Whenever I give my testimony in the mostly conservative circles in which I worship, I’m always a little sheepish about the fact that my conversion is connected with a book by Benny Hinn. The fact is though that I’m grateful for my charismatic beginnings. If not for the very realness and nearness of the God Benny Hinn described in his testimonial book Good Morning, Holy Spirit, I don’t know if I would have ever taken steps of faith.
When I was an unbelieving teenager, I was exposed to the Gospel on several occasions, though it wasn’t until college that I had encounters with God.
In January of my first year of college, my roommate and I decided to drive to Ohio to visit her cousin. Late that night as we drove through West Virginia, it started snowing heavily. She wasn’t used to driving in the snow and, scared, woke me up demanding that I pray. I wasn’t sure what to say, but I did say a prayer for safety.
Soon after, we were able to pull off and check into a hotel. Everything seemed fine as we showered and got ready for bed. However, the moment we turned off the light, I started feeling intense dread. My fear sat on my chest like a lead weight. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t control my fear. Finally, I cried out in prayer, “God, if you’re real, comfort me!”
Immediately I felt a blanket of peace descend upon me, my heart rate slowed down, and I heard in my head: “Everything is going to be OK.” Not long after, I fell asleep.
When we got back to our college, my roommate’s mother who was a charismatic Christian, sent me a copy of Benny Hinn’s Good Morning, Holy Spirit. Hinn describes his encounter with God and the rapturous joy he found in His presence. He gave examples of God’s miraculous provision when he was kicked out of his house for following Jesus. His God was one who was alive and near. His words penned my greatest desire–to be in a relationship with One great enough to know me and love me.
I read it in one day. There was a hushed feeling in the room when I finally put the book down. My windows were open, and I heard the other students walking to the cafeteria for dinner. My heart was pounding hard, and I knew I had to do something in response. Next to my twin-sized bed, I knelt and gave myself to God.
When I returned home from college, I was able to find a charismatic church with the help of my roommate’s mother. Church was exciting! I came every week with the expectation to experience God in a new way. I became part of a group of college-aged students, and we would meet together to read the Bible, sing, and pray.
In our church, there was an emphasis on the blessing of God. If you were struggling, it was because you lacked faith. I saw good, faithful people who had financial issues, and it didn’t seem to connect. Texts from the Old Testament were used to support this view but with little explanation about what was actually happening in the passage. There was also no discussion on the suffering of martyrs either.
When I went to Bible college the next year, I took a hermeneutics course. This class on how to read the Bible opened my eyes to the importance of context and understanding the whole message of Scripture (and not just pinpointing one text). I had a similar but different awakening to that of reading Benny Hinn’s testimony. This time, instead of my heart, my mind was captured!
I couldn’t get enough of studying God’s Word. I was amazed at the clear themes of God’s work among humankind from Genesis to Revelation. I lost myself in textbooks, memorization, and word studies. My mind was filled with God’s truth like it had never been before. Despite this, I had to admit that I missed the present tense feeling of God I used to experience in the charismatic services that I didn’t see in my more conservative churches. Here our gazes always seemed to be looking backward, talking about what God had done, not what He was doing right now.
But in these same churches, a picture of God was dug deep into history–a God who etched His presence into history and into words that I could read. He is not an object of my creation but is instead the recipient of my humble awe.
We need both of these ideas. We need the reminder that God is right now at work within and around us. This understanding is what brings excitement and expectation to our gatherings. When we believe, and act like we believe, that God is working in our midst, amazing things can happen.
We also need to remember that He is not who we want Him to be but who He has revealed Himself through Scripture. It is our responsibility to study His word to ensure we are handling it properly, leaving a legacy of orthodoxy for generations to come.
Between these two reminders, we walk a path that seeks to embrace our emotions and our intellect, allowing us to love Him with our hearts and our minds.
I am not ashamed of my charismatic beginnings. I hope to develop a faith that is deep enough to remember all that God is–past, present, and future. As I seek to understand who He is, I also hope to know Him as one who is near. As my favorite verse states, “ but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:24 ESV, italics mine).