Testimony: Adventures with the Holy Spirit, Part I

“April 16, 1974. Last night I went to bed at about 10:00. Usually I pray while lying in bed but I needed God’s help so much just then, I got down on my knees by my side of the bed and prayed. Very simply, I said, Lord, help me. I promised to be still and to wait upon God, asking Him to speak to me if it was His will. Then I got into bed and shortly fell asleep. Paul had not come to bed at that time but did soon afterward.”

These handwritten notes from April 16, 1974 recount the events of the evening of April 15th. Today is June 19, 2011 and my memory of that night is as vivid as it was back then. A little background:

I usually prepared our family’s tax returns, and usually at the last minute. In previous years we had gotten a tax refund on both federal and state taxes and I expected the same for this year — but after calculating all the figures several times, I was dismayed to see that we would owe the government money. I don’t remember how much it was but whatever the amount, it was money we didn’t have.

I was extremely upset. Bills were piling up and as the one who wrote those checks, I knew how much debt we were in. We were supposed to be a two-income family but often Paul’s paycheck didn’t make it home on Friday. A stop-off at a local country store where beer and whiskey flowed freely, a backroom poker game might be going on and if not, several pinball machines were available, sometimes left him broke before he ever arrived home in the wee hours of Saturday morning. That is, if he came home at all during the weekend.

The financial hole we were in kept getting deeper and deeper and I didn’t know how we were ever going to get out of it. I had counted on those refunds; even small ones would help.

So I’d mailed the tax returns without enclosing any checks, knowing the state and federal agencies would soon send me a notice of amounts due, fees and penalties. Maybe we could work out a payment plan, I hoped. Worry, anxiety and depression set in.

I told myself I was a Christian; why weren’t all my needs met?

I gritted my teeth and somehow got through the rest of the normal afternoon and evening routine without the kids seeing me fall apart. I don’t recall what I said to Paul about the taxes, or what his response was. Arguments about his drinking and gambling had led nowhere in the past and I don’t remember us having an argument that night about the taxes.

Thus the unusual (for me) prayer position, down on my knees beside the bed. Back to the events of that night:

Sometime later I was suddenly awakened by the sound of the window, just over my side of the bed, rattling hard. I could hear the sound of a windstorm, also loud. I raised myself up enough in the bed that I could look out of the window. There was a large weeping willow tree just outside the window in the back of the house, and although I could hear the wind blowing, not a branch on that tree was moving.

Thinking I must have been dreaming, I lay back down. The wind didn’t stop, however —  the sound seemed to move inside my head. Suddenly the inside of the bedroom lit up as though someone had turned on a floodlight, and there standing just beyond the foot of the bed was a bright shining, shimmering figure looking over at me. Jesus.

At that instant I felt as though I was floating slightly off the surface of the bed, and my whole body felt on fire.The burning sensation didn’t hurt but I could almost hear my own blood boiling in my ears. Closing my eyes I could still see flickers of light inside my eyelids.

I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I could only reach out and touch Paul, asleep beside me, he would be healed (lung problems). But my hand wouldn’t move. I opened my eyes again and the wind sound became quiet, the form of Jesus became invisible, the light gone and the room back to its normal darkness.

Realizing that I could move again, I sat up and laid both hands on Paul’s forehead. Looking down at him still sleeping, I prayed for him to accept Christ and to be healed by God’s power.

As I lay back down, suddenly the rushing wind sound returned, the window rattled, the brilliant light came back and Jesus stood beside the bed, smiling. The sensation of my body being on fire returned and then quietly the light dimmed, the visible presence of Jesus faded and he was gone.

I reached for Paul’s arm. He immediately woke up and I thought, how strange that he had slept through the whole event and now that it was over, he woke up. What’s wrong, he asked. And all of a sudden I was afraid. Afraid that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were completely gone. Afraid that without them there, Satan could enter my house and hurt my children. I told Paul that I’d had a dream and I was afraid to let go of his arm.

A clock in the living room began to strike midnight, marking the end of April 15. I asked Paul to please go check on the children. I began to pray for protection for Paul Jr. and Shelby, really for us all. I could almost feel an evil atmosphere out in the hallway, as if evil spirits were close by. He got up, went to the bathroom, checked on the kids and pronounced everything okay, coming back to bed and falling right back to sleep.

I couldn’t do the same, however. The strange threatening fear was still there.

