Why is it that most of the time when the Holy Spirit falls in power at a church the senior pastor is out of town? No, I’m not trying to be funny, it’s just my experience. I can name time after time, in church after church, that the first meaningful move of the Spirit came when the senior leader was out of town. So the logical question is: Why? I believe the reason is because of the need to control. I don’t care how “free” the senior leader is, there is something about having the responsibility over the congregation, and the desire to protect them that can hinder the flow of Holy Spirit. Nome of these things are wrong. The senior pastor should feel a responsibility for the congregation, and it is a good trait to desire to protect them. The problem comes when that desire to protect keeps something that the Holy Spirit wants to release from happening. Sometimes in our zealous desire to do the best that we can, we wind up unintentionally blocking God’s best because it doesn’t look right or feel right or we don’t understand what is happening. So in my experience the Holy Spirit often waits until the senior leader is absent and then comes in and literally “rocks the boat”.
I think the first time I witnessed this phenomena was on Mother’s Day 1994 at the Atlanta Vineyard. So here, to the best of my memory is that story. The reason that I am telling it is because it was so significant to both Julia and myself. I will probably spend a few nights telling other parts of the year 1994 because of it’s impact on our marriage and our ministry. So it here goes.
The “Toronto refreshing” started in January and was continuing to grow. The Vineyard had been sending some it’s regional directors to Toronto to “check it out”. One of those directors was Happy Layman ( I think I got the name right). Happy was from Indiana, and he was going to the meetings and writing about what he saw and then gathering testimonies from many of the participants. He was sending out these notes to the Vineyard pastors. He called these notes the “Happy Notes”. Now for you prophetic types, isn’t that wild. Here is Toronto where most of the manifestations are about laughter, refreshing and renewal. A place where all the ministry is being done by ministry teams consisting of lay people, and the pastor chronicling all of this is named “Happy Layman” and his notes are “Happy notes.” Don’t tell me that God doesn’t have a sense of humor. Anyway, I digress.
We in leadership had been hearing about these notes, but had not really seen them. Finally Johnny showed them to all of us and we were blown away. We wanted what was going on up there; at least we thought we did. Well, the congregation still had not really heard the full story about what was taking place. It was like the Vineyard as a whole was teetering on the edge of a cliff, trying to decide if this was really God or not. Many of the pastors were skeptical, rightly so. I believe that Johnny was torn as to which way to go. He never said that, and we didn’t know that then, but looking back I believe it to be true. Well Johnny and Anne were out of town on vacation the week of Mother’s Day. Tony Cavener, our associate pastor was scheduled to preach. That seemed safe enough. How can a Mother’s Day sermon stir anything up?
I will never forget that day for as long as I live. For some reason, worship was over the top. Vineyard worship was always good, but you could just sense a freedom in the Spirit and we went on longer and went farther into the presence of God than we usually did. Then Tony got up to preach. I loved hearing Tony preach because He was so prophetic and I always seemed to receive revelation that I wasn’t expecting. To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations, after all, it was Mother’s Day and I had heard all the Mother’s Day sermons anyone could possibly preach. Then he did the unexpected. Instead of preaching, he started talking about receiving the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to move, not only in our life, but corporately through the church. Then he said that he was going to read the “Happy Notes” about what God was doing in Toronto. That’s what he did. He just read the notes word for word. But as he read, you could feel the breath of Holy Spirit begin to blow through out the church. People were getting hungry. Hungry for MORE! More of His presence, More of His power and More of His love. The room was electric! The presence of God was so strong, stronger than I had ever felt it at the Atlanta Vineyard.
After he had finished reading the notes, Tony gave a simple invitation. He asked all of those who wanted more of God, all of those who were willing to risk being called fools, all of those who had to have what was going on in Toronto. He asked all of these people to step forward toward the front. It seemed like everyone in the building tried to get down to the front. The front and all the aisles were full of people. Then He said three simple words, “Come Holy Spirit”, and He came.
Think about it with me for a minute. How can God ignore 400 people who are desperately seeking and crying out for more of His presence? He can’t. When we finally get this one thought, we can change the world. He didn’t ignore us that day. All of a sudden it was total chaos. People were laughing some were crying, some fell on the floor and were shaking and many were moving around like they had been shocked by lightning. After a while, some of us were able to pray for others, but many of us were just out in the Spirit on the floor for a long time. I know that personally, it just made me want so much more of Him. It was like I had tasted something sweet for the first time and life would never be the same without it. It was much the same for Julia. We both wanted more, and we would never be able to turn back, although there would be many times when we were tempted.
For me, Mother’s Day has never be the same. No matter where I am in church, I remember that day. It was the day a switch was turned on in my Spirit. It was a day that I learned that there really was more. Little did Julia and I realize what a shift we had made that day. There was no turning back. We didn’t know it then, but we would find out soon enough.