God's Presence In A High School Gym
In my last post (Worship, Presence & Power) I rehashed the story of the Vineyard beginnings and how our founders unexpectedly began experiencing God’s presence and power as they engaged in what has now become the trademark of the Vineyard – intimate worship.
Carol Wong, John Wimber’s widow recalled, “The wonderful things that happened were a result of his presence… we didn’t worship so that his presence would come – we just worshipped… It was odd to us that suddenly (we) would become world famous and we would become these great ‘healers’. That sure wasn’t what we were doing. That’s just something God did when he showed up.”
I remember vividly the first time I experienced this up-close-and-personal one evening back in 1980, in a packed high school gymnasium…
There was an air of expectancy hanging over the crowd as we waited for the service to begin. The worship leader playing an acoustic guitar began. He was more a lead worshiper than a worship leader. He drew little attention to himself. He just kept his eyes closed and sang to Jesus while the congregation followed. Wimber was up there too sitting at his Fender Rhodes piano. As the band played he stared out over the crowd with this searching look watching for something to happen.
I never heard worship music like that before. I was used to singing hymns and praise songs stuck in a 50’s time warp. But this sounded like easy-listening FM radio. It wasn’t rock music but it expressed my heart in a musical idiom I could relate to. The musicians were excellent yet not showy. There was no performance about it. The congregation wasn’t responding to the band on stage we were singing directly to God. And even though I was an outsider I wasn’t self-conscious or mindful of all the strangers around me. I was God-conscious. All my attention was on him.
“Je-e-e-sus, what a wonder you are…” Simple, honest, easy to follow. But the thing that stood out most was that it was warm and intimate. It expressed my heart. Suddenly I noticed the atmosphere in the gym changing. Something began filling the gym. That “something” intensified and it wasn’t just “out there” anymore, it was welling up inside me! It was what I now recognize as the felt-presence of God. “… You are so gentle, so good and so kind…” I was being invaded by heaven! “… You-u-u shine, like a bright morning star…” I tried to keep it together but I couldn’t. “Je-e-e-sus, what a wonder you are.” I was being undone by God’s love and it was wonderful. I began to cry like a baby.
Something burned inside me. I was gripped by a keen awareness of God’s loving acceptance for me not in a general sense for “the world”. It was overwhelming. All my Brooklyn swagger and cool melted away. The child in me was being held in Jesus’ loving arms assuring me that everything was okay. As I blubbered away I didn’t feel awkward or embarrassed. Quite the contrary, I had found what I longed for – a resting place for my heart. I was finally home in God’s presence and I would never be the same or settle for less.
My story is not unique. It’s a typical Vineyard story. It’s been repeated thousands and thousands of times around the world for more than three decades now. Regardless of country, ethnic group, culture, or social conditions people experience the same fundamental thing I did in that gymnasium with the same result: As they worship in this simple, direct, honest way they come into contact with the life-transforming presence of Christ and the power of his cross and resurrection. This is our Vineyard legacy… This is our God-given gift to the Body of Christ.