In order to communicate the vision of corporate Holy Spirit-led and Presence-centered gatherings, I have chosen to be anecdotal and autobiographical in style. I trust this will not distract from my desire to communicate what spiritual hunger and Holy Spirit dependence produces.
For many believers, certain benchmark experiences establish a high water mark to which one aspires. For me, this culminated in a five-year season where twenty to seventy people met regularly to “be with the Lord” in our parish in Vancouver, BC.
The Panasonic Man
I have always felt out of synch with rank and file Christian experience. Early in ministry my peers called me “The Panasonic Man” – I was simply “ahead of my time!” This desire to explore and push the envelope was instilled in me by my father. He was a humanist in the classical sense. He wanted to explore the richness of human endeavor… literature, science, exploration, etc. He was a life-long learner.
From my early years, I have been interested in spiritual things.
From my early years, I have been interested in spiritual things. This manifested in a hunger to know God. I never questioned the reality of a creator. I was born a good Deist. However, I wanted to ‘experience’ the divine, if that was indeed possible.
After a long period of investigation, examining various spiritualties and faith traditions, I was drawn to a group of Christian disciples during my undergraduate years. They seemed to have something I lacked. This led to a simple personal surrender, yielding my life to Jesus Christ whom I had become convinced was alive, having resurrected from death. Thus, I could engage Him. My life changed dramatically!
Deep Spiritual Hunger
The hunger for God continued unabated. Responding to a call to serve the Lord in ordained ministry, I entered an evangelical seminary. While the experience of being steeped in Biblical truth and mentored graciously by my profs was a blessing, I still yearned for more… The culture of the school was quietly Cessationist – there was little or no expectation for any supernatural engagement or intervention. Prayers were perfunctory. The practice of ministry was to plan strategically with the best human resource base available, asking the Lord to bless our efforts. It was only later that I began to question these basic assumptions.
Things came to a head when after graduate work and a year of reading courses for ordination, I was made a Deacon and placed in my first parish. I crashed and burned. I did not have the resources to lead a parish, even with five years of seminary! I was not angry with God. I knew He had saved and dramatically transformed my life. I knew I was called to ordained ministry, and even called to the parish I struggled in so profoundly. Instead of bitterness, a deep hunger for the Lord captured my heart. When I heard about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, I knew this is what I needed.
Having again surrendered and committed my life to Jesus as Lord in a fresh way, I was blessed with a spiritual language to worship My Lord. Everything changed. With a fresh understanding of how our Heavenly Father is in loving covenant with His children, I began to experience Him leading me, directing my life and decisions in an active way. I realized that God was at work around me and I simply needed to discern and follow His lead. This was in stark contrast to asking
I became quite aware of the double-mindedness that characterized my life. I knew intellectually that the scriptures spoke of supernatural life, but my formation in an anti-supernatural empirical culture worked against this. Fortunately, God opened the door for me to find excellent mentors who explained and demonstrated supernatural living. This was reinforced by conferences, retreats, etc.
God to bless MY plans! Amazing Kingdom happenings occurred – parishioners were healed, spirits that kept people in bondage were broken off, folks turned and yielded their lives to Jesus… we were in revival!
Small Group Prayer
Another shift awaited as our family transitioned to the West Coast. After a few months of settling into a warm and supportive community, our parish leadership team had a day-long retreat. The main focus was for the senior pastor to communicate a vision of small groups. After an excellent initial presentation, I suggested that we pray into this… I was asked to lead out in prayer and simply said, “Come Holy Spirit.” And He did! All present literally fell on the floor for over an hour under the power of the Holy Spirit. This profound visitation changed everything!
This led to bi-weekly gatherings (Thursday and Sunday nights) – later to Thursdays only – that lasted for five years! The format was simple –
25 to 30 minutes of worship choruses, knit together with a clear focus, glorifying and welcoming Jesus.
I offered a statement, affirming that we had simply come to be with the Lord, asking Him to direct the gathering.
Several periods of silence, listening, and discerning what the Holy Spirit was doing - then responding in unity to His direction.
A guest speaker (local pastors usually) “preaching their passion.” I asked them to speak as though it was the last sermon they’d ever preach. It was amazing . . . the messages were passionate, profound, and anointed.
