Friday, July 21, 2006

Conference Experiences

During the first week of July I attended the annual international Messianic Jewish conference that is hosted in Pensylvannia by the MJAA.

(I brought back CD recording of many good teachings, to share with the congregation. For this blog I'll focus on some things I experienced, only sharing academic information as absolutely necessary. All the following links are to scripture references.)

For me, the first significant talk of the conference happened on Monday morning. Judah Hungerman started out his talk by asking a volunteer from the audience to give him CPR. The volunteer said that would not work because Judah was still breathing. What followed was a talk about how we cannot be revived unless we have died, and anytime God is real to us but we do not seem to have his life in us, we need revival and thus must newly die and be revived.

Specifically, being saved from the power of sin does not automatically mean we are in the Kingdom of God. Scripture nowhere says this! We have the invitation but it is possible to ignore or abuse the invitation. To really enter the Kingdom of God we must be revived, pure of heart, and holy. This takes work.

This was a new perspective to me, and I had to do a bit of scripture study before I could agree with it. But once I accepted that perhaps I (and most believers I know) have never really experienced the Kingdom of God, many things made more sense. I also became completely intolerant of my iniquity, which promptly led to a new and constant background sense of my iniquity and God's majesty.

A class that afternoon further emphasized that there is a difference between victory (salvation) and transformation (redemption) , whether for individuals or communities or the world.

The next morning Mark Greenberg gave a talk in which he shared what he had learned from praying for three hours each morning for the past month. Some examples include:
  • It now feels wrong to him to start praying without first humbly admitting he is a helpless sinner saved by grace who can only pray (in the ways he now can) because of what Yeshua did. He does not dwell on this throughout his prayer time, but it is the polite way to begin.
  • He has seen so much prayer answered that it is now easy for him to stably believe without doubting.
  • During the day he enjoys opportunity to be generous and sacrifical of his ease to help others. The more he behaves selflessly throughout the day the easier it is to be selfless and pure of heart while praying. Even Yeshua had his prayers heard because of his purity and fear of God (not simply because he was the Messiah)
  • He spends a lot of time praying in tongues. He has learned to see this as a type of humble prayer in which he is willing to be one person agreeing with God while admitting he does not know what to pray.
  • He also had become completely intolerant of his iniquity, and prays for God to reveal his blind spots and help with in repentance.

I spent a lot of Tuesday praying along these lines.

That evening Jonathan Bernis spoke about boldness. Why are more miracles seen when people are sharing the good news? His answer was that boldness brings God's Spirit and power. His challenge was that boldness must include selflessness and risks. If we have been experiencing few opportunities for selflessness and risks it is probably because we have not been listening to God and acting in obedience. Boldness must also include Yeshua's name.

During Wednesday my desparation for God grew. I asked people to pray for me. How I pray in tongues changed, but nothing else happened.

On Thursday I spent a long time praying.

I had realized that I would never have as much humility as I needed unless I more clearly saw Yeshua. Nothing else would humble me enough! So I prayed to see Yeshua. I asked nicely. I pleaded. I prayed in tongues. I complained to Yeshua that he was not being faithful to his promises of being of how he would be with me if I was unable to see him enough to be humbled. I went back to asking nicely. I got desperate again and decided to fast until my prayer was answered.

After a few hours, two things happened. First, I became strikingly aware of Yeshua's majesty, holiness, power, and spelndor. I did not see anything visible, but the emotional effect was almost equivalent. Second, Yeshua told me he would meet me even more when I prayed for people later during the conference; that is the best he can offer since I was not yet ready to meet him in the Most Holy place.

For all the rest of Thursday, and most of Friday, I went about somewhat stunned. There is a saying "He's too full of heaven to be any earthly good." That fit me for a day and a half, as I was absent-minded and flighty as Thursday's overpowering time of prayer slowly faded away.

I noticed I had acquired an inexplicable appreciation of God in the sublime. I found myself often looking at flowers or people's faces, enjoying a dimension of beauty that had previously been invisible.

Friday night Yeshua did meet me as promised. After the conference's evening program the congregational leaders pray for people, and the first three people I prayed for I was able to help more than usual because I was told by Yeshua specific things about their situations to pray about. When I was praying I also felt God's presence in an additional way, sort of moving up from my abdomen.

But it was early Friday evening when I learned the most. Clearly seeing Yeshua clearly was not the best goal. That experience changes people by helping them die to self and receive spiritual revival. But it also makes people a bit useless in daily life. A better balance is to hear what God says, see God in the sublime in life, and feel God's presence as we pray. (There did not seem to be anything equivalent for taste or smell unless I was eating, but I stopped fasting Friday morning because there was as much sublime beauty in eating a plate full of strawberries as in the visible sublime I had been seeing.)

Friday night, after I had prayed for people, I noticed a group of eight kids, ages 8 to 12, still praying in the auditorium. They prayed for three hours, until midnight. And their style of prayer was not what the adults did. The kids had also "run out" of especially annointed prayers for each other but this did not deter them from further praying. They shared hopes and cares and encouragements for each other. They had only known each other for a week, and spoke of what they admired or appreciated about each other. They prayed and prayed, no longer because they expected it to make a difference, but just because being together with so much of God's presence tangible and manifest was better than anything else they could think of doing. I felt like coining a new phrase: "recreational prayer". The constant background desire for recreational prayer has since then only left me briefly.

Now it's almost Shabbat. The last three days have been filled with quite a bit of congregational work and even more chores and errands. I should finish my sermon for tomorrow, which at this point is sufficient but quite skimpy. But first I need to pray more. I have not had a solid hour of prayer since Tuesday afternoon.