Phnom Penh, Cambodia 1994. It was an ordinary Sunday at the church we attended, and I was on stage giving a testimony. What happened next was unexpected, profound, and would change me forever. But I am getting ahead of myself...
I had been visiting churches in Europe, and also our home church, the Vineyard Bern in Switzerland. Their leaders had recently been to Toronto where they witnessed the renewal that would affect millions of believers in the years and decades to come. They had brought it back to Bern, and when I arrived there I saw things I had never seen before. A weighty presence of the Holy Spirit rested over all the meetings, and people were reacting to it in all kinds of physical expressions: laughing, crying, shaking, falling, as well as some vocal expressions that would later on be labeled "unbiblical" by others. I did not quite know what to think of it myself, but I knew and trusted the local leaders, and the presence of God was undeniable. I then finished my tour and returned to Cambodia where we lived at the time.
One of the pastors picked me up at the airport and asked me if I could preach the following day. I told him I was too tired from the long trip, but would be glad to give a short testimony. So I stood there in front of about 300 Khmer Christians and told them what I had experienced. Even while I described what God was doing in Switzerland, I saw something in their eyes that I could only describe as "desperate hunger”. Their longing for more of God’s presence seemed to increase with every word I spoke, and I finished by offering to pray for them. I closed my eyes and did the classic Wimber-prayer - “Holy Spirit come!”
There was a loud “swosh”, and when I opened my eyes I was shocked to see that almost everybody in the room was on the ground. Soon there were sounds of weeping, groaning as well as laughter coming from different corners of the room. One of the older men in the congregation started crawling on his hands and knees towards the stage, obviously too drunk in the spirit to walk. He demanded to hold the microphone and I reluctantly handed it to him not knowing what he would do next. To my amazement he began to confess sin out loud, tears running down his face. While he was still speaking, others moved forward and continued baring their hearts in front of everybody. None of us had ever experienced anything like it, but this was just the beginning of a wonderful wave of renewal that would last for the next 18 months.
Ever since that Sunday I have longed to once again see the “Hungry Eyes” of my beloved Khmer friends, but have have never seen them again anywhere else. Many times I have wondered about what caused them to be so desperate? Yes, they were poor, and many had lived through the horrors of a brutal civil war that had taken the lives of many of their loved ones, but does that mean that those of us living in the “rich” parts of the world have no chance to ever witness anything similar? I don’t think so.
When Jesus is talking about "Blessed are the poor," he's talking more about an attitude, a way of knowing one's need for God, which is a disposition of the heart and not simply economic deprivation. You can be a billionaire and still acknowledge that you are “naked and poor, wretched and blind.”
That is what spiritual formation does to our hearts. The closer we come to God the more desperate we get to know Him more.
My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be… how about yours? (read Psalm 42)