“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49)
Early in November, I attended the National Leaders’ & Ministries Conference (sponsored by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal National Service Committee) with four others from the ChristLife Young Adults. The theme of the event was “IGNITE,” and the weekend included inspiring and insightful talks from a variety of speakers with plenty of praise and worship to fill the time in between. I wish I could point to one salient speaker, topic, or nugget of wisdom that impacted me more powerfully than others to make writing a testimony easier. Instead, the overall atmosphere from the congregation of people and prayer precipitated a subtle and deep transformation within me, and I understood this spiritual fruit in the week following the conference.
“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai…he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” (Exodus 34:29)
When I returned home from the conference Sunday evening, I was exhausted, but sensed accomplishment in my fatigue. The next day, I gradually recognized a change as I felt lighter and more peaceful going about my typical Monday routine. I’m not sure if anyone else noticed, but I felt a healthier disposition in my attitude and words towards people. Further, I experienced an interior positive glow in my demeanor and approach to regular tasks. Since I was scheduled for training in St. Louis, MO the rest of the week, I flew out Monday evening, all the while basking in a grateful contentment of the first fruits within me from the weekend events.
“In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials…” (1 Peter 1:6)
Tuesday began a week of what some might call “black grace,” stemming from the feeling that the lights go out, leaving you blinded and lost in the dark. How could this be considered a grace? Well, God sometimes withdraws his consolations or permits trials in order to grow our love or show His glory. Experientially, one might feel spiritually dry, disoriented, or out of touch with God during these periods. An extreme prolonged version of this experience would be the “Dark Night of the Soul.”
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” (Ephesians 6:12)
My ordeal emphatically began Tuesday evening. As I spent time on the phone talking to a friend, my emotional energy expeditiously waned with each passing minute for a combination of reasons. After about 40 minutes of whittling my emotional patience, I finally boiled over and had a bit of breakdown. Although I did not lose myself altogether, I realized I had to immediately hang up the phone before my problem went any deeper, and gather myself. Consequently, I abruptly ended my conversation, and spent the next half hour to an hour in prayer seeking to regain my composure.
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Looking back, I realized the enemy took an opportunity to launch an attack. [Note: When I refer to “the enemy,” I regard this as a combination of the world, the flesh, and the devil/demonic entities.] Although I have found myself in positions of spiritual weakness or temptation in walking with the Lord, I rarely classify experiences as overt attacks. In this case, I felt a dramatic shift within my spirit, like a safety valve bursting, kicking in my fight or flight response. By the end of my emergency prayer time, I felt that I had repelled the sudden negative onslaught. I managed to recover to a state of tired relief before going to bed. Feeling ambushed, I was surprised and confused by what happened, but I vaguely sensed there might be more struggle ahead.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
Wednesday morning, I woke up and made it to and through my training class perfectly fine. I would say I felt neutral going into the day, and hoped to stoke the flames of the Holy Spirit with some early evening prayer to rekindle what I thought I lost the night before. Sometime after lunch though, I noticed intermittent uncomfortable moments with my stomach. I figured I ate something my body was not used to, but I continued to go about my day since they seemed sporadic and innocuous. Later in the evening, the symptoms became more prominent and aggravating. I retired to resting in bed and watching TV, allowing my digestive system complete access to all my energy in the hopes that my stomach would be able to process whatever was bothering me. Around 10:30pm though, everything took a turn for the worse, and I spent about the next two hours in the bathroom.