Following the message I again called the community to centered silence, waiting on the Lord with the expectation that the Lord would “confirm the word through the accompanying signs.” (Mark 16: 20 NKJV)
Sometimes we were
in the Lord’s presence
until the wee hours
of the morning!
As the Holy Spirit ministered to people, the evening unfolded as if time stood still. We were there until 11 PM or 12 midnight regularly (4 to 5 hours). Sometimes we were in the Lord’s presence until the wee hours of the morning! Fairly consistently we found ourselves on our faces at the end of the meeting, thanking the Lord for His kindness in visiting us – a people who really didn’t pray much or do anything special to ‘deserve’ to have Him come to us!
As one may note, the format was simple and unplanned, except for the worship segment and teaching. Participation was welcomed. People learned about and flowed in Spiritual Gifts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12 and 14).
Guarding the Presence
One factor that is difficult to quantify was that I would oversee the meetings. Those participating would offer insights regarding how they discerned the Holy Spirit at work. This was always ‘cleared’ through me. It was not that I controlled the meeting – the Holy Spirit led the gathering. However, I was clearly in authority, guarding the presence of the Holy Spirit and working with the people to welcome and engage Him. People felt safe as I would offer gentle correction when needed. Thus, there was no “flaky behavior.” Still the Holy Spirit ministered powerfully with healing and deliverance. There were times the power of God was so strong none of us could stand up!
The Holy Spirit
delights in God’s children
and likes to be with us.
Sometimes the meetings seemed to drift. Initially I was afraid that we might be grieving the Holy Spirit or quenching His work. We learned quickly that the Holy Spirit is not easily offended, leaving the gathering “with bat in hand.” Instead we found that the Holy Spirit delights in God’s children and likes to be with us. Whenever we sensed we were drifting a bit, I would simply invite the Holy Spirit to bring us back “on track” and He did!
We did not advertise and our numbers never grew beyond 70. Frankly, I believe the dynamic would have changed had the numbers increased markedly. As one can imagine, these were life-changing meetings. We experienced a sweet, gentle visitation.
I tried to share the leadership of the meetings (even specific segments) with others but only one of my spiritual sons seemed to have the gift mix and sensitivity to lead. This was a barrier to having this model easily reproducible.
In the midst of this, in my quiet time, the Lord impressed upon me that I was a typology – an Abinadab. I discovered that there are four Abinadabs mentioned in the Bible. A couple of these were rather unsavory. I sensed that He (I hoped) was speaking of a figure in 1 Samuel 7 and 2 Samuel 6. The Ark of the Covenant fell into the hands of the Philistines.
After a season the Ark came to Abinadab who stewarded the presence of the Lord for two decades. Then David came and took the Ark to Jerusalem. I had a sense that I too would “steward” the presence of the Lord.
The reference to Abinadab shook me but there seemed to be a connection with this Biblical character and my growing desire to engage the presence of the Lord. As we transitioned to Seattle, I had a sense that we would be fostering these “presence meetings” but with more people involved. As it happened, I was able to work with others welcoming the presence of the Lord in other contexts and in other ways. I tried to host meetings similar to those in Vancouver, BC but they did not work. I’m not sure if it was a cultural issue but I found that people in Seattle had difficulty waiting on the Lord. They could not keep quiet. It seemed they needed to fill the silence with sound . . . Nothing brings out our insecurities more than silence! I may have misread the situation in the Pacific NorthWest but the meetings characterized by the sweet presence of Jesus in Vancouver were not reproduced in Seattle and environs.
As Holly and I returned to Maritime Canada in 2011, I continued to ache in my spirit for Presence-Centered Worship and Waiting on The Lord. For a season, I hosted meetings at Bethel Church in Halifax. Worship was led by Andrew MacGregor who understood the dynamics of pursuing God’s Presence. Doors also opened in conservative evangelical churches (typically dispensationalist) for us to teach on the Holy Spirit. This grew out of longstanding relationships we had with Baptists and Brethren. We love their commitment to the Word of God. As gentle models of worship combined with quiet seasons of waiting on the Lord were demonstrated, Body Ministry began to flow with expression of the phenarosis (NT Greek) or manifestation gifts - cf. 1 Corinthians 12.
We desire to encourage believers in churches and smaller fellowships to experience Spirit-dependent worship, Body ministry, and daily life!