside where it was safe (and by now, very late…).  She stood up, stormed past me in a rage (that I’d disrupted her solitude), and proceeded to the classroom where the girls in our group were sleeping and promptly slammed the door behind her.

We and the other leaders gathered in the hall.  Though relieved we had found her, our heads were still spinning.  I remember a co-worker of mine looked at me and asked, “What the heck is going on here?  This is weird.  It doesn’t make any sense.”  The psychological/emotional/spiritual frenzy we were experiencing had not ceased when the girl was found.  In fact, it grew increasingly heavy.

Susan, one of the chaperones we had brought along (an absolutely incredible woman in faith and wisdom), insisted that we sit down and pray.  So we did.  We did the thing you see all Christians do from time to time.  Sit in a circle.  Bow our heads.  Take turns praying.  It just seemed like the right thing to do, I guess.

My friend Doug went first.  “God, I don’t know what’s going on here.  We pray for (girl’s name here).  Blah.  Blah.”

I prayed next.  “God, I don’t know what’s going on here.  We pray for (girl’s name here).  Blah. Blah.”  And I think I added “please.”

Unfortunately, the whirlwind in our brains was still raging as we went through the motions of prayer.

Then this chaperone, Susan, prayed.  And in a voice of authority I’d never heard from her, she simply prayed, “Father, in the name of Jesus, we cast Satan out of this place.”

Any time before that, I’d written off such prayers as charismatic or somewhat ineffective when it came to ‘real-world’ problems that were often our responsibility instead of Satan’s.  But when Susan uttered that simple prayer, the whirlwind in our brains ceased instantaneously.  I mean, it stopped like a switch had been thrown.  Like a door had been slammed in our minds.  We were all literally stunned, sitting there eyes closed with our mouths hanging wide open.

Any doubts that remained whether or not we had just seen God do something amazing were erased when, surprisingly, a girl’s squeaky, soft voice spoke up next to Susan and said quietly, in her own prayer, “God, I’m not going to run from you anymore.”  I opened my eyes and stared in the voice’s direction to see the girl who had been just been hiding in the woods now quietly praying with us.  BAM!  No one had even seen her join the circle.  Yet here she was, yielding to God, whom she had just been running from just moments before.

We were all floored.  No, we were completely, utterly dumbstruck.  None of us, except for Susan, had recognized the events of the evening as a blatant spiritual attack.  And in a moment of prayer, Satan was beaten back and ran out of the school with his tail between his legs.  In that moment, I wondered why I ever doubted anything.  I wondered why my own prayer life was so lacking.  I wondered why I over-rationalized things or opted for psychological analyzation into situations like these rather than godly insight.  To this day, I have never experienced anything quite like that moment in terms of absolute spiritual clarity and certainty at a moment where you had no choice but to cry out, “God was just here!  In this room!  Did you see it?”

Like I said, words don’t do the event justice.  You really had to be there to experience what we were all experiencing.  The suffocating confusion was overwhelming, and in an instant, it was gone.

So here I am, years later, having just seen Satan attack a whole bunch of us all over again – AND witnessing God beat him back again.  And I want to pray the same prayer Susan prayed when things like this (inevitably) happen.  As I’ve blogged before, I don’t want to shirk responsibility for my own sin or choices by labeling everying “Satanic” or “demonic,” nor do I want to claim everything as a “God-thing” without knowing for sure His will is being done (I know that’s a heavy statement, but bear with me).

But here’s the truth:  God’s victory over Satan is real.  God’s power in our lives is real.  Only the fool denies it.  Only the fool relies on his own power to deal with the attacks rather than choose God’s power.

So here we go.  New church meeting place.  New opportunities.  The mission is more pressing than ever before.  And I know Satan hates it.  He will attack again.

But God is right here with us.  And believe me when I say that makes all the difference in the world.

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