Evangelist Tommy Tenny describes people and churches who seek the Lord zealously in his book The God Chasers. This article from his first chapter tells how he witnessed the visitation of God in the 3,000 member Christian Tabernacle church in Houston, Texas, led by Richard Heard.
This body of believers in Houston had two scheduled services on Sundays. The first morning service started at 8:30, and the second one followed and began at 11.
When I returned for the third weekend, while in the hotel, I sensed a heavy anointing of some kind, a brooding of the Spirit, and I literally wept and trembled.
You could barely breathe
The following morning, we walked into the building for the 8:30 Sunday service expecting to see the usual early morning first service “sleepy” crowd with their low-key worship. As I walked in to sit down in the front row that morning, the presence of God was already in that place so heavily that the air was “thick.” You could barely breathe.
The musicians were clearly struggling to continue their ministry; their tears got in the way. Music became more difficult to play. Finally, the presence of God hovered so strongly that they couldn’t sing or play any longer. The worship leader crumpled in sobs behind the keyboard.
If there was one good decision I made in life, it was made that day. I had never been this close to “catching” God, and I was not going to stop. So I spoke to my wife, Jeannie. “You should go continue to lead us to Him.” Jeannie has an anointing to lead people into the presence of God as a worshiper and intercessor. She quietly moved to the front and continued to facilitate the worship and ministry to the Lord. It wasn’t anything fancy; it was just simple. That was the only appropriate response in that moment.
The atmosphere reminded me of the passage in Isaiah 6, something I’d read about, and even dared dream I might experience myself. In this passage the glory of the Lord filled the temple. I’d never understood what it meant for the glory of the Lord to fill a place. I had sensed God come in places, I had sensed Him come by, but this time in Houston, even after there was all of God that I thought was available in the building, more of His presence literally packed itself into the room. It’s like the bridal train of a bride that, after she has personally entered the building, her bridal train continues to enter the building after her. God was there; of that there was no doubt. But more of Him kept coming in the place until, as in Isaiah, it literally filled the building. At times the air was so rarefied that it became almost unbreathable. Oxygen came in short gasps, seemingly. Muffled sobs broke through the room. In the midst of this, the pastor turned to me and asked me a question.
“Tommy, are you ready to take the service?”
“Pastor, I’m just about half-afraid to step up there, because I sense that God is about to do something.”
Tears were streaming down my face when I said that. I wasn’t afraid that God was going to strike me down, or that something bad was going to happen. I just didn’t want to interfere and grieve the precious presence that was filling up that room! For too long we humans have only allowed the Holy Spirit to take control up to a certain point. Basically, whenever it gets outside of our comfort zone or just a little beyond our control, we pull in the reins (the Bible calls it “quenching the Spirit” in First Thessalonians 5:19). We stop at the tabernacle veil too many times.
“I feel like I should read Second Chronicles 7:14, and I have a word from the Lord,” my pastor friend said.
With profuse tears I nodded assent and said, “Go, go.”
My friend is not a man given to any kind of outward demonstration; he is essentially a man of “even” emotions. But when he got up to walk to the platform, he appeared visibly shaky. At this point I so sensed something was about to happen, that I walked all the way from the front row to the back of the room to stand by the sound booth. I knew God was going to do something; I just didn’t know where. I was on the front row, and it could happen behind me or to the side of me. I was so desperate to catch Him that I got up and publicly walked back to the sound booth as the pastor walked up to the pulpit to speak, so I could see whatever happened. I wasn’t even sure that it was going to happen on the platform, but I knew something was going to happen. “God, I want to be able to see whatever it is You are about to do.”
My pastor friend stepped up to the clear pulpit in the centre of the platform, opened the Bible, and quietly read the gripping passage from Second Chronicles 7:14: If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Then he closed his Bible, gripped the edges of the pulpit with trembling hands, and said, “The word of the Lord to us is to stop seeking His benefits and seek Him. We are not to seek His hands any longer, but seek His face.”
