Recently, I spent two days with 127 men who gathered as leaders of a growing men’s ministry called Influencers. We worshipped, sang, prayed, confessed, encouraged, ate and laughed together. The experience was a vivid reminder of how the body of Christ can really function. And it left me wanting more.
I have had similar experiences at ministry events and youth rallies where the presence of the Holy Spirit was thick and fellowship transcended common Christian community. As I thought back on those experiences and to last week’s inspiring two days I see a consistent theme that emerges in these powerful gatherings.
Said another way, there seems to be some common characteristics that mark these times of extraordinary fellowship and the palpable presence of God. Here are just six of them.
It may seem odd, but the enthusiasm and passion expressed by the men last week flowed from a deep sense of brokenness and contrition. Almost to a man there was acknowledgment that God’s redeeming power was the sole reason for their restored marriages, defeated addictions and newfound hope. And it all started with brokenness, surrender and repentance. These men minced no words about their sinful pasts, their failures and the mess they had made of life. They took sin seriously and knew that its defeat started with naming their sin and laying it all at the foot of the cross. Repentance was also a public act. No one sought to hide behind a politically correct privatization of their past. Confessions were public, brutally honest and cleansing. Everyone shared and everyone cared. And everyone healed.
I have seldom encountered prayer at the level or frequency as I did with these men. They were not just willing to pray, they were anxious to pray. Everywhere you looked you could see two, three or four men huddled together and praying for some need or reason for praise. And the prayers were not the polite, nicely worded mantras I am so used to hearing. They were guttural, passionate and personal. They claimed God’s promises with confidence and proclaimed His sovereignty and love with conviction. These men loved to pray. It gave them energy. They knew it connected them with God in a powerful way and they relished every chance to make that connection. I prayed and was prayed for as fervently as I can ever remember. And it nurtured my soul.
These men were at war and they knew it. The spiritual battle that they faced every day was a given. They were in the trenches as Christ followers in a post- and increasingly anti-Christian culture. Putting on the full armor of God from Ephesians 6 was a daily activity. No one was squeamish about warfare talk. They knew the enemy and they knew the power to defeat him. Their voices united in a confident chorus, “There is power in the name of Jesus … break every chain, break every chain, break every chain.” They believed it and claimed it as their battle anthem. I have found that when God’s people understand repentance and practice genuine prayer, they also see life from this warrior perspective. And therefore they are prepared daily to stand firm in a culture sliding away into a moral morass. I would go into battle with these men any day.
In every gathering such as this I have found a complete absence of disunity or dissension over issues that seem to plague the organized church. In fact, they are not even discussed. Not in an attempt to evade or ignore them, but simply because they are non-issues. There is an unspoken but acknowledged unity of heart and spirit on the issues that seem to be splitting churches and denominations who have:
- downplayed sin,
- privatized repentance,
- sanitized prayer
- and dismissed spiritual warfare.
Because of this lack of dissension there is the freedom and energy to focus on the main work of deepening one’s relationship with Christ, loving your neighbor and serving God.
As I fellowshipped with these men, the words of 1 John 4:11 kept coming to mind,
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
These men loved each other. You could see it in how they laughed together, encouraged and challenged each other and delighted in each other’s company. They were not perfect, but their love of God spilled over in their love for each other. This was not a mere tolerance or a casual acceptance of one another. It was not the polite but detached Christian “niceness” of Sunday morning fellowship halls. Because they have confessed to one another, prayed for one another, prepared to go into battle together and kept their focus, they have developed a level of love for each other that can only be known when people engage at this deeper level.
Unsurprisingly, when a community of faith has developed this level of passion for Christ and love for one another, it spills over into service. The love of Christ compels us to care for the poor and oppressed, the imprisoned and the orphan. Last week this took the form of handing out new sleeping bags and food to the homeless on the beachfront walkways of Los Angeles. We gave warmth and food, and prayed for over 100 people in need. A small gesture amidst a big problem, but it was a natural outcome of all that came before. Throughout my two days I heard stories of work in prison ministry, missions work, mentoring and advocacy. As these men grew more passionate about Christ they became equally passionate about caring for the least of these. It is authentic service because it flows from hearts on fire for Christ.
I’ve experienced these six marks wherever God’s Spirit is poured out on a people willing to surrender everything back to God. It is a lavishly refreshing yet all too uncommon experience.
This has left me wondering if this is perhaps a glimpse of the Christian community that will stand and proclaim boldly the name of Jesus in our increasingly anti-Christian culture. If so, how can our churches become these types of communities?
How can we move beyond shallowness and embrace communal repentance, fervent prayer, a warrior mentality, unified focus, unconditional love, and genuine service?
I’m not sure I have an answer, but if the followers of Jesus are to impact our culture and be salt and light in our age, I pray we can work together to find one.