I had the privilege of being at the New Wine regional leaders conference this week, which was, in many ways, such a joy and an encouragement. I had gone simply to soak up whatever there was to soak up, and that’s what I did. Admittedly, I did have to resolve to put away some left over cynicism from a previous era of being more significantly involved (and hurt in) the evangelical charismatic circles I frequented back in some of my Salvation Army days. It didn’t take me too long to back seat some of that cynicism, recognising I was now in a fresh place and differnet context myself.
I do have to say, for all my own faith and spirituality has broadened somewhat over the years, that environment was very much familiar and home simply because, from the beginning of my Christian life, God often moved in powerful and sometimes unexplainable ways, and that was my common experience even although I hadn’t been taught to expect stuff. I hadn’t been to ‘that session’ on Alpha where the expectations were raised!
No one told me to weep buckets of repentance at my conversion. No one told me that I should expect to hear other-worldly sounds and experience the Holy Spirit like surges of electricity later that evening in my room when I pleaded with God to make himself real to me. No one mentioned the ‘trance-like’ prayer experences. And, to be perfectly honest, I had never been taught about speaking/praying/singing in tongues before I discovered that I had been doing it. No one taught me what words of knowledge were, but I was getting them and speaking to people about them, and there was certainly no one teaching me about the challenge of receiving prophetic words and the cost that can come in the sharing of them!
It was through The Salvation Army Roots Conference, the closest thing the Army had to a charismatic renewal movement, that I began to understand what God had been doing in my life up to that point that had othewise seemd to be just been a little bit freaky and ‘side-show-Bob’. At the Salvation Army training college, I became one of the weirdos seeking to introduce charismatic spirituality (totally rooted in SA history) to my fellow students via a renegade home group. All very exciting! A strong charismatic theme followed my through many years of ministry until, well….the cost of being a bit of a lone ranger in all that became part of the reason I became more than a bit disheartened.
Whatever was going on, the slip into my ‘dark night of the soul’ had begun. Still a full-blown card-carrying evangelical charismatic on the outside, inwardly I started to feel a silence which felt like the end of all that I had known to be vital. Prayer, let alone prayer for revival and operating in the gifts of the Spirit, became a secondary thing and, through the fog of poor mental health over many years, sometimes non-existant. The desert of those couple of years was a very painful time. God seemed to shut up the heavens and I was left with an empty silence. I did, however, learn to meet God in the silences through contemplative disciplines, before gently realising that, in many ways, the contemplative and charismatic paths are so very closely aligned in the pursuit of a holy, otherly God.
Our spirituality and experience moves on with the years. The biggest tradgedy, I feel, is when we let go entirely of one season of what God has done without integrating the learning and experience in with the next season. I say that simply because I did it a little, and because, actually, in the face of it, it’s very easy to become discouraged. It is very easy just to move on because that’s the path of least resistance! I’ve just been in so many places where I’ve felt the pressure to be a closet charismatic. Thankfully, I think things are changing in the church as a whole. It is much more common-place to see/hear charismatic influences at play in even the most unexpected places.
I very much long for a church wholly open to the fullness of God moving in and through his people in a joyful and obedient abandonment to all he wants to do in and through us. I find myself needing to simply reflect on, and reintegrate many faded passions into life and ministry in these days. I suspect that it will be quite necessary to meet the contemporary challenges of mission in society in this ‘spiritual-not-religious’ age.