Saturday, June 21, 2008

When God shows up

One of the most dramatic stories in the Bible is found in 1 Kings 8 when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to the Temple. Can you imagine the peoples' excitement as the Ark was brought to its rightful place? The first part of the chapter tells us how all the priests and the people of Israel gathered together for the special occasion. Their sacrifices were so many that "they could not be recorded or counted." Then it gets good:

"When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple."

Just once, I would like to experience this! To have all my plans in place for a Sunday worship service. To work out every segue to perfection. To have the worship leaders primed and ready. To see our people united in their desire to offer a sacrifice of praise pleasing to the Lord. To enter into a time of corporate worship with the expectation that God is going to work. And then to have the Spirit of God arrive in such power that all my plans go out the window. To not be able to minister at all because God is. I long for that!

This type of experience isn't limited to the Old Testament. God stills moves in power. He's willing to and will if we simply humble ourselves before Him. One such story is recounted in Jim Cymbala's book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. Pastor Cymbala identifies this moment as the turning point in the life of The Brooklyn Tabernacle:

"On one of those Sunday nights early on, I was so depressed by what I saw—and even more by what I felt in my spirit—that I literally could not preach. Five minutes into my sermon, I began choking on the words. Tears filled my eyes. Gloom engulfed me. All I could say to the people was “I’m sorry . . . I . . . I can’t preach in this atmosphere. . . . Something is terribly wrong. . . . I don’t know what to say—I can’t go on. . . . Carol, would you play something on the piano, and would the rest of you come to this altar? If we don’t see God help us, I don’t know. . . .”

With that, I just quit. It was embarrassing, but I couldn’t do anything else. The people did as I asked. I leaned into the pulpit, my face planted in my hands, and sobbed. Things were quiet at first, but soon the Spirit of God came down upon us. People began to call upon the Lord, their words motivated by a stirring within. “God, help us,” we prayed. Carol played the old hymn “I Need Thee, Oh, I Need Thee,” and we sang along.

A tide of intercession arose.

Suddenly a young usher came running down the center aisle and threw himself on the altar. He began to cry as he prayed. When I placed my hand on his shoulder, he looked up, the tears streaming down his face as he said, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I won’t do it again! Please forgive me.” Instantly I realized that he was apologizing for taking money from the offering plate. I stood speechless for a moment, bewildered by his unexpected confession.

It was our first spiritual breakthrough. I had not had to play detective, confront the culprit with his misdeed, or pressure him to confess. Here in a single night, during a season of prayer, Problem Number One (out of seemingly thousands) was solved. That evening, when I was at my lowest, confounded by obstacles, bewildered by the darkness that surrounded us, unable even to continue preaching, I discovered an astonishing truth: God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him. Our weakness, in fact, makes room for his power."

Our churches need more of that. We all know we do. We just assume that it will never happen to us. So it never does.

God shows up where He is wanted. Where He is invited. Where He is free to move. Where all the glory goes to Him rather than ourselves.

I pray He is welcome in my church and in yours tomorrow morning.