In Pentecostal tradition there was an expectation of encounters with God in which the worshiper feels a touch to their whole being. For me these encounters had always been an overflow of joy that could not be contained. It was like being embraced by God from the inside out. That is how I knew the power of God, not as something that zapped me from the outside. I had been prayed for by the biggest and the best: anointed, head slapped, and shook, but I had never felt anything like an encounter with an external power. That changed in the spring of 1973. Herschel Gammil was preaching a revival at the North Cleveland Church of God. He had been my pastor in Alabama and he had loosened my neck many times. The altar call was for persons who wanted the have the gifts of the Spirit working in their lives. Having recently been called to preach, I desperately wanted the Spirit to work through me. When he touched my forehead it felt like a bolt of lightning struck the top of my head. I had the sensation of my feet flipping up to the level of my head and my body gently floating down to the floor. My sister witnessed the event and said it looked more like I was slammed to the floor. She worried I had been injured. I left the service feeling electric.
On the way to the dorm I was impressed to go to the prayer room. I challenged the thought, having just had the most powerful encounter of my life, but I had a compulsion to go. When I arrived my roommate was kneeling quietly at the altar. I walked over and gently laid two fingers on his forehead to pray. I exaggerate not, he was lifted from his kneeling position and thrust backward against the wall. He immediately began to pray a victorious prayer full of praise and thanksgiving. When we finished he asked me what I hit him with. He said it didn’t hurt but it felt like I had hit him with a baseball bat.
That evening contained my first, last, and only experiences with this kind of divine manifestation. I have on occasion prayed for people who have been “slain in the Spirit” who later told me they felt the power of God flow through my hands, but I didn’t feel the power.
A few years after my encounter I went home for a visit with my parents and my Grandmother O’Quinn was there. Grandpa had been dead for a couple of years and she was splitting her time between her eight daughters instead of burdening just one or two (a simplified version of that story). Dressed in a brown paisley dress, her never-cut hair was covered with a blue flowered bandanna. She had a bad heart and was stooped and frail as she approached eighty. As we talked our conversation shifted to the goodness of God and she expressed her deep desire, “I just want to feel the Power one more time before I die.” As she sat in her chair and prayed, the rest of us knelt and prayed. Before long she was speaking in tongues and praising God with occasional rhythmic jerks of her upper body. She let out a shout, rose, twirled and danced, head bobbing, and glories flowing. It was wonderful. I am thankful I continue to feel God’s power bubbling up from within, but before I die, I want to feel the power of God again like I did in 1973, not just His overwhelming presence, His power.
Many in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement now make light of these manifestations, offering the same criticisms non-Pentecostals use to raise against us all. They see bizarre physical gesticulations and assume the worshipper is simple-minded and dependant on emotional catharsis for escape. “What purpose does it serve?” “How is Christ glorified?” I too am concerned that people might love the experience more than God. But I also suspect the more reasoned and sedate might love their ideas about God more than they love Him. As for me, I am confident I never loved God more, felt more accepted by Him, nor gave Him more glory with every fiber of my being, than I did in those experiences. Manifestations of the power of God are real and I am thankful for them. I do not measure my spirituality by them, nor by their infrequence but I know God shakes things up from time to time.
[And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN." This expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:26-29]
January 22, 2010