I am very thankful that I grew up in a Pentecostal church. I am very content with my core images of God that were informed, if not formed, by Pentecostal worship. Last evening I sat in on our youth group meeting. I am always blessed to be with our youth; they lift my spirit. As I observed them praying in the altars I reflected on who God is to me.
In my childhood and youth God was both wholly other and ever present. He was a holy God who had to be approached with reverence, but He was also a faithful friend who never left us. In worship, our God-of-terror/God-of-peace was encountered. In these encounters people were “slain” in the Spirit and “made drunk” on His presence. Often, individuals were snatched up into a frenzied dance; others seemed more invited into a heavenly sachet.
His presence might call forth shouts and screams that seemed to lift the rafters. On other occasions a “holy hush” settled in on the congregation like a warm blanket of palpable silence. Songs were always sung from the heart as a testimony or witness to our common faith. Testimonies were fervent and spoke of life and death; “Pray for me. My husband was drunk when I left home and he said that if I came to church tonight he would kill me when I got home.” Yes, our worship was a dramatic presentation with the whole sanctuary a stage.
My classmates complained of their boring Sunday services. I remained quiet, unwilling to “cast my pearls” before those who had no point of reference. From our worship I inhaled three truths.
First, God is and He is present, or, at the very least, always near. I have had my seasons of doubt, questioning everything from my sanity to my destiny. I have wondered if I would survive, but I have never questioned if He existed or if He was an all-powerful, all-knowing, holy, and merciful God. At least, I have never doubted for more than a few seconds at the time.
Second, God speaks. This has been a theme of my life and ministry. Our God continually speaks. He has most clearly revealed Himself in His Word, both incarnated and inscripturated. Throughout history He speaks special words, sometimes audible and sometimes beyond language. He speaks through all the events of our lives. He speaks to individuals, to congregations and to nations.
Thirdly, God listens. All too often we view God’s act of hearing us as instrumental. That is, we focus not on His listening but on what He might do about what He hears. This implies God is valued more for what He does than for who He is. The truth that God listens to us should be cherished in and of itself. The one who is without beginning or end loves us enough to listen to our every thought. He hears not only our ideas but our heart. He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is touched by the very feeling of our infirmities. He cares. He knows.
In sum, the core truth ingrained in me in my experiences as a child growing up in the Church of God is that my Creator desires an ongoing intimate relationship with me. He does not want to be an idea, a principle, a system worthy of my attention; He wants deeply interpersonal fellowship with me. And if I truly desire that He will make it happen.
January 6, 2011