I spend a lot of time attending Christian meetings.
In my home church, we have multiple services every weekend. When I’m preaching, I get to share the same sermon four times – the same outline, points, the same spontaneous humour, repeatedly. I told Kay, my wife, that I get sick of the sound of my own voice.
Smiling, she murmured, ‘I completely understand how you feel.’
I’ve been in so many ‘times of worship’ in the last 50 years, I’ve calculated that, cumulatively, I have sung one rather overused song for no less than three months, and have spent nearly a year of my life with my hands raised.
Ok, I made those stats up. Itinerant ministry has granted me the privilege of seeing the Church in a myriad of tribal variations. Only very occasionally has my experience of church been so bad, so boring, that I’ve felt sorry for God because he shows up for all these gatherings. Omnipresence has its drawbacks.
But out of all of the thousands of services I have attended, there is one that stands out as the most remarkable. It took place nearly 30 years ago. Decades later, I still meet people who say, whimsically, ‘I was there that night.’ I was the speaker, although I didn’t get to say much. It all began when, while walking to the tent where 1,000 young people were gathered, God whispered:
‘Tonight, I’m going to teach you a lesson that you’ll never, ever forget.’
This piqued my interest. God doesn’t speak to me a lot, at least in my assessment. I was due to preach on the power of the Holy Spirit, and had planned to begin my talk with a simple illustration of fatherhood. It’s the loving Father who gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and when we feel safe with him, we’re more likely to be open to his power. My then 2-year-old son Richard would toddle out onto the platform, and I would hold him in my arms for a minute or two, while talking about how secure he was with me as his dad. That was it. The worship band, led by Noel Richards, would play quietly.
When the moment came, my little boy suddenly threw his arms back, and for a moment, it looked as though he was going to punch me, which would have been awkward. But instead, he wrapped his arms tightly around me, and buried his head in my neck.
It was then that it happened.
People suddenly fell to the ground, instantly succumbing to the wave of the Holy Spirit that filled the tent. Others cried out, a response to the sense of unfathomable awe that pervaded. And within minutes, as Richard and I just stood there, a queue of people formed, folks who had all been instantly healed in that moment. No one asked them to come forward, they just came.
I tried to preach, without success. I’m not into the ‘God moved so powerfully, the sermon was cancelled’ notion. Biblical teaching matters. But that night, it was placed on hold.
And the lesson I learned? The alphabet of Christianity begins with F for Father. How should we pray? Start with, ‘Our Father’.
And for those who have tragically had a negative, even abusive experience of fatherhood, may you find comfort in the truth that Jesus never said that God is like your dad. Rather, he taught that God is like no other father that we’ve ever known. Resting in his fatherhood doesn’t just come naturally to any of us. According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit wants to work in our hearts, enabling us to cry ‘Abba’ and supernaturally enabling us to rest in the Father’s love.
It was a life-altering lesson learned, yet one that will take eternity to fully learn.
He’s a good, good Father.