In that instant, I heard what sounded like a thunderclap echo through the building, and the pastor was literally picked up and thrown backward about ten feet, effectively separating him from the pulpit. When he went backward, the pulpit fell forward. The beautiful flower arrangement positioned in front of it fell to the ground, but by the time the pulpit hit the ground, it was already in two pieces. It had split into two pieces almost as if lightning had hit it! At that instant the tangible terror of the presence of God filled that room.
People began to weep and wail
I quickly stepped to the microphone from the back of the room and said, “In case you aren’t aware of it, God has just moved into this place. The pastor is fine. [It was two and a half hours before he could even get up, though – and even then the ushers had to carry him. Only his hand trembled slightly to give proof of life.] He’s going to be fine.”
While all of this happened, the ushers quickly ran to the front to check on the pastor and to pick up the two pieces of the split pulpit. No one really paid much attention to the split pulpit; we were too occupied with the torn heavenlies. The presence of God had hit that place like some kind of bomb. People began to weep and to wail. I said, “If you’re not where you need to be, this is a good time to get right with God.” I’ve never seen such an altar call. It was pure pandemonium. People shoved one another out of the way. They wouldn’t wait for the aisles to clear; they climbed over pews, businessmen tore their ties off, and they were literally stacked on top of one another, in the most horribly harmonious sound of repentance you ever heard. Just the thought of it still sends chills down my back. When I gave the altar call then for the 8.30 a.m. service, I had no idea that it would be but the first of seven altar calls that day.
When it was time for the 11 a.m. service to begin, nobody had left the building. The people were still on their faces and, even though there was hardly any music being played at this point, worship was rampant and uninhibited. Grown men were ballet dancing; little children were weeping in repentance. People were on their faces, on their feet, on their knees, but mostly in His presence. There was so much of the presence and the power of God there that people began to feel an urgent need to be baptized. I watched people walk through the doors of repentance, and one after another experienced the glory and the presence of God as He came near. Then they wanted baptism, and I was in a quandary about what to do. The pastor was still unavailable on the floor. Prominent people walked up to me and stated, “I’ve got to be baptized. Somebody tell me what to do.” They joined with the parade of the unsaved, who were now saved, provoked purely by encountering the presence of God. There was no sermon and no real song – just His Spirit that day.
Two and a half hours had passed, and since the pastor had only managed to wiggle one finger at that point to call the elders to him, the ushers had carried him to his office. Meanwhile, all these people were asking me (or anyone else they could find) if they could be baptised. As a visiting minister at the church, I didn’t want to assume the authority to tell anyone to baptize these folks, so I sent people back to the pastor’s office to see if he would authorize the water baptisms.
I gave one altar call after another, and hundreds of people were coming forward. As more and more people came to me asking about water baptism, I noticed that no one I had sent to the pastor’s office had returned. Finally I sent a senior assistant pastor back there and told him, “Please find out what Pastor wants to do about the water baptisms -nobody has come back to tell me yet.” The man stuck his head in the pastor’s office, and to his shock he saw the pastor still lying before the Lord, and everyone I had sent there was sprawled on the floor too, just weeping and repenting before God. He hurried back to tell me what he had seen and added, “I’ll go ask him, but if I go in that office I may not be back either.”
We baptized people for hours
I shrugged my shoulders and agreed with the associate pastor, “I guess it’s all right to baptize them.” So we began to baptize people as a physical sign of their repentance before the Lord, and we ended up baptizing people for hours. More and more people kept pouring in, and since the people from the early service were still there, there were cars parked everywhere outside the church building. A big open-air ball field next to the building was filled with cars parked every which way.
As people drove onto the parking lot, they sensed the presence of God so strongly that some began to weep uncontrollably. They just found themselves driving up onto the parking lot or into the grass not knowing what was going on. Some started to get out of their cars and barely managed to stagger across the parking lot. Some came inside the building only to fall to the floor just inside the doors. The hard-pressed ushers had to literally pull the helpless people away from the doors and stack them up along the walls of the hallways to clear the entrance. Others managed to make it part way down the hallways, and some made it to the foyer before they fell on their faces in repentance.
