Who Felt God’s Presence?

[This is a work of fiction, Copyright © 2009, Henry E. Neufeld.  Any resemblance between the characters in this story and any in the real world is purely coincidental.]

It was a small hotel room in a small town, and Jack had driven three hours on small county roads to get there.  Now he was finally in the presence of the revival preacher he wanted to see.

“What can I do for you son?” asked the preacher.

“I need the answer to a question.  I have been trying to locate you for nearly a year.”

“Well, I’m on the road all the time.  I really don’t have a stable home address.”

“Yes, in a way that’s why I want your answer to my question.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Yes, I have a hard time believing the flashy men that I see on TV, but then, I have a hard time believing you!”

“So let’s see what we can do.  What is your question?”

“First, let me tell you my story.”

“OK.”

“I attended a revival you preached in small church in my home town, Glory of God Community Church.  I went with a number of my friends.  We all really planned to laugh.  You know, revival preacher, unknown, couldn’t find hardly anything about you on the internet.  You must be some kind of fraud, just not a big enough fraud to get on TV.”

The preacher chuckled.  “If I had a dollar for every time someone said that about me, maybe I could get on TV!”

“Yes, well.  I enjoyed the music.  I felt convicted by your message.  Rather than laughing, we all ended up going up to the front for your altar call.  There you were, praying out loud, occasionally in tongues, yelling, putting your hand on people’s heads, and they were falling all over the floor of that church.  I think any of the preachers on TV would have given good money for the scene, now that I look back on it.  None of this hard work praying and praying and then blowing on people that I see–just people on the ground.  It looked like maybe a tornado had gone through.”

“Well, don’t pay too much attention to what you see.”

Jack paused.  That line seemed to hit him.  “There was Bill, my best buddy, who did nothing but laugh at what the preacher had to say in church, or at the various little old ladies, as he put it, tottering around the church like they were drunk.  I think he might have believed in God somewhere deep inside, but he certainly wasn’t paying any attention to him.  He looked like he was unconscious.  Then there was Ellie, who I know was having sex with Fred, and Fred himself who said church was only good for establishing your social position–Fred plans to be in real estate–but they were both on the floor as well.  I have to confess to having been distracted by the way Ellie’s dress got pulled up when she hit the floor.  But I didn’t think of it for long as I normally would have.”

“What about you?” asked the preacher.

“Well, first, let me tell you that Beth, who was always holier than the rest of us was on the floor, but she was crying and saying something about what a horrible sinner she was and how she repented.  And then there was Randy who I was always a straight arrow, writhing on the floor like he was having a fit.

“But me, you ask.  What about me?  I was just standing there watching it all.  I really didn’t feel anything, except I felt that I had to be up front right then.  I’d have rather been anywhere else.  All those bodies on the floor?  Good TV?  Well, for me, it was simply creepy.  I thought you were nuts!  I wondered if you were using some kind of gas or something on the audience.

“At the same time, though, I knew I had to get right with God.  So I just stood there.”

“And what has happened since?” asked the preacher.

“First, my question.  How was it that all of them were hit so hard, but I was just standing there fully aware of what was going on, not crying, nothing!  I’m sure you say it was God, but how could God miss me?”

“What has happened since?” asked the preacher again.

“You’re not going to answer my question, are you?”

“You need to tell me, Jack, what has happened since that day.”  The preacher sat there quietly.

“Well, I think Ellie and Fred quit sleeping together for a while, but then they started living together.  They didn’t get married.  They still are living together.  I really have no idea what happened to Beth.  She was holier than the rest of us before, and she was holier than the rest of us afterward.  Bill, I think was very quiet for some time, but last week he passed me a note with a dirty joke about the preacher during church, so I don’t know.  Randy, on the other hand, quit school and went out to work on some sort of farm that helps feed the homeless.”

“And you.  What about you?” asked the preacher.

“Well, I just can’t get comfortable.  I’m spending a lot of time praying, and then when I pray I feel like I have to go do something, so I’ve begun candidacy for the ministry.  I study my Bible a lot.  I keep finding myself volunteering for stuff that I wouldn’t have done before.  I’ve lost all my friends, but I’ve found some new ones.  My pastor says all that stuff with people falling on the floor is just show, that it’s not God.  But God got hold of Randy, didn’t he?  Maybe he got a few days of attention from the others.  But me, I don’t have any answers.”

“And you think you should have answers.”

“Well, if God touched me, shouldn’t I know something?  Shouldn’t something have happened?”

“How much time did you spend praying before?”

“You mean other than offering the blessing at dinner when my dad said I had to?”

“Yes, other than that.”  The preacher smiled.

“Ummm, none.  I can’t think that I prayed.”

“And how much time did you spend reading your Bible?”

“None, well, except when the Sunday School teacher asked me to read a text out loud.”

“And how much time did you spend volunteering before?”

“Well, I never did any of that.”

“So did something happen that night, or not?”

Jack stopped and stared at him.  “Yes,” he said finally, “something happened.  But not what I expected.  Not what you were trying to do.”

“So you think my goal was to have people all over the floor?”

“Well, that’s what you did.”

“Son, when you walked in here I was sitting here praying and asking God if I could quit.  You see, I keep going places and preaching, and people keep falling on the floor, and then when I visit the place again, I can’t see any difference!  You’re right, I could have a TV program.  I did have a TV program, though it was only in one town.  One day a producer came to me and said, ‘Son, you’re ready to go national with that.’  ‘With what?’ I said.  ‘With your show,’ he said.  I talked with him a bit, but I already knew that wouldn’t work.  I didn’t want a show.”

“So why do you still do it?”

“Well, I could say that it’s what I know.  But actually, it’s just what happens.  I don’t know if God is doing it.  Seems to me that God has a sense of humor!  I do know that some of these churches expect it.  But every time I get discouraged, someone like you comes along who got changed.  So I just go on preaching and praying, and watch what happens.”

“But how do you explain it?  My pastor wants to know what’s your theology of the Holy Spirit.  Pneumatic something or other he calls it.”

“Pneumatology’s the word.  I learned it in Bible college.  But I have no pneumatology, really.  I just preach and pray.”

“But still, why didn’t I feel anything?”

“But you already admitted that you had to be up front.  You admitted that you felt God calling you.  You admitted that you changed.

The preacher paused, then continued slowly, with emphasis on each word:

What did you think the presence of God would feel like?”

Scripture: 1 Kings 8, and all those various passages that talk about God’s presence in all kinds of ways.