Gene and I headed South on Thursday. It was a fun trip with so much time to talk. In the car, Gene asked “What are your dreams, Jim? Where do you see yourself in a few years.”
I had no answer. I realized I no longer allowed myself to dream. Disappointment was too certain. My relationship with God had been essentially static for 20 years. I could not honestly say I knew him better or felt any closer to him than I did in college. What would it mean if that could change? With all of my trepidation, there was a deeper hope that some of this scary spiritual stuff might be true. That a person could actually connect with God more deeply and profoundly than I had known. I desperately wanted that to be true, while skeptically resisting every formula offered for that connection.
And so this mixed bag of doubts and hopes arrived at the “campground”. And it really was crazy. The long days started with an hour prayer meeting where 100 men seemed to compete for the distinction of loudest, fastest, and most unintelligble speech. Then the services would begin. The worship music was loud and repetitive. The men danced around the room in a long line. One older fellow blasted away on a Shofar at odd moments. I wanted to hide under the chair.
But I remembered that God had told me to come here. It was not my idea. There was a tiny seed of faith in my heart that he had some good purpose in it. I really looked for that purpose. I was thankful for Gene at my side. He isn’t very crazy and I didn’t feel totally alone. In fact, a lot of guys weren’t dancing, shouting or blowing ram’s horns. There were men that looked sad, or even angry, to me. Why did they come? Did they think God would do something here?
I decided that what God wanted to do with me was relieve my fear of discomfort. He brought me here – to the most uncomfortable church scene I could imagine – to show me it was really safe. I believed he was present. I saw that nobody could really hurt me. In fact, no one even seemed to notice that I was the odd man out. I wasn’t even the only odd man.
By Friday afternoon, I was feeling pretty good. I had resolved to “go with the flow” and not resist. I went up for the prayer lines. I even fell over obligingly when they laid hands on me. It was nice to fit in. But nothing happened. At least nothing to call home about.
Saturday morning I called anyway and told Suzanne what God was doing. I was enjoying the crazy place. It wasn’t so bad. No real experiences. I hadn’t really been slain or anything like that. I was just having fun.
It wasn’t all crazy either. They actually had three pretty good preachers at this conference. Friday evening Jeff Johns preached. He had a nasty cold, had flown in late and was hoarse. But he had my attention. He called us to repentance and restoring of relationships. Gene and I prayed together afterward for healing of our most painful relationships.
Saturday morning the service started off with a bang. The usual exuberant worship settled down as Jeff stepped up to speak again. He could barely croak his words and the crowd fell dead silent. I heard that clear voice in my head again. “Listen to this man!”
Jeff said we needed to “dial down”. To quiet ourselves before the Lord. He began to preach, but in his rasping voice it seemed to me more like a father on his deathbed, leaving his son the most precious things of his heart. Jeff’s message was deadly serious. But it was not about sin or condemnation. It was about the purpose of a man. Being called by God and given a mission. Investing in the lives of others. Persevering when your dreams fall apart. He must have preached for an hour and a half, but he had my attention for every word.