Some actually made it inside the auditorium, but most of them didn’t bother to find seats. They just made for the altar. No matter what they did or how far they made it, it wasn’t long before they began to weep and repent. As I said, there wasn’t any preaching. There wasn’t even any music part of the time. Primarily one thing happened that day: The presence of God showed up. When that happens, the first thing you do is the same thing Isaiah did when he saw the Lord high and lifted up. He cried out from the depths of his soul:
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 6:5).
You see, the instant Isaiah the prophet, the chosen servant of God, saw the King of glory, what he used to think was clean and holy now looked like filthy rags. He was thinking, I thought I knew God, but I didn’t know this much of God! That Sunday we seemed to come so close; we almost caught Him. Now I know it’s possible.
They came right back for more
People just kept filling the auditorium again and again, beginning with that strange service that started at 8.30 that morning. I finally went to eat at around 4:00 that afternoon, and then came right back to the church building. Many never left. The continuous “Sunday morning service” lasted until 1 a.m. Monday morning. We didn’t have to announce our plans for Monday evening. Everybody already knew. Frankly, there would have been a meeting whether we announced it or not. The people simply went home to get some sleep or do the things they had to do, and they came right back for more – not for more of men and their programs, but for God and His presence.
Night after night, the pastor and I would come in and say, “What are we going to do?”
Most of the time our answer to one another was just as predictable: “What do you want to do?”
What we meant was, “I don’t know what to do. What does He want to do?”
Sometimes we’d go in and start trying to “have church,” but the crying hunger of the people would quickly draw in the presence of God and suddenly God had us! Listen, my friend, God doesn’t care about your music, your midget steeples, and your flesh-impressive buildings. Your church carpet doesn’t impress Him – He carpets the fields. God doesn’t really care about anything you can “do” for Him; He only cares about your answer to one question: “Do you want Me?”
Ruin everything that isn’t of You, Lord!
We have programmed our church services so tightly that we really don’t leave room for the Holy Spirit. Oh, we might let God speak prophetically to us a little, but we get nervous if He tries to break out of our schedules. We can’t let God out of the box too much because He can ruin everything. (That has become my prayer: “Break out of our boxes, Lord, and ruin everything that isn’t of You!”)
Let me ask you a question: How long has it been since you came to church and said, “We are going to wait on the Lord”? I think we are afraid to wait on Him because we’re afraid He won’t show up. I have a promise for you: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isa. 40:31). Do you want to know why we’ve lived in weakness as Christians and have not had all that God wanted for us? Do you want to know why we have lived beneath our privilege and have not had the strength to overcome our own carnality? Maybe it’s because we haven’t waited on Him to show up to empower us, and we’re trying to do too much in the power of our own soulish realm.
God ruined everything in Houston
I am not trying to make you feel bad. I know most Christians and most of our leaders genuinely mean well, but there is so much more. You can “catch” God – ask Jacob – and it might ruin the way you’ve always walked! But you can catch Him. We’ve talked, preached, and taught about revival until the Church is sick of hearing about it. That’s what I did for a living: I preached revivals – or so I thought. Then God broke out of His box and ruined everything when He showed up. Seven nights a week, for the next four or five weeks straight, hundreds of people a night would stand in line to repent and receive Christ, worship, wait, and pray. What had happened in history, past and present, was happening again. Then it dawned on me, “God, You’re wanting to do this everywhere.” For months His manifest presence hovered.
© Tommy Tenny, 1998, The God Chasers, pages 5-12, reproduced with permission from the publishers, Destiny Image.
© Renewal Journal #15: Wineskins (2000:1) www.renewaljournal.com
Richard Heard’s account of that visitation is reproduced in the Renewal Journal, # 10: Evangelism (1997:2). He tells of continual evangelism and the whole carpet of the church being tear-stained from people repenting for over a year.
© Renewal Journal #15: Wineskins, renewaljournal.com
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