Repententance & Ecstacy – A Lenten Reflection

Tony SigA very high percentage of Pastors Kids end up falling away from faith.  Some forever, some for a period of time after which they reluctantly come back because they would feel it a crime to keep their kids from the transcendence which they had experienced as a child.

The pressure can be pretty tough.  You are expected to be perfect in all that you do.  Having been raised in a small town, even people who don’t go to my church knew that I was a Pastor’s kid, and I was supposed to be different.  Your zeal for God must be greater and more steady than the rank-and-file youth in the Youth Group.  It is assumed you will be a leader of some sort whether in worship or prayer or whatever.

I was a sort of Renaissance PK.  From when I was 15 I was “leading worship” for the Youth Group.  I led prayer and bible study groups and I was the model of a holiness/pentecostal:  I never swore, I never drank, I never smoked and I didn’t sleep around.  Like Paul, I could (and did – in my head) say that I was “blameless” as goes the law.  I don’t suppose that if I had ever been asked I would have said I was a “good” Christian, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little bit judgemental of Christians who weren’t as “good as me”.

Especially those Catholics and Lutherans with their drinking and un-evangelical way of talking about faith.  All that “confirmation” and “eucharist,” sounds like idol worship to me, but whatever.

After high school I joined a “discipleship program” that the Assemblies has called “Master’s Commission.”  I would describe it, but it is difficult to do, and I don’t much like to talk about those “lost years” of mine.  Though, ironically, my experiences in this program were to forever change me.

One of the most intense moments of change was when a group of us took a trip down to Urbana Illinois to do “street witnessing” on the college campus there. There were several hundred people who gathered from various places around the country and we converged on the campus en masse. (Perhaps another day I can describe how all my “street witnessing” changed my idea of evangelism, but we’ll save that one)  After a day of attempting to convince random college kids that they were destined for hell we would re-assemble at a local church and have good ole’ fashioned holy ghost services.

On one particular night the service focused on “repentance.”  During the “altar time” people began to spontaneously confess their sins out loud to the congregation – Describing Pentecostal worship to those who have never partaken is rather like attempting to describe an alien world.  Let’s just say that it is several hours of increasing emotional intensity.  Though that is not entirely fair, it’s not pure “emotionalism;” but the senses are very involved and one does not need to pass everything over a “reasonableness-meter.”  It is transcendent.  – I was one who confessed aloud if you will; after which my pastor laid hands on me and began to pray.

I sort of “faked” being “slain in the Spirit” (where one falls down and lies semi-concious on the floor) once when I was a kid.  I felt the need to sort of “be spiritual.”  But I had since sworn off on the phenomenon.  Over the years I had become increasingly uncomfortable with the more overt Pentecostal phenomenon.  But on this night, without provocation, I felt weak after my pastor began to pray for me.  I “fell back” and was laid out on my back.  Lying there was sort of like being in a dream.  I was able to see and sense all that was going on around me, but my mind was incredibly focused.

Though not audibly, but with that kind clarity, I was overwhelmed by a “voice,” but it wasn’t a voice.

(here I wish I had the ability of St. John of the Cross to poetically describe the experience, but I sort of suck at writing so bear with me).  However one describes it I fel two very intense feelings simultaneously.  I was, for the first time I can remember, completely aware of my sin.  Perhaps I didn’t swear and drink, but I was filled with pride and arrogance.  I almost felt like I was being shown a laundry list of my own sinfullness.  Yet, at the same time, sort of like a flood of water over and around me, but warm and not wet, I was keenly aware of being unconditionally loved with a steadfast and indescribable fidelity.

From that day a lifetime of self-righteousness began to slowly chip away.  It’s not done yet!  But I know that had I not understood the need to be repentant, I could not love God or love my neighbor, or know that I was loved by God.  Sometimes I had heard people speak this way before I had this experience and I would think that they just needed to live in grace.  But it seems to me that the two are interconnected.

Receiving and living by grace is inseparable from a life of repentance, without which it is impossible not to judge others.

Repentance has had the effect of constantly reminding me how dependent I am and ever renews and restores right-relationship to God and my fellow Christian.

I hope not that a reader might get some sort of cliche mini-sermon attatched to a story, like some new seminary grad strategicaly using a story to communicate something other than the thrust of the narrative.  In the end, the story of that night, of repentence, was the only thing that prepared me for new life, and I imagine that this prepared me to better appreciate Lent.  This is in fact the first time I have ever actually taken on a “holy lent,” and I look forward to it.

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14 Comments

  1. The more I read these kinds of posts, the more I learn that I have a long recovery from Pentecostalism ahead of me. It absolutely astounds me how much my spirituality has been harmed by fundamentalist eschatology. Here is how it relates (I am sure you’re wondering at this point), there was a remarkable peace that came over me when I was receiving ashes and our Bishop proclaimed “From dust you came, and to the dust you will return” over me. In fact, I had to take some time and evaluate it, because I was so taken aback. Evidently, I harbor some kind of anxiety about not being raptured and for some reason my faith was inexorably tied to that event. Dying, as all men are destined to do, didn’t ever seem like it was really going to happen to me as a Pentecostal – I literally believed in the imminent return of Christ. Reality has since set in. Great post, it definitely had me thinking about our season of repentance and my Lenten vows, especially as they relate to my “dark years.”

    Shawn

    Reply

  2. Very interesting post. Thank you for sharing it.

    I have to say that this resonates with me as well. Though not a PK as a teen (my mom was ordained to the diaconate when I was in my 30’s), I have to say I felt great pressure for charismatic experience from my Campus Crusade Mentor and also through the renewal movement in the Episcopal Diocese I grew up in. I have had the ‘ambiguous’ slain in the spirit experience as well. What I ‘heard’ after finally getting a similarly ‘ambiguous’ gift of tongues was a real wake up call for me.

    I prayed long and hard for the gift of tongues as sort of rite of passage. I ‘had’ the experience once after begging for it and was left a bit hollow. In prayer after that some time later, I got the sense of God speaking to me and saying, “Now that you’ve got that out of your system, are you ready to really learn who I am and who you are?”

    It was a watershed moment and a question that rings in my heart and ears to this day—Thanks be to God!

    Reply

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