“What if God never answered any of your prayers? What if He did nothing for you except save your soul from hell and you spent the rest of your life on earth in suffering and pain. Would that be enough? Would you still have joy?”
Rolland Baker’s questions were hard.
Getting here was hard. I found out I was coming to Iris Harvest School of Mission just two weeks before I needed to fly. It was a dream come true, but I was already at the end of myself after a few hard months of ministry and now I had another mountain to climb. I’d been accepted and my tuition fees were paid thanks to the generosity of my church, but I still needed flights, visa, medical insurance, books and whole list of other requirements. More than once I was convinced I wouldn’t make it and at least once the stress reduced me to tears. Happily, God came through and in a whole series of miracles provided everything I needed, but by the time I got here after four days of travelling, I was absolutely exhausted in every way.
I had come to Iris looking for treasure. There are so many things I still haven’t found in my walk with God. I need more of the Holy Spirit’s power and anointing to heal, see miracles and impart the Holy Spirit to others. I’ve seen too much sickness, poverty and death and too much spiritual poverty too. I need supernatural solutions. The sign on the gatehouse says “Ministério Arco-Íris” – Rainbow Ministries. I was here to find the pot of gold.
In the first week’s classes we heard stories from a former Presbyterian minister who had been filled with the Holy Spirit during the Toronto Blessing. He spoke about how his in-laws – Southern Baptist ministers – were slain in the Spirit when they went with him to Toronto even as they walked into the hotel lobby. I’d heard many of these stories before. I wondered again – as I often have – why them and not me.
Rolland Baker started his first teaching session with the question “How bad does life have to get before you have no more reason to laugh?”, and led into the question asking if salvation alone was enough to bring me joy in a life otherwise filled with suffering. I was not expecting that question from a leader of a Charismatic ministry renowned for its many amazing miracles, connected to an equally-renowned ministry focused on bringing all of heaven to earth. No, that isn’t why I’m here. If all I had was my salvation – my pie in the sky when I die – no, actually, I would not be happy. I would not have joy. I’d be disappointed. I am disappointed, actually.
He went on to talk about the purpose of our life on earth, which he said was about being in fellowship with God. First and last. If that’s all we had, then, whatever else happened or didn’t happen, our lives would be completely fulfilled. But I’m not fulfilled. That’s why I’m here, Rolland! If I was full of joy and completely satisfied with my life, I wouldn’t have come halfway round the world to this school. Yes, I was annoyed. Rolland’s style of teaching was also starting to annoy me. He would throw out questions, often repeating them but never answering them. The lessons moved slowly. I was finished off when he started talking about the sovereignty of God, using the example of Paul’s Damascus road experience to challenge the idea that God needs our ‘yes’ to achieve what He wants to do on earth. Undeniably, Saul was a religious man opposing the work of the Holy Spirit, and his testimony echoes those of the former anti-charismatics who I’d been hearing from all week. Is this the theme here? Is this really how God works?
I was utterly confused and disappointed. Had I been spending all these years chasing God and the Holy Spirit only to find, in the last place I knew to go, that I’ve been wasting my time? God chooses to pour out His Sprit on whoever He wants. In fact, it seems that he tends to go for those who opppose Him the most. Should I do that? Should I throw a tantrum to get His attention? I was angry now.
I didn’t go that far. I just sulked. The speaker at the next session was more to my liking, and his message and style was much more like what I was used to hearing in my own church. I was still grumpy though, and sat outside the hut while he spoke. He talked about the preparation of Solomon’s temple, saying that before the cloud of God’s glory came, there was a time of consecration. I realised that this is what God was doing with me. For so long I’ve been looking for the glory. I’ve thought of little else. I’ve been so busy with ministry, trying to do the stuff that I think needs to happen to get results. I’ve neglected the most important thing. To love God. I take it for granted that I love God. I do. But challenged to express this from my heart in a personal way… I don’t know. It was as if I couldn’t. That was by far the biggest shock since I got here.
I remember in the first week going to a ‘soaking night’. There was just music and everyone was just involved in their own devotion to God. I tried to connect, but I didn’t know how to start. I had nothing to give. I left after ten minutes. Wow, I had a problem. Somehow, on my own, just me and Jesus and no agenda, I didn’t know what to do. I’d lost something very important. The only important thing. My relationship with God had become based around work and church and the things I needed for a successful ministry. The friendship – for the sake of friendship – was gone. I realised what God was up to in upsetting me and not giving me straight off the bat the things I had come to Iris for. That’s not why He had brought me here. He wanted to it to be about me and Him, and if He had done things the way I’d wanted, I’d just have said thanks a lot and gone back to work. I’d made the schoolboy error of seeking the gift instead of the Giver and looking for what was in God’s hands instead of what was in His heart.
What is in God’s heart? Love, and more specifically, love for me. Before anything else – before all the gifts and the glory – God wanted to show me His love, and then for me to respond in love for Him. I’ve been there before actually. I remember now fond memories of time spent in His presence, knowing that God loved me and Ioved Him. Everything flows from the joy that we possess from knowing that Jesus died to save us and we are going to spend forever in heaven with Him. I’ve lost that joy because I’ve pursued other things above God’s love. I’d become distracted and occupied with other things. I’ve been busy.
Well now I’m not busy. I’m stuck here on the east coast of Africa for two months and suddenly I don’t have anything I need to do except go to classes where people teach me how to experience more love and read books about laying everything down to love the One who made me. You see, Iris Harvest School isn’t really a mission school. It’s a love school.
God can reveal Himself to anyone He chooses. He says so: “I was found by those who did not seek Me. I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me.” (Romans 10:20) But if God is willing to do that, even to His enemies, how much more will He reward those who seek His face with all their heart.
I don’t know if there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m not looking for that anymore. I’m back to looking for the One who made the rainbow, and I reckon things are gonna turn out pretty good.