Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Encounter God Retreat

I was recently privileged to attend an Encounter God Retreat (EGR) conducted by the Fountain Gate Fellowship (FGF) in Abilene, TX.

I didn't really know what to expect when I signed up for it. I was encouraged to go by someone who had gone last year, and who was participating this year as a "coach" at the event. I knew I had seen some significant life-changes in this person as a result of her attendance last year.

Going into it, I expected to gain some new perspectives, that something good would come out of it, but I did not expect any great life-changing value for myself. And even after the three-day event (Fri evening, 7am-5pm Saturday &; Sunday), I felt the same way, that I had experienced some things that were good for me to experience, that might color me in some ways in the future, but nothing that could be considered "life changing" in the way I had heard it described from several attendees/testifiers at the event.

But looking back now, a few weeks later, I'm really rather surprised at what was accomplished. In my "normal" church life, there has been little excitement, little motivation to move beyond the ritualistic same ol', same ol', punch-your-'I've been to church this week'-ticket mentality.

Friday night and Saturday were mostly focused on getting free from the shackles of sin, guilt, shame, fears, anything that's weighing us down and keeping us from experiencing God more fully. Sunday was more focused on re-filling after the emptying, but this time with the Spirit-things of God rather than the spirit-things of this world.

Judging by what I've witnessed in several people, including a friend I took, who was at least as skeptical of EGR's value as myself, if not more so, and definitely more weighed down by life-scars, Friday and Saturday were successful. In myself, I was surprised to find that I wasn't weighed down by most of the shackles which the event focused on: I'm not feeling particularly guilty about things I've done, I don't have any major addictions (laziness, junk food, overeating, and soft drinks are my biggies, all of which are unhealthy but not debilitating), I'm not involved in most of the "big" sins, I don't have crippling fears, etc. (This is not to say I'm perfect; I do have a couple of issues which needed to be addressed, toward which EGR provided a step that I wasn't otherwise taking, but it is to say that I perceived myself as more of an observer of EGR than a beneficiary at this time.) But my friend found some significant healing in these days, which has been needed her entire life, and which she had never gotten anywhere else, regardless of the amount of professional counseling (she's had much) and other church influences she's had.

On that aspect alone, remembering the words of Jesus that we will know them by their fruits, EGR is a very valuable offering to the community. I've seen the fruits of EGR, in the person who recommended the experience to me, in the person whom I encouraged to go, and in many attendees and speakers thereat. And judging by that fruit, EGR is a very good thing.

The filling-up with God's Spirit on Sunday was less fruitful for me and my friend, but like I say, we're both intuitively resistant to such "holy-roller"-ness, and I'm reminded that Jesus did not do many miracles in one place because of the unbelief there. I recognize that my resistance to "being led by the Spirit" could be a blockage caused by me, that my failure to be "moved" could be on me as much as anything, if not more.

But now, weeks later, I look back, and I realize I did get filled up with God's Spirit. It just wasn't a "gee-whiz bang!" filling like what seemed to be the norm among the "more emotional" attendees. I intentionally tried to be open to whatever God wanted to do with me, but I refused to allow myself to be emotionally manipulated into "being struck by the Spirit", or whatever the terminology is.

How did I get filled?

I think it was accomplished because FGF/EGR designed their assembly to feed the entire person, and not just the intellect. My home church is very staid, very focused on the mind. We study our Bibles; we discuss what the text means; we find book/chapter/verse; we present three-point lectures as sermons, and make sure our prayers are "Biblical".

EGR was a very multi-media event. Loud music, soft music, dancing, standing, sitting, quiet times, group prayers, one-to-one prayers, praying for each other, hands-on praying for each other, Bible reading, video lessons, testimonies, projector presentations, skits, singing, confessing, intimate opening-up to one another, hands-on worksheets, eating together, lights, sounds, movement, humor, sombering stories - the works. The entire person was encouraged, swept along, to be involved.

And even for someone as logical, unemotional, resistant as myself, the effect was a seeping into my deepest parts a light from God, a filling, a craving for the deepness of God calling out from the deepness of my soul, a connection, an Encounter with God.

During the weekend, a song that was played a couple of times by the band (yes, I know many people, particularly from my normal fellowship, have a HUGE problem with this, but again, look at the fruit (and at my arguments elsewhere on this blog about our approach to music)) struck me at first as non-sensical, and although fun to listen/dance/sing to, had no real value, as it wasn't valuable to my intellect, which is pretty much how I determine the value of anything at a foundational level. Parts of the song go:
We're stirring up deep, deep wells/water
We're going to dance/jump in the river
We're falling/walking into deeper waters
Deep cries out to, Deep cries out to
We cry out to, We cry out to, you Jesus
Those words didn't mean much to my intellect; they didn't make sense.

But the song has been reverberating in my head ever since that weekend, to the point where I had to look it up on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8fCTlER3sE). I've since listened to it 7 or 10 times.

One of the images lingering in my brain from the weekend was a good-looking 20-ish young man at the front of the "sanctuary" (I'm told they don't call it an "auditorium", because they are not spectators in worship to God, but participants), along with a crowd of 50 others or so, "line-dancing" (sort of) first to the left then to the right, to the part of the song that says "If he goes to the left then we'll go to the left; if he goes to the right, then we'll go to the right". I'm also reminded of the "Pastor" urging the participants to come down and join in this crowd at the "altar" area, which he likened to a "river", and that imagery clicked somewhat with me: this crowd at the front formed a flowing river, involved in the flowing of God's spirit amongst his people, and in this part of the song, the river flowed left, then right, as Jesus led them.

And as I listened to this song via YouTube in the weeks since, it's begun to make sense to me. As you may have noticed in what I wrote above, there's a craving deep within me that cries to/for the deepness that is God. This song sings about that. The lyrics start to make sense to my intellect, but long before they made sense to my intellect, they were speaking to my spirit, and in language my intellect could not comprehend. As Paul writes in 1 Cor 14:15, "I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with my understanding." There's a way to worship God which is done without understanding. A verse earlier Paul wrote, "For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful." This is a God-inspired approach to worship, brain not required.

And then amazingly, one of the YouTube videos opened with this quotation from Psalm 42:7:
Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls;all Your breakers and Your billows have swept over me.
Wow. now the song makes even more sense! It's Biblical!

This EGR did change my life. Granted, it's not a huge visible change. But to realize that the brain is not required when worshiping God is pretty big for me. Paul goes on to say that using your brain is better in a corporate environment, so that the others around you benefit (vv 4-5, 17-19, 26) but when it's just you and God, go for it (vv 2, 4, 17). This freedom has been in front of me my entire life, but it took EGR for me to see it.

And additionally, I realize that not everyone has the same gift of "intellection" which I have; some people are touchy-feely; some are artsy; some are musical. My friend loves songs, and communicates through music. She gets frustrated with me for not "getting" what she's trying to say when she shares a song with me; I don't speak that language, which is native to her. She doesn't speak the language of intellectual Bible study, which comes naturally to me and which is almost exclusively the language used at the church of which we're members. That church which we attend does not speak to her; the FGF music normally wouldn't speak to me.

But this one song, after a couple of weeks, spoke to me. She's thrilled that I "get" it. And it's clear to me that a one-size-fits-all approach at church simply doesn't fit all. EGR showed me that there's another way than the way we do things at my home church.

It wasn't a huge life change, but the speakers/attendees were right: EGR changed my life.

Huh. Go figure. (And praise God while figuring.)

Originally posted at: http://kentwest.blogspot.com/2013/04/encounter-god-retreat.html

1 comment:

T. said...