With today being Pentecost Sunday, I have decided to share my own back story in a pentecostal church.
When I was 14 my siblings and I went on a retreat with a youth group here in town. It was a decent trip, but I was quite turned off when my brother and I were mocked by some of the other guys – including the youth leader – for not skinny-dipping in the lake in clear view of the girls cabin.
After that trip I had no desire to attend youth groups anymore. A few months later my brother and sister had returned home on a saturday evening completely enthrolled with a new youth group they visited. The youth pastor was active in ISCF (Inner School Christian Fellowship) where my siblings had first met him. That first week I did not attend, and the next week either.
But after hearing their excitement returning home that second week, and on the prodding of my mother, I decided to check it out the following week.
It was unlike the youth groups I had visited in the past. No sports, no games, no messing around. It was surprisingly similar to a regular church service, but for teenagers. There was about twenty of them. It involved a worship session followed by prayer requests and then prayer – quite lively prayer I might add – followed by the youth pastor reading clips from the past weeks news paper so we could know what’s going on in our world, and how to make a difference. Finally there was a message by the youth pastor and – yes – prayer at the altar.
We gathered around the altar, some people kneeing while others sat comfortably and still some sat up in the first pews. We had formed a circle. The details of the prayer are quite sketchy, but I need to describe my own experience there because it was so formative to my spiritual walk for years to come.
Everyone was praying out loud. Someone would pray louder then the rest and many other prayers were in agreement with that one. I was in front of the first pews kneeling on the ground; my brother was sitting up on a pew just to my left (or was it my right?). I don’t remember when it happened or what exactly ignited it, but suddenly I felt as though there were no one else in the room. I could hear no other voices, but I don’t remember silence either.
It is difficult to describe – especially for an analytical person like myself, because I know how silly this is going to sound to the bulk of my readers – but I suddenly felt as though a holy wave had swept over me. I was overcome with conviction and the tears began to pour out of me. I remember asking the Lord to forgive me over and over again (what else can you do when you feel such holy conviction?). Then something else happened, another wave. This time – if I were to descibe the sensation – it was not a wave of conviction or holiness, but of love and forgivness like as if a white blanket had been placed over me.
My tears of sorrow became tears of joy. All I could pray at that point was “thank you Lord, thank you Lord” repeatedly. I felt as though I were no longer on earth. As if I had been taken up and were floating about in the clouds somewhere. Of course in reality the thought is quite preposterous. I was not in the clouds, I was right there, kneeling among other youths at the altar in a pentecostal church. But I wonder if perhaps there was a deeper metaphorical reality then what could clearly been seen and known, as Paul says: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). In any case, this is how I felt.
I was abruply interrupted and shot back to reality by my brother who grabbed hold of my shoulder and whispered that everybody else had finished praying. It was true. I looked up and realized that everyone was respectfully sitting meditatively waiting for me to finish. I sometimes wonder if my brother had not touched my shoulder if I ever would have been willing to come back to this plain old reality. I didn’t want to. It was so much better where I was at.
The following weeks would see an amazing transformation in me. The following years were marked by two spiritual habits: prayer and proverbs. Every day during lunch I would pray and then open my NIV Study Bible to read through the proverbs. Not a proverb, but the book of Proverbs, highlighting and marking as I went. And if ever there were an occasion to pray, I took it. Prayer vigiles at the church – those all-nighter things, Thursday night prayers, weekly prayers and so on. If ever somebody asked, “does anyone want to pray”, I felt like I had to raise my hand and so “I do, I do” lest someone else get to have this great honor instead of me.
I felt like I had joined a fantastic community, one I wanted to be involved in and do my part as much as possible. Those older then me and with more experience then I would no doubt say I was naive. Today, looking back, I would agree. But being naive about somethings is not all that bad. “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” says Jesus. I was at the church all the time. Once we had youth group at someones home rather then at the church when word came to us that the church basement had flooded due to the storm. My youth pastor and I – along with one other person – had gone back to the church (it was already late on Saturday evening) and went to work right away cleaning up ten inches of flood water so that people could have Sunday School the next morning. My only regret that night was the I had to leave – by 3:00 am because my step-father had come to get me – and the remaining work was done by my youth pastor/friend (at this point he was more then a youth pastor, he was my friend) to finish the work on his own.
These years for me were formative. I have had some crushing experiences since then. I have written this post to for this Pentecost Sunday to remind me to be grateful for such a great start in this blessed faithfilled journey.