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My flight home from Moscow landed in San Francisco about 10:00 p.m. on Palm Sunday. It was closer to 11:00 p.m. by the time I collected my luggage and arrived home.
The first Church service I was to go to after returning from Moscow was the Friday night renewal service. coincidentally, I was also slated to "run" that service -- I get to run one Renewal service per month and this month it happened to be the one on Good Friday night, April 5.
One of our assignments in the Pastoral Internship program I am in was to prepare/preach a sermon. I had prepared a sermon on the Lordship of Jesus Christ before I left for Moscow and had successfully given it at my internship class that Tuesday (less than 48 hours after arriving back from Moscow). I planned to give that teaching at the renewal meeting for Good Friday.
I was a little concerned -- would the Lord really show up at this meeting? It is one thing to pray for people during the ministry time, assured that God will in fact show up. But it is entirely another thing to be in charge of the meeting. Would God show up? I wanted to give Him complete control of the meeting. What if my plans for the meeting did not match up with what He wanted to do? Would He show me His will instead? It became a big matter of prayer for me -- Lord teach me how to see/do what You are doing at this meeting. Please do show up there and come meet Your people!
On Thursday evening, I had my usual end-of-day devotions and prayer time. The Lord started speaking to me about what He wanted to do on Friday at the renewal meeting, and it did NOT include my little sermon. Instead He took me to Isaiah 53 and showed me how that was a "heaven's eye-view" of the crucifixion. Then He took me to the great commission in Mark 16:15-18. He started speaking to me about this being the purpose of the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection -- to share the Good News and to do so in His power. Then He started reminding me of what He had done in Moscow and how so much of that was about empowering His Church to go forward in His power and to speak His words. He started telling me how He also wanted to do that here in the States and even in my own church.
The Lord ended up speaking to me for a few hours about what He wanted to do at the renewal meeting.
"In fact," He told me, "I want you to release the people there to pray for each other and minister to each other tomorrow night."
(Now, we have a rule at our renewal meetings that only those on the prayer team are allowed to pray for or minister to people who come forward for prayer at the renewal meetings. This was put into effect a long time ago when the renewal meetings were much bigger. And it was put into effect because there had been a strong need for this type of rule. Folks had been coming up and praying all sorts of weird things over people, giving them bizarre prophesies, etc. So Bill Hernandez, the pastor in charge of our prayer teams, put this rule in effect to protect people. He wanted the prayer team comprised of people who's character he knew and trusted, and people who he knew were open to correction if it were needed. He wanted the prayer team ministering for the right reasons and in the right spirit. But we'd been having renewal meetings for two years now and that rule had been in effect for over 1.5 years.)
I definitely wanted to obey the Lord, but I also wanted to stay in submission to my pastor's guidelines and concerns. I knew that I had permission to run the meeting however I felt I should, but I wondered what Bill would think of my putting aside that rule and letting folks minister to each other. I voiced that concern to the Lord.
The Lord told me that I was NOT caught in between obeying Him and obeying Bill and suggested I discuss this with Bill. In fact, the Lord arranged for Bill to call me the next day at work. I shared with Bill that I felt the Lord had told me to open it up for people to pray for each other. Then Bill voiced some of his concerns about it to me. We found a way to address his concerns and still permit people to pray for each other. In fact, Bill's concerns were very valid and this way seemed like a very good way. For instance, Bill was concerned that people might give bazaar prophesies or to try to do deliverance when it was not needed. So I made up some guidelines -- asking those who were not not the ministry team to simply pray blessings or invite the Lord to increase that they were not to give prophesies or pray anything negative or corrective over people. I ran my guidelines past Bill and he said that he felt comfortable releasing people to pray for each other under those guidelines. So, now I had my pastor's permission/blessing to do what the Lord had been speaking to me about.
(Things really do work out well when the people involved sincerely seek the Lord's will in what they do!)
The Lord had also spoken to me to split the worship into two sections. Usually we have about an hour of worship. But He wanted me to do 1/2 hour of worship, then have the teaching from Isaiah and sharing about what He did in Moscow. I was to have an alter call for those who wanted to be empowered to share His good news. Then, we were to have another 1/2 hour of worship while we ministered to those who came up on the special call. After the worship, I was to give the guidelines on how to pray for each other and turn people loose to minister to each other. Seemed like a simple plan.
Well, Lani called Bill shortly before the service started to remind him that we were very close to our 2 year anniversary. Bill called me and asked me to say something about that. Since it was Lani's idea, I suggested that we let Lani give a short testimony about this and how she had been impacted by it.
Bill also informed me that he was not feeling well and would not be there that evening, so I was on my own.
I got to Church about 1/2 hour before ministry team pre-prayer started. I went over my plans with the worship leader and asked him how he felt about it. He thought it was fine. So, it seemed that there was a good plan for the night and it was must a matter of following it. The only problem was that I was starting to get those jitters again -- what if I accidentally tried to control the Lord? What if I wondered off-base from what He wanted to do? Would He really show up with His power and His anointing?
