Monday, November 26, 2012

A new way of worship

I’m not feeling God’s presence in worship very much these days.

Maybe for some people, that’s not a big deal. But for me, over the last few years, worship has become the most important thing in my life. I have felt more alive, more free, more beautiful and more loved in worship than anywhere else. It completes me. One of my main desires in coming to Bethel was to go deeper with God in worship. And yet here I am sensing His presence even less than before.

Until about seven years ago, I felt nothing in worship except enjoyment for the music itself. Then something shifted. I had times of being filled with the Holy Spirit. And feeling His presence after years of feeling nothing was like a cup of cold water in the desert. Finally, this felt like a real relationship. My heart came alive when I praised and adored and experienced the King of kings. I treasured those new moments of intimacy with God. I felt His favour, His approval and His pleasure. And so I was thrilled to come to Bethel where His presence is known to be so tangible, where people are free to enjoy His presence in extreme ways.

And now, I barely feel Him. And it makes it especially hard that so many around me have dramatic experiences in worship.

People say, “don’t trust your feelings.” Okay, but feelings ARE important or God wouldn’t allow us to experience Him tangibly. Throughout scripture, God has deep emotions and expresses them.

Now, in worship, I feel what Isaiah talked about in chapter 6, when He was taken up into the presence of the Lord: “Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips.” These days, in worship, I just feel raw and undone.

The other day, I was sitting at the back of the auditorium during worship blinking back tears. Then a song with the words, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” began. And I realized. I couldn’t sit and feel sorry for myself anymore. I had to stand, raise my hands and give this Holy God, the God of the universe, His due. Because He is holy. And He deserves praise, whether it’s an intimate experience of His presence, or a sacrifice of praise.

I think I’m going to trust that He is doing a new work of worship in me and it’s okay that it doesn’t feel like it used to.  

           -- Anne

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Running in circles

I ran the US Half Marathon in San Francisco two weekends ago. It was an out-and-back course -- out from Fisherman's Wharf, through the Presidio, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and back. 
The day before the race

It was an out-and-back experience in other ways too. Emotions and memories overwhelmed me through the last half of the race. By the time I crossed the finish line I was a mess.

The last time I was in San Francisco -- almost exactly six years ago -- it was the tail end of the worst two weeks of my life. Anne and I were publishing DogSport magazine and we had hit rock bottom. We were broke. Before arriving in San Francisco I lost my wallet and passport in Arizona and then suffered through a disappointing tradeshow for the magazine. Then the gas got shut off back home in Guelph leaving Anne in crisis trying to shuffle debt around to make room to pay an overdue bill -- all with our three young kids in tow and winter looming. By the time I rolled into Northern California in time for the wedding of a close friend, I felt completely strung out and desperately alone and hopeless.

But that trip also began a great spiritual awakening for me. At my lowest possible point, God met me. Things didn't miraculously turn around financially until a few years later. But in my desperate state that November six years ago, I felt Jesus' love so tangibly that it marked me and changed me forever.

None of this was on my mind three weeks ago when I booked our hotel room. I'd been training for this race for a few months, running through the beautiful high desert landscape around Redding. I was ready and excited. I felt sure that I could finish the half-marathon in under 2 hours. 

Then something went wrong. Before we left Redding our Visa card failed. It didn't make sense -- we were paid up. I didn't have time to figure out the issue but the feelings of dread surfaced quickly. I learned later that it was simply that our address hadn't been updated properly. But at the time, all I could I remember were the feelings of panic that come with having a credit card declined. Poverty and hopelessness swept in like a grey fog. It's like I was transported back into the DogSport years.

The hotel I found was the cheapest available that still looked clean and safe. It was within walking distance of Fisherman's Wharf and Lombard Street. And, it turns out, it had a history.

When we pulled into the parking lot, carved into an impossibly steep downtown street, I knew I'd been there before. But I couldn't place it.

Then it hit me. It was the same hotel I'd stayed at before the wedding six years ago. Anne and the kids spilled into the room, tickling and laughing and planning the afternoon in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I stood outside for a few minutes, looking out into the hotel's courtyard, marveling at God's patience and love and protection. He was bringing me full circle. First the Visa card and now the hotel. There was something He wanted to do this weekend.

The next morning, as I rounded the halfway mark of the race, painful memories of failure and poverty from the past mixed with new hope and faith and anticipation. The Golden Gate Bridge carried me over the bay and back towards the city on the homeward stretch. The view was breathtaking as the sun burned away the morning fog over the skyline. My perspective had changed so much in six years. I was a new man. 

I missed my goal by 12 minutes but I found something much more important that morning. I saw into my past and God showed me how much He'd redeemed. God led me back to the same place I'd been to show me how far I'd come. There was much healing during that long run. I feel more free of my past failures and more open to God's leading after this weekend.

This isn't a story of me returning as a conquering hero having figured life out in the intervening time. But I am more sure of God's love for me now, and so aware of His presence.
He loves me... and that's enough. 

Anne and the kids met me at the finish line. The race was done. We piled into the car and headed back to our temporary home in Redding. Soon it will be time to start the next race. This one's going to be a grand God adventure. And this time, I won't be running alone.

On a tour of San Francisco Bay, watching dolphins and harbor seals play in the boat's wake