Remembering how Jesus had used scripture as a weapon against the devil (Matthew 4:1-11), I began to mentally sing The Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13) As a pianist and organist, I had played that piece for vocalists to sing at weddings and in church for many years. That night it was the only scripture passage I could remember by heart!

Singing The Lord’s Prayer on a continuous loop in my mind, at last I sensed the atmosphere in the house changing from one of danger to one of peace and finally I fell asleep.

The next morning I wrote everything down, trying not to forget any detail. My notes say “Today I asked the Lord to use that experience for whatever purpose he has. I’m not afraid now.”

On June 30th I copied my handwritten scribbles down into a little green notebook. It contains only one set of notes — those from that time. I have carefully preserved that little notebook from that day to this, thirty-seven years later.

I realized that the events of that night were an answer to my prayer for help. I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened to me, or if anyone else on the planet had ever had a similar experience…

But I was determined to find out.

What then?

A friend came up to me after church one Sunday morning and said, “You know, Jesus could come back any day now, isn’t that exciting?”

Yes, and what then?” I asked.

“What do you think will happen next?” She said, “Well, we’ll….” and paused.

She couldn’t think exactly what would happen next. I reminded her that there will be a thousand years of Jesus reigning on the earth after that. But just before he returns, there will be the battle of Armageddon.

“Oh yes, that’s right,” she replied with a slight frown. For a moment I think she had imagined as soon as Jesus returned some heavenly resort would cover the earth and there would be nothing for us to do for a thousand years except party. Praise and worship and party.

How many Christians wishing Jesus would return today have the same idea, that during the millennium there will be nothing but peace, parties and prosperity everywhere?

Actually many end-time experts don’t believe Jesus could come back today. In Matthew 24:14 he told the disciples, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to the nations (‘ethne,’ people groups) and then the end will come.”

There are still thousands of people groups who haven’t heard the gospel, so Jesus can’t come back yet, according to those experts.

But it occurs to me that the usual idea of that verse being fulfilled is a group of people in their home country somewhere listening to a missionary preaching the gospel.

It doesn’t take that scenario, however; if one or two members of a people group travel outside their normal area and hear the gospel, that verse is fulfilled for them. Or if they hear if by way of radio, television or internet.

The verse doesn’t say the group must become believers, either. It doesn’t say a church must be established there. Whether they accept it or not, hearing the gospel preached fulfills the verse. There may well be fewer people groups who haven’t heard the gospel than the experts think. Jesus’ return may be very soon.

What then?

The verses preceding and following Matthew 24:14 and Luke chapter 21 describe vicious wars and destruction, earthquakes and signs in the heavens (the word heaven there actually means anything in the air and sky from the ground up to outer space).  Volcanoes, solar flares, floods, famines, plagues, horrific persecution of Christians, false prophets, and believers compromising and/or abandoning their faith. Sounds a lot like current events today, doesn’t it.

What will planet earth look like when Jesus returns?

Certainly not a resort. Think about the news videos after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or after the earthquakes / tsunamis in Indonesia or Japan. Looked pretty grim to me.

Who will be here, then?

When Jesus arrives back on earth with the glorified believers from heaven following him, who will be here on the planet? Let’s see:

  • The believers remaining on earth will be here. They will be changed at that time so all Christians will have a glorified (enhanced) body like that of the resurrected Jesus (see I Corinthians 15:52). They are going to need it, I think.
  • The unbelievers who were not killed in those final days of destruction will be here. We know they will not all be killed, because Revelations 20:7-9 mentions nations on the earth during that thousand years.
  • Believers who were saved during those thousand years – I’m sure there will be some! But the ones who aren’t will be deceived by the enemy who is released from his jail at the end of the thousand years, and another war will take place.

During that thousand years the glorified Christians will be ruling and reigning with Jesus over somebody. Who? Over each other, and over the non-glorified humans who are still here on earth, whether they become believers or not during the millennium.

A government structure with Jesus at the top will take care of all the organizing, the needed repairs, reconstruction, manufacturing, resupply and orders, assigning work and workers to their individual tasks, overseeing things.

What will need to be done?

After any war or natural disaster there is a lot of clean-up needed. Rebuilding. Infrastructure will have to be re-built, communication re-established, medical care, food, clothing, housing, and employment provided. There will be plenty of work to do — and none of us will be taking extended vacations.

Instead of complacently anticipating a glorious eternity of rest and recreation when Jesus returns, I think the church should be preparing, training and planning now for those days that will come next.

Otherwise the first thing Jesus will have to build is a kindergarten for his church.