Before I get into this post, I just want to quickly apologise for my lack of activity lately. With university and student stuff at church getting back into full swing for my final year, it’s been a manic fortnight! It has, however, been a fortnight where I’ve seen God move in surprising and powerful ways. Already there have been testimonies of students across the city being impacted by God coming out of both church and the Christian Union, and there’s still a lot more to come on those fronts. In my own life, I have been experiencing afresh God’s presence and power, and it’s this that I want to share, so this post is more of a personal testimony than anything else.
Over these past couple of weeks I have come to realise that one of the biggest flaws in my thinking about God is that I’ve always semi-consciously assumed that I know what to expect from him. I thought I’d been around churches and conferences long enough to know the way the meetings are going to go, and the kind of things that God was likely to do. It sounds proud and arrogant, and, in a way, I suppose it was, but more than anything else I think it was down to over-familiarity, and a lack of effort on my part when it came to my relationship with God. I might be the only person in the world guilty of this, but somehow I doubt it.
Couple that with something that had been bothering me over the summer that I’d only really spoken to my girlfriend about a couple of weeks before starting uni again – the fact that, if I was being honest, I hadn’t really grown at all with God over the past year. Back in first year at uni, I felt that God brought be on leaps and bounds. I really grew as a Christian, I felt like God was giving me more responsibility, and I was hungry for more. But in second year, for whatever reason, that relationship stagnated. I wasn’t so hungry, and I didn’t feel like I was actually seeing God do anything. This was a pretty self-centred view of it all, but it became a real problem for me.
To sum up so far, before coming to uni, I was in a place where I didn’t have high hopes for what God might do in the future.
Skip forward to the end of Freshers’ Week, when I and most of the other student leaders from my church went away to spend a weekend on a farm in the Peak District and get some teaching and ministry before the term really got going. I was excited for the weekend – I love my church and I love the student team; I was looking forward to spending time with good friends, and getting to know others on the team that I didn’t know so well. What I never really thought about was what God might actually do in all this.
As it turned out, the first night was a wakeup call for me, like God was grabbing my attention. Sung worship turned into a time of prayer and ministry (where people were praying for each other and waiting for God to do stuff), and without really knowing why I stood up to receive prayer. This turned out to be a powerful moment for me, as I found myself almost instantly engaging with God in a way that I hadn’t done in weeks, maybe even months, and in that engagement I felt him gently pushing me forwards into…something. I came out of that time of prayer thinking that something was beginning, but not really knowing what.
The following evening was the big one for me, and it came in another one of these ministry times. One of the other leaders encouraged those of us who wanted a fresh experience of God to receive prayer, and I was one of about five or six of us who responded to this. That time of ministry started like most others for me – people were praying around me and I was trying to engage with God, but I was still pretty much aware of everything that was going on in the room, and not really fully with it in terms of God.
All that changed when one of the leaders of the team came up to me and started telling me what he thought God was saying. If you’re not familiar with this kind of thing that might sound a bit weird, but for me, I’m pretty used to hearing people tell me, and others, that kind of thing. What this leader said really struck me, and it felt like another step on the journey that God had started me on the evening before. What I wasn’t prepared for was what happened next.
Now, in this sort of environment, with people praying for each other, it’s reasonably normal for some people to have physical reactions to the presence of God, like shaking, laughing, crying or falling down. Personally, I’d never experienced a physical reaction of anything beyond a sense of peace. By the way, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and it’s not like you have to have a physical reaction to be meeting with God, but that information is important for what happened that evening.
It’s important because as soon as that first word was given to me, I started to feel a tingling in my hands that became stronger and stronger, like pins and needles but not painful. This continued, and soon my hands began to shake, and then my arms began to shake as well, even as the tingling spread up my arms and to my head and back. Honestly, what it felt like at the time was being on fire without burning. This, for me, was completely new. Nothing like this had happened to me before. But I can’t deny that that evening, God’s presence came upon me in such a way that I just couldn’t resist these physical responses.
As they continued, one of the other leaders came up, and, without knowing what the first had said, confirmed and expanded on the word that had been given to me, giving me more information about the direction that God might want me to take. I was prayed for more, and the time of ministry turned into a time of sung worship, and thought the shaking stopped soon after the music begun, the tingling in my hands continued for a long time afterwards.
Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you because I learnt in an emphatic way that God loves to explode our expectations of him. I was in a static place with God. I wasn’t going anywhere, and I felt like I had everything figured out, but then God met with me in a new and surprising way. He spoke to me, moved me, and changed me. In a way, it was scary. When my hands started shaking, I was scared – that kind of thing happened to other people, not to me! But by the end of the weekend, I was left without a doubt that I had had a profound experience of God, and that knowledge renewed me and invigorated me for the term ahead.
So if you think you have God sussed, don’t kid yourself. He doesn’t fit into the neat little boxes that we lay out for him, because he is far too big for that. If you give him even the slightest chance, he will surprise you, and I can assure you that every barrier he breaks down between you and him is worth it, and every glimpse you see of him that shows you more of who he is will turn your life around.