Ministry team pre-prayer, as usual, was pretty hot. I was actually relieved to see Him show up in power on the team -- if He showed up here, then He probably planned to show up at the service as well. I once again committed the service to Him, giving Him permission to do whatever He wanted to; giving Him total control of the meeting.
I found that during ministry team pre-prayer I was praying those same impartation prayers over the prayer team that I planned to give the altar call for -- empowerment, gifts of healing, signs and wonders to back up His word, boldness to proclaim His words, discernment to see what His Spirit was doing and who's hearts He had prepared, etc.
The service started with worship, which went well, as it always does. Then it came time for me to go up front. I went and sat on the corner of the stage for what was supposed to be the last song. However, the worship leader got "caught up" in the worship and decided to do a few extra songs -- so that worship went for about 50 minutes instead of 30. I did not know what to do, so I just sat there on the corner of the stage for 20 minutes and worshipped. While I did this, I had a chance to look over the meeting ... it was a small crowd that night -- only 40 or so people. As I looked over the group, I could see the Holy Spirit moving on this person or that person, but He was not speaking to me specifically about what He was doing.
After the worship ended, I sort of waited on the Lord, expecting Him to show me what He was doing over the group and to have a time of group ministry... only He did not show me anything, so I could not do any group ministry. So I invited the folks to have a seat and gave my announcements (three of them). Then I invited Lani up to share about the two year anniversary.
Lani shared a little of how the renewal had originally come to our church two years ago -- our pastors being dry and thirsty and going up to Toronto. She shared about how when they got home, the renewal seemed to have come with them. Then she shared a bit about the impact it had in her own life, including an impartation to pray for people and to share her faith. I asked if this result had lasted -- did she still find it easier to share her faith and pray for people. She said yes.
"Hummmm," I thought. This sounds like it is turning into a lead in for my sharing about Moscow and about God's heart to empower us to share His Good News.
While Lani was sharing, I held the mike for her with one hand and had my other arms around her waist. All of the sudden, my hand (the one around her waist) started to tingle. About then Lani started to manifest a bit of the Lord's presence on her and began having trouble talking. She turned to me and said, "Stop it!" then started laughing. Her reaction was so humorous that others started laughing along with her. Now, I was not doing anything, just holding the mike and interviewing her. But the Lord decided to move in and take over the service.
As soon as I realized what He was doing, I decided to go along with it. I turned to the group and said, "You guys want to have some fun?"
They all nodded.
"Ok," I said, "Let's pray for Lani." By now the Lord's presence had really increased and I cold feel it strongly. Lani was sort of staggering around laughing and crunching from the midsection. I invited a few people to come up and help pray for her -- inviting some who were NOT on the ministry team as well as some who were. Alex is a good friend of Lani's and is on the same worship team Lani is on. Alex came up to pray for Lani and was so overwhelmed by the Lord's present that she ended up falling down on the ground laughing. By this time, many in the congregation were also laughing. The people I'd invited up gathered around Lani and started praying for her. I prayed a bit in the microphone for her as they laid hands on her and prayed for her. The Lord was all over Lani and His power was strong in the room. Pretty soon she was so overcome with His presence that she simply could not remain standing any longer. They stayed with her and prayed some more.
I stood there with the microphone in my hand, not entirely sure of what to do next. Should I share the scripture from Isaiah 53 first or should I launch into the testimony from Moscow? I felt really awkward, realizing that transitions in a meeting were more tricky than I'd thought they'd be.
I threw up a quick prayer for guidance and then turned to address the congregation.
Suddenly, I knew exactly what to say... I guess the prayer helped.
"How many of you were here three weeks ago tonight?" I asked. About a third of the people raised their hands. (On that night, the people at the renewal service had prayed for me because I was going to Moscow. They'd prayed for healing for my neck as well as for empowerment for the trip.)
"Well," I said, "Did any of you notice something is missing?" I waited a few minutes for them to figure out what I was talking about. Then someone got it and called out -- "your neck brace is missing."
"That's right...." I proceeded to tell them how God had healed my neck there and how I'd since been to a very amazed doctor who admitted that this might indeed be a miraculous healing. Then I went on to share what the Lord did in Moscow, emphasizing how the Lord was doing an empowerment to share the gospel. I threw in one or two stories of the miraculous healings and I also threw in a couple of humorous stories from the ministry time. Then I started sharing how it was on God's heart to empower us to share the good news too, just like He'd been empowering the Russian Church.
I cannot tell you how hungry they looked for it! I finished the Moscow testimony and was at another one of those difficult transitions. I knew I was supposed to read that passage from Isaiah 53 about the crucifixion and then read the great commission and share how they were linked together -- how the crucifixion and resurrection was why there was all that power available in the great commission. But I could not figure out a way to transition from the Moscow testimony to the scripture. I stood there for a minute, asking the Lord what to do. I did not get any leading on how to make the transition to the scripture He had given me. All I could see was the hungry look on so many of faces -- they were so hungry to be empowered to be His witnesses. I could see the Holy Spirit resting on many of them.
