The beginning of second service at New Life, Sunday, January 21, 2018. (Photo by Breanna Johnson)

The beginning of second service at New Life’s Watertown Campus, 10:30 am Sunday, January 21, 2018. (Photo by Breanna Johnson)

We had a very dynamic encounter with God’s presence yesterday morning at New Life’s Watertown Campus. During all three services, the Holy Spirit was felt so strongly in worship and during the sermon preaching that many people commented on feeling like a cloud had filled the sanctuary. I, myself, felt weak-kneed throughout the day, often weeping at how the Holy Spirit was ministering to me and to others. Deep senses of repentance, of God’s overwhelming love, and of restoration filled the room.

The front of the sanctuary below the stage went through various waves of being packed with people, pouring out their hearts to God in prayer and worship. Our normal twenty-five-minute worship services extended to an hour each, and our Senior Pastor’s sermon unintentionally had lines from each worship song layered throughout his notes. Even more people returned to the front as each message drew to a close.

Several congregants stayed for all through services, including one man who surrendered his life to Christ for the first time at the close of the final service. I later heard of several more people giving their lives to Jesus. I also received texts from unsaved friends who watched the entire service online; while lacking Christian verbiage, they ultimately expressed how overwhelmed they felt by God’s presence. (If you have a story from yesterday’s services, I’d love to read it if you post it below).

In reflecting on these events—admittedly still humbled and shaken from our corporate encounter with heaven—two notable things stand out.

The first is that it took a team of humble, sacrificially-minded people to host the presence of God. While one part of me was engaged in trying to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading during the musical portion of the service that Jennifer and I led, another part was keenly aware of: the video team who was busy trying to capture the service and work on system glitches so hundreds of online viewers could participate; the media directors who were making sure song lyrics seamlessly served worshippers, especially during spontaneous musical sections; the lighting directors who tried to highlight what was happening and keep physical movement throughout the sanctuary well lit; the audio engineer who was constantly making changes to help serve the musical dynamics in the space; the musicians who played for over three hours without ebbing once in their own energetic leadership; the ushers and board members attending to those in physical and spiritual need, tirelessly sensitive to a vast array prayer requests; the childcare workers who circulated through the back to see what was happening between sessions of selflessly watching parents’ kids; the cafe and craft services workers who kept people hydrated and nourished; those who came in late the night before to clean the floors and prepare the sanctuary; the welcome team members who made sure visitors and people newly committed to Christ found a place to belong; and our staff members looking to fill gaps wherever they could with a sense of selflessness that truly epitomizes the ethos that makes New Life the great place that it is. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this list is that the large majority of all of these people are volunteers. Moreover, this is not their first Sunday serving. In fact, this kind of divine move was possible, in part, precisely because they have been faithful for weeks and months and years. These people are so fluid in service, ready in anticipation of the not-yet needs, that the ‘unexpected’ finds a natural place to manifest—to become the ‘expected.’

The second thing that stands out is that these kinds of encounters are well within our grasp, at least by the assertions of the late revivalist Charles Grandison Finney. Finney wrote: “You see why you have not a revival. It is only because you do not want one. Because you are not praying for it; nor anxious for it, nor putting forth efforts for it.”[1]

Throughout our church-wide month of fasting, I have been keenly aware of my own need for God to revive his work in me (Hab. 3:2). I have been asking God to usher me into deeper places of his presence, to move in the supernatural gifts of God in new ways. And I know I join with many more devout saints than I in asking God for the same for our church. However, this is not some means to my own self-indulgent end (though I would scarcely make any excuse for myself in desiring more of God’s presence), but one that has the wellbeing of others in mind. Another of Finney’s statements reveals, in part, why we enjoyed yesterday’s visitation:

“When the wickedness of the wicked grieves and humbles and distresses Christians. Sometimes Christians do not seem to mind any thing about the wickedness around them. Or if they talk about it, it is in a cold, and callous, and unfeeling way, as if they despaired of a reformation: they are disposed to scold at sinners—not to feel the compassion of the Son of God for them. But sometimes the conduct of the wicked drives Christians to prayer, and breaks them down, and makes them sorrowful and tender-hearted, so that they can weep day and night, and instead of scolding and reproaching them, they pray earnestly for them. Then you may expect a revival. Indeed this is a revival begun already. Sometimes the wicked will get up an opposition to religion. And when this drives Christians to their knees in prayer to God, with strong crying and tears, you may be certain there is going to be a revival.”[2]

Behind yesterday’s encounter with the Holy Spirit lays an unseen praying multitude, a selfless group of people whom only heaven knows the names of. In Finney’s estimation, revival is the domain and responsibility of the church, and I must agree. It is not some narcissistic internally-focused series of encounters, as some have made it, but a cry for renewal and the salvation of the perishing.

To those praying and to those serving, I offer my sincere thanks. My heart is so full writing this, even to tears, once again, as I feel heaven draw near. We are privileged by your generosity, by your thoughtfulness, and by your willingness to set your own agendas aside in order to serve others. But my thanks is little in comparison to God’s: it is as if I can hear the heaven’s applause as they celebrate, cheering us onward.

Christopher

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[1] Charles Grandison Finney, Lectures on Revival, “Lecture 2; When Revival Is To Be Expected,” https://www.ccel.org/ccel/finney/revivals.iii.ii.html, 34.

[2] Finney, Lectures, “Lecture 2; When Revival Is To Be Expected,” https://www.ccel.org/ccel/finney/revivals.iii.ii.html, 26–27.