Today was the day my worship ministry would change forever and I didn’t even know it.
I woke at 6.30am to the sounds of zebra and warthogs munching stubs of grass in the garden outside. Peering wearily across the African plain from our lodge, I suddenly remembered we were due at Rita’s morning prayer meeting in just a few minutes. Having downed a coffee and splashed my face, we gathered by the pick up truck, clambered aboard and headed off to the meeting on the dusty, mud road to Rita’s dairy farm.
Rita was an extraordinary prophetess. The moment I met her she told me all about myself with such grace and humility, you couldn’t be fearful of her “finding things out”, as she would only love you anyway! She lived here, in the northern reaches of Southern Africa, in bush land, with five hundred workers under her care. She had raised the dead, prophesied to governments and often took witch doctors onto her work force, having proved that Jesus’ power was greater than theirs – a spectacle that led to many wide eyed hours around the dinner table, drinking in stories usually accredited to scriptural heroes and other dead folk.
As a young white girl in Southern Africa, Rita had been institutionalized because of her love for the black people and because she spoke in tongues. Ostracized from the established church, she found herself learning directly from God, reading the bible and simply believing it. The results terrified the religious but met the needs of the hurting and lonely. She grew up to become an extraordinary figure.
As our pick up truck neared the meeting place, sounds of African singing bustled through the passing air, along with the rhythmic thunder of several hundred feet, pounding the ground in praise. Turning through the gate of her dairy farm, there in the fresh African sun, a huge circle of smiling, worshipping faces met us, raising high praise to a God who was the same the world over. There, in the centre of the circle, Rita span and danced, her curly, blonde hair bouncing over her skinny frame as she led her “church” in praise and prayer, the red dust bursting upwards from under the dancing feet. At a meeting like this just weeks before, the ground had shaken violently as they prayed, just like in the book of Acts. I was ready for anything to happen!
The singing went on, and various members of our team shared with the grateful congregation gathered. I knew soon the finger would be pointed to me and Rita would ask me to step forward. Nervously I thought of what I could say. What would be relevant out here, where they see more of God’s power on a weekly basis than my whole network of friends and ministries see in a year? Here was a living, breathing equivalent of Smith Wigglesworth and Kathryn Kulhman rolled into one. What could I possible say? Eventually she turned, pointed her finger at me lovingly and asked me the last thing I hoped she would ever ask; “Come and lead us in worship”.
Terror gripped me, I mumbled something about not feeling up to it (I led hundreds in worship weekly back home!) and hid behind the person next me. Kindly she didn’t make an issue of it and moved on. And yet something had hit me, and where Rita didn’t press her point, God began to.
Why is it that I felt I couldn’t lead worship out here? Why did I feel restricted, useless and out of place? Why was it that my God in Britain, the God of my meetings and ministry, seemed distant here in Africa? Slowly, as the days went on, I realised that I was trapped in a blueprint that revolved around my western culture, and had little to do with God. To me, church had to do with overhead slides and video projectors, microphones and instruments. Worship times that lasted a certain length, involved the latest songs, and where I had learnt (quite skillfully if I may say so!), to play along to people singing in tongues – until they got bored and wanted another song that is.
My blueprint for church and worship involved platforms, tuneful singing, rows of seats and a room full of spectators. Now stepping outside of my blueprint I suddenly realised how impotent my ministry was. It wasn’t based on God, his calling, my hearing of his voice and obedience. It wasn’t accredited by his power in signs and wonders. It was based on imitation, conformity to a western Christian culture and the expectations of the “crowd”. God wasn’t readily available in his power. In reality he had to move within certain boundaries and cultural expectations. Perhaps that’s why I had never experienced the dead raised, the ground shake, or governments enlisting my opinions?
Something began to stir in me. I felt like a fake. I felt like my church was a fake. Just one small glimpse of God in foreign culture and I realised how much I had interpreted God through my own Christian customs and traditions. Did I know God? I know I knew the God of the Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Charismatics, house churches and many others, but did I know God? I felt like a fake.
On reflection the truth is that I had felt like a fake for a long time! I had read the book of Acts and looked at my church and life, and felt utterly hypocritical. I longed for his glory to move among us, but something inside me was telling me that my powerlessness was more my fault than his! Rather like the disciples who fell asleep in the cloud of God’s glory in Luke 9, only just waking in time to see Jesus transfigured in all his splendour, it was more about my need to wake up to his glory, than whether or not he was willing to manifest his power!
Indeed, this day had become a wake up call for me. But could I now stir from my comfortable cultural slumber to find the glory of God? Could I move beyond my apathetic western blueprint for worship, and find the purity of God’s presence and will, outside of time, fashion and custom? Could I walk away from years of politely serving the God of the British and find the God of all glory? Something told me that if I could, then I would stand in the place where all true giants of God have stood. The very place where the power of heaven can pierce our culture and impact the earth in revival and reformation.
This book begins with my own story of stepping outside my education and experience, to meet with a God ready to touch our lives and fill our churches with glory. It is a story of frustration, of seeking and of occasionally finding. It gives no quick fixes, no magic formulas, and if read correctly, may even leave you with more questions than when you started. But in asking questions, as I did on that life changing day in the African bush, I believe we take a step beyond what has been, into what could be. It seems the more I journey, the more questions arise. But then again, there has never been a revival or reformation without questions. Questions have always been the early heralds of a dawning move of God.