Since I could not figure out a transition, I decided to skip the scripture. Now I knew this was probably a mistake -- not having any scripture at a Good Friday service. But I could not think of what else to do. So I asked the worship team to come back up and found that most of them were not even in the room at the moment. Talk about awkward situations. I am pretty new at running services and was not sure what to do. So I shot up a silent prayer asking God to somehow cover all my awkwardness and all my mistakes and to turn this to His glory.
Then I gave an altar call. I asked if anyone was hungry to be empowered like God empowered the early Church in the book of acts. I invited those who felt the Holy Spirit on them very strongly right now to come up. I also invited those who had a passion for evangelism that had been burning in them for a long time to come up. I expected that out of the 40 or so people there, maybe 8 to 10 would come up. I explained that this was not the general ministry time, but that we were going to pray specifically for an impartation to share the Gospel in His power. I also explained that we were going to have another worship time for those who did not come forward for this call, and we'd have a general ministry time after that.
Before I could even get the invitation out, people started coming forward. In fact, over 3/4 of the people in the building came up. The worship team was just making their way to the stage. A group of over 30 people stood before me, wanting an impartation of His power and His authority to share His words. I could feel His presence increase over me and I felt so moved that I almost started to cry.
I had done everything wrong -- skipped the scripture, given the call in an awkward way, not been coordinated with the worship team so that there were some awkward pauses. But the Holy Spirit showed up anyhow.
"Teresa," He said to me, "It is My heart to empower them. Just pray for them and watch what I will do!"
So I started to pray over them as a group, asking God to come and to impart into them His heart for the lost. I asked God to give them boldness and to put His words into their mouths. I asked God to open their eyes to see who His Holy Spirit was preparing and to lead them to those people. I asked God to provide Holy Spirit coincidences for them to share the Gospel. I asked God to back up His words with His power as they shared Jesus. I asked God to empower them to lay hands on the sick and to see them recover; to speak a word and see demons fall off of people.
Now, as I was praying over the group, several interesting things started to happen. The first was that God started falling in great power over most of the people in the group. Even some who I'd pegged as "hard to receive" were being empowered and had visible manifestations on them -- and no one was even laying hands on them yet. Another interesting thing was that those on the ministry team began moving among the people while I was still praying over the group -- and God was clearly using them to impart into the people they were praying for. Another interesting thing was that somehow the worship team assembled and began playing a very appropriate song just as I was finishing up the prayer. So there was music for the end of the prayer that I prayed over the group in the microphone. The timing was perfect and the vocal part started just a few seconds after I'd finished, and the song was like an extension of the prayer. Those who had not come up for ministry were soon lost in worship.
So I put down the microphone and started praying for people. It was SO easy to minister under the anointing the Lord had put on the meeting; almost as easy as that incredible Tuesday and Wednesday morning sessions in Moscow. I almost could not believe the power at which the Lord was showing up at my church! I'd seen this power in Toronto and I'd see it in Moscow. But here it was in my church! And even more amazing, here it was in a meeting that I was running and that I'd already managed to mangle with awkward transitions and leaving out the scripture He'd given me, etc. But God's heart was to empower His people, and He was doing it!
It was incredible fun to pray for people and to watch Him come and empower them. I could not believe all the awesome things He was doing and was thrilled how He poured out His spirit on His people. I began to get a better understanding of His heart for His church to share His good news!
Most of the people who'd been prayed for (regardless of who was praying for them) ended up on the floor and stayed there a long time -- many over half an hour. I remembered looking at one person who traditionally does not manifest and who traditionally does not stay down more than 5 minutes or so. That person is a very strong Christian who I really like and respect. They'd been on the floor, shaking under the power for about 20 minutes now. God was doing something different this evening. But God was certainly doing it!
After a while, it was time to get back on the microphone and to give folks guidelines for praying for each other. So I gave the guidelines and turned them loose to minister to each other. A sweet and more gentle spirit came over the place. There was not as much of a power anointing as before, but the Lord was certainly still present. I asked Him how come the power anointing went down. He explained it was because some of these folks were new at ministering to each other. So He was doing a gentler thing, but certainly working through their prayers. I asked Him if He really wanted them turned loose to pray for each other and His reply was "absolutely".
Since everyone was praying for everyone, I did not feel any compulsion to minister. I sort of kept an eye on things but also had the opportunity so sit down and visit with a few people who had specific questions. It was an incredibly sweet time -- I could have basked in His sweet presence for hours -- in fact, I think we did. As the evening wore on, the power level seemed to go up again. The Lord really fell on one group way over on the left side of the ministry area. The whole group began laughing and shaking in unison. Then the Lord called my attention to another group over on the right side -- He was moving there too. In fact, He seemed to be moving all over the room.
It was an incredibly good night and I felt very blessed. Even thought I had not been prayed for myself, I felt deeply met and filled, as though I'd spent a few hours doing carpet time with Him.
Then the Lord spoke to me one last time with a little tease: "And you were afraid I would not show up tonight! ... But it was on My heart to empower My people and to release them to go forth in that power. That is what I was doing tonight."
Lord, continue to move on your Church and to empower us to be Your witnesses!
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