Fifteen years ago we moved to South Bend, IN. The little congregation we came from had just a year before started to experience what people called “manifestations of God”. I never before saw people clucking like chickens or roaring like a lion in a prayer meeting. When the pastor and his wife (friends of ours to this day) came to tell my husband and I a little about their experience at a conference in Anaheim they and my husband began laughing uncontrollably in my living room. The wife told a story of being at a restaurant where some of the people from the conference were still exhibiting some of the manifestations that had been happening in the conference. When they went to leave she could not open the door. She sensed in her spirit the Lord ask her to go to each of the restaurant workers and explain to him or her what was happening. Once she obeyed she was allowed to leave.
In South Bend we landed in a brand new church plant called Open Door Christian Fellowship. As nearly as we could discern one of the pastors had been at the same conference in Anaheim as our previous pastor and his wife. For the next eight years (most of which was in that fellowship) my walk included increased “manifestations” of the Holy Spirit such as praying in tongues, laughter, prophetic words, being slain in the spirit, symptoms of labor, and spiritual dreams and visions. These experiences were always usually intense, often thought provoking, and sometimes stressful and confusing. F0r the seven year we were part of Open Door the fellowship moved from a basement gathering to an actual building but never quite broke 100 members. When we moved out of state we immediately began to attend Clark Fork City Church. At the time it numbered between 600 and 900 participants. They too experienced similar manifestations.
Those were exciting times even though leadership often called them messy. I guess trying to explain why someone is rolling on the floor laughing to someone who never had that experience themselves was just a bit difficult. At the same time, attendance generally increased and budgets were most often met so who was going to argue with what “the Spirit” was doing. Over all, the congregates were happy “when God showed up” which is what we began calling it when the types of manifestations I described began happening on a regular basis. Soon people made pilgrimages to places that had a reputation for being “spirit filled”, like Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship and Brownsville in Florida. Some went in order to “get filled” and “bring it back” to their fellowships. Others went for their own refreshing. When people were physically healed, like Heidi Baker, a fairly well known missionary from Mozambique, even greater excitement was generated.
When the manifestations began to wane or stopped altogether however, nobody knew what to do. In some settings leadership instructed their congregations on how to get more of the spirit. This behavior sometimes lead to a hyper spirituality coupled with a subtle condemnation of those who were not “getting touched”. In other settings leadership simply let the sermons become the central focus again. This attitude sometimes lead to a decrease in attendance and a more legalistic mind set of those who remained. A few fellowships continue to see the manifestations I described. But, not many make them as much a focus as they once were.
Granted, I have not conducted a study or gathered official data. I have simply watched, participated in a few different congregations, entered into conversations, and reflected on my own experiences. One aspect I have noted is as soon as people began asking questions–Why are these things happening? What should we do about or with them? Where is the focus? Who is in control? How do we know?–many of the manifestations diminished. I am not saying these manifestations are “not of God”. I believe for the most part they are. Nor am I saying they do not have a purpose. I think they do. I just do not know what it is. I am saying I think the hype of manifestations and the focus on them can lead to abuse in some situations and neglect in others. I am also saying as soon as we think we have the formula and act as if we can make “God show up” in predetermined ways, we have stepped into some dangerous territory.
I also believe one of the reasons the manifestations waned is because when we asked our questions–why, what, where, who, how–we did not like the answers. I personally do not have an answer for why. I’ve tried to find one. Told myself several possible whys but eventually landed in the “because God is God” camp. What to do has evolved as I matured. Again it comes down, for me at least, to letting whatever is happening happen and protecting those it is happening to. The focus while initially on the manifestation ultimately needs to be taken to God. I know this because as soon as I do it I have peace. If what is happening is not His doing I at least have turned it over to Him to do with as He will. And if it is Him who better knows His purpose.
As irony would have it, I was in the middle of writing this piece (and about to dis manifestations since my more recent experience is that God shows up quite frequently without them if we are willing to see Him) when a dear friend came over with her friend to see our new puppies. We ended up, she in laborious intercession and me playing midwife, sitting in the middle of my kitchen floor. My youngest daughter (5) for whom seeing manifestations is completely new, placed her icy hand on my friend’s arm and prayed. My youngest son (now 18) for whom at my daughter’s age manifestations were an integral part of his life, ran interference. You see, our home was a hub of activity at that moment. My non-religious sister and her two adult children had also come to see puppies and a fairly new friend with his two young children had just arrived for an NFL play-off game. They too were escorted downstairs to see puppies.
It was messy. It was unexpected. I am fairly certain what I have shared is not exactly what the synchroblog organizers expected to see when they thought of the topic of epiphany. But God showed up this week-end just as He had at the food bank when I wrote about Advent, so I thought I’d share.
Here is a list of participants with links to their contribution: