For all posts thus far in the Pilgrimage Tour series, click here.
As we awoke in Chattanooga, the Pilgrimage Tour group knew that we were most likely as rested as we were going to be on the entire trip. Still, we had a long day ahead of us, with plans to arrive in Kansas City, MO by that evening.
Our first spiritual discipline of the trip was prayer and Kansas City—which ironically isn’t in Kansas—is home to IHOP, the International House of Prayer (although I’m sure there’s a pancake place up there somewhere as well). They are world renown for their worship music, preachers, and, probably most famously, their 24/7 non-stop prayer and worship services.
They are also notably and undeniably charismatic.
When I say that, I don’t mean that they believe in prophecy, tongues, healing, etc. I mean that these things are the lifeblood that IHOP runs on. For people like me, who grew up in Pentecostal churches where this stuff happened frequently, there was nothing new to see here. Yet, a disadvantage of the familiarity of these things is also the disillusionment that comes along with it.
I’ve seen enough charlatans, lunatics, and fakes in my day to make me doubt the legitimacy of these so-called “signs and wonders”. Not to mention the sketchy things I’ve heard about IHOP itself. But, like our pastor William said, “We aren’t going here because we condone everything that goes on here, but because this place has a track record of people encountering God in special ways.”
So, though hesitant, I went expecting. After all, I had 11 hours in the van to become full of expectancy.
We arrived and were welcomed by an extremely generous worker there. They had arranged that we would meet specifically with a group of people who were going to prophesy over us. So, they gathered us in groups of four (which I loved) and proceeded to give each of us a word. As they put it, (echoing Psalms 139:17-18), they were going to focus in on just one of the innumerable thoughts that God had for us.
Being the skeptic I am, I had a few things on my mind and I said to myself, “Okay… if they point out these things, then I’ll know that God is truly working in and through them.” Two people spoke over me, a man and a woman. And after it was done, my thoughts were, “Well… that made no sense.”
They didn’t touch on anything that I had come to God with in expectancy. “Obviously just a bunch more fakes,” I thought.
Afterward, I went to the sanctuary where prayer and worship music was taking place. There, I began to meditate and prayer and ask God, “So… what now?”
God immediately led me back to the things that these people had prophesied over me. “But, that had nothing to do with me, God! I knew what I wanted them to say, and they didn’t say it,” I thought.
Then it struck me.
Why was I trying to meet God on my own terms? Why was I trying to set the parameters by which God would “truly” be working? What was I thinking, dictating how God could and couldn’t speak to me?
God began to show me that this is what we do so often in prayer, and in life.
These people’s word over me wasn’t what I expected it to be, yet God never does what we expect him do. As one of my professors, Dr. Chris Green, says, “God is always faithful, but he is never predictable.” God will stay true to his character, but he will not stay true to our perceptions.
It seemed like God specifically spoke a word that I wasn’t expecting through those people in order to remind me that God is not me and I am not God. His thoughts are not mine, nor are his ways my own.
In my thoughts and expectations not being confirmed, it reminded me that God is not one that I am making, but God is One that is making me.
So, I wept in the worship service at IHOP. Because God not only used a place that I didn’t expect to be legitimate, he used a word of prophecy that I had completely written off. As I began to ponder it more and more, I realized that this word wasn’t what I expected, but it was definitely what I needed. It named things that I couldn’t have even known to name myself. It spoke things to me that I didn’t know needed to be spoken to me.
And that is how God works: in the unknown, in the unexpected, in the unnameable, and in the otherness. Because he is making all things new. And in the newness, there is mystery. But, in the mysterious, there is life.