“I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth.” (Ps 34:2)
I’ll spare you specific details. Suffice it to say, the sickness made for a terrible evening. However, throughout the whole ordeal, I noticed I was predominantly singing in my heart (maybe under my breath too) and praying silently with my mind fixed on God nearly the entire time. Yes, I did spend some of my prayer petitioning God for assistance for healing, but my disposition was less of hopeless needy begging, and more of a supplicant trust. More importantly, what I discovered was the praise came naturally (or probably supernaturally), and it put my disposition in a place of serene surrender in spite of my ugly situation. I would say 90% of my communication with God involved a form of praise or worship songs. Yes, I still had to deal with assorted unpleasant consequences of my sickness and then lingering nausea until I finally fell asleep around 3am, however, the Holy Spirit praying within me made the six hour trial feel closer to a trifling inconvenience with my mind and heart fixed on Him.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials…” (James 1:2)
“At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth…” (Luke 10:21)
I would consider that whole episode as a joyful time since joy stems from objective state or reality. My spirit was alive and well with the Holy Spirit even though my circumstances were pretty awful. On the other hand, I wouldn’t categorize it as happiness because “happiness” relates more to what happens, or the circumstances and our feelings in that given situation.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is…joy…” (Galatians 5:22)
“…the joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
I had discovered the Lord’s fruit of joy as strength from praise. If I had an alternative option to ascertain this reality, I certainly would have chosen a different path–an easier and comfier one. Something that’s nice to my flesh, without challenge, without battle, without darkness. However, it’s easy to praise the Lord during the good times. Only through rough circumstances could I truly come to know in my heart the strength of the gift of worship by putting my spirit to the test. The dark circumstances helped me tune out all exterior worldly distractions in my life, and helped me to turn inward to prayer and upward toward God, which enabled me to discover the Spirit’s fruit of joy as my strength.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20)
I know the conference emblazoned and strengthened my gift of worship. The enormous gathering of people in praise, worship, and prayer afforded a spiritual workout to stretch my prayer muscles and draw me into deeper intimacy with God. I have noticed in the past when I have attended Mass on occasions outside holy days of obligation such as daily Mass or at a retreat, I sense the spiritual “climate” to be more vibrant and vivacious. God seems closer, and the liturgy feels more alive. I believe it’s because in those “extracurricular” gatherings, the people lean more on a desire for God (rather than fulfilling a mere obligation) and seek a deeper encounter with God, so there’s a more profound sense of the Lord’s presence. Since God gave us free will, God responds to the disposition of our hearts and souls, honoring them individually and collectively. Therefore, the prayer space for praise and worship at the conference offered a fruitful opportunity to draw closer to Him because I felt encouraged to press into the Spirit as we were united, thriving off, and inspiring each other through individual efforts like a relay race team. Almost like spiritual friction, we rubbed off on each other generating spiritual static electricity (if I can describe it that way), or you could say we combined our flames, like bringing a group of matches together to share and dwell in a bigger blaze of the Spirit .
Since I only reflected upon two days of my week, you might be wondering now, what about the rest of my week? Well, there were some lesser struggles, but in order to keep this blogpost read-ably short, I’ll summarize mentioning the following points:
- Thursday, I had lost my rosary ring, and temporarily freaked out because I rarely misplace it, and the ring has sentimental value to me. (Think of Gollum with his precious…) Praise be Jesus though, someone turned it into the hotel front desk and I retrieved it!
- I dealt with nausea on my flight back Thursday evening.
- Since I stayed up late on Wednesday night, it threw off my sleeping schedule and I was had to take afternoon naps Thursday-Sunday.
- I had another bout of nausea Saturday evening, but my awesome roommate Kyle went out late at night to buy me some medicine.
Some Lessons Learned:
- Prayer doesn’t always look pretty, and sometimes the prayer in the struggle teaches you more about prayer than your perfect planned vision of how your prayer time should go.
- Spiritual climate matters. Continual growth in the Lord for me means pushing myself into environments that challenge and encourage my “spiritual muscles” to grow. The Body of Christ feeds off and graces multiply when prayer is shared, which leads me to point number 3…
- My response to God affects those around me. We’re all part of the Body of Christ, and like Paul says “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:26). As I recognized the influence of the Christians around me at the conference, I realize I need to be more vigilant in asking myself, “What am I bringing to the table?” and “How am I building up the body of Christ?” If I’m truly going to be my brother’s keeper and live out the commandment to love my neighbor, I need to start by stoking the graces within me in the hopes that it rubs off and builds up those around me wherever I go, whether it be Sunday Mass, a conference, or out in the world.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
By the evening of the Lord’s Day, Sunday, I sensed the trial concluded. I felt a bit burned out from the week, but I know the tests purified me and revealed the flame of His Love underneath, all because I had been ignited at the conference. To God be the glory!