First Encounters – John

Really, it is always Him (God) encountering me, rather than something I do. He does something, and I, and people I know or who are in my family, are simply delighted and blessed participants and recipients.

The first time God impacted on my life (where I was aware that it was Him) was after my wife, Trish, was ‘born again’. I didn’t know that that was what had happened to her, but she had certainly become excited about her faith. She said she felt that Jesus was ‘real today’, that He speaks to us, that we can know Him personally, that He is still doing what He did in the Bible. A few months later she attended a charismatic Christian conference in our city. She told me that the conference would close with a healing mass at the Catholic cathedral; the Archbishop would be there, along with visiting bishops (exciting!), priests and other Christian leaders who were part of this new charismatic life in the church.

I needed to pass a tough medical exam for a job I really wanted. Years of heavy smoking had given me an awesome smoker’s cough. An earlier chest x-ray had shown a shadow in my lungs and I was warned that this could easily become lung cancer. Trish invited me to the healing mass to ask for healing for my lungs and for the ability for me to stop smoking; the kinds of thing Jesus did in the Bible and, she said, is still doing today. She asked that I would give a definite undertaking to go— not a half-promise that I could winkle out of on the day.

John - Joy (Gal 5:22)

Well, what a business! We got there just in time for it to start. I had never seen such a crowd at the cathedral; it was packed with a big overflow into the gardens. Loudspeakers were set up outside but were too few to reach the entire crowd. This clearly was not going to work, so I suggested that we go home. I felt that I wasn’t actually at the mass, and wasn’t near the Archbishop or at least one of the famous people, and it was obvious that nothing would happen. Trish looked at me in that stern and disappointed way that wives have, and said, ‘You promised’. So we stayed. The Mass took its course, not that we were able to participate much, and then it was time for the prayers, my prayers, the special ‘Jesus’ prayers for my body. I expected that everyone who was there for prayer would gather and the Archbishop would do whatever he was going to do. But practically everyone wanted prayer and there was no way we were all going to be able to get in there to get a touch from the bishops and the Christian leaders. Then there was an announcement that prayer teams had stationed themselves around inside and outside the cathedral. We were to find the team nearest to where we were and they would do the praying. I just looked at Trish. She looked back at me: ‘You promised.’

A sweet young couple were the prayer team near us. Sweet is good, but these two clearly had no life experience. They were hardly more than kids! What would they know? They introduced themselves and asked us to line up so they could pray for us in turn. We formed a big line. Trish and I were not near the front. The young couple looked at us all and conferred with each other. They decided that we were too many to pray for one at a time, so they wanted us to form a circle and hold hands, and they would pray for us all together.

You have to remember that this was all Trish: she was excited about this Christian life she had found; I just found it scary. We didn’t get into the cathedral so had effectively missed the Mass. The Archbishop was not going to pray for me, we hadn’t even seen him, or any of the bishops or the famous visiting leaders. We just had the young couple; and they were not even going to present my case to Jesus as being special. Enough! So I told Trish. You know what she said: ‘You promised’. We stayed. I didn’t think it would take much longer, so why not?

The young couple started to pray, in a general way, that each of us would be healed. I do not remember what they said. Then it was over. As we were walking back to our car, Trish, clearly apprehensive, asked me what I thought. Why was I so quiet? Had something happened? I was in a kind-of shock but eventually was able to tell her: ‘God put his hand inside my chest, into my lungs. I could feel His fingers as they gathered together all the black tar and gunk that was there, then He removed His hand and all the gunk went with it. Now my lungs are clear and clean.’ I was stunned and awe-struck.

I can still remember this happening. It is still vivid in my mind. I passed my medical exam— my lungs showed up clear in the x-ray pictures. It was years later that Jesus healed me from smoking as I was not able to do that with my own strength. I do have some lung damage from all those years of thirty-a-day, but I know that I will not die from lung cancer. God healed me. Trish’s lovely Jesus healed me.

It was some time later when we were expecting our third baby and attending an Anglican Charismatic Conference in Manjimup (a country town in the Southwest of Western Australia) that I finally gave in to the Lord. The keynote speaker was Father Terry, then the parish priest at St Paul’s, Darien, Connecticut. Terry talked about John the Baptist announcing that Jesus would come and baptise His people with the Holy Spirit, and what this means in light of the Book of Acts, the Gospels, the New Covenant and the whole Word of God. He was talking about the charismatic element in Christian life and the life of the Church. As I mentioned, my wife was already a Christian, having given her heart to Jesus a few years earlier, but I was not. In truth I was ‘sitting on the fence’, with one foot either side. We, and the people we fellowshipped with, were familiar with ‘life in the Spirit’, that was why we were at this conference.

Terry’s teaching was very compelling. It had a certain academic and scriptural rigour, and I saw things more clearly than I had previously. On the Saturday night, as we drove to our friend’s house where we were staying, I told my wife Trish that for my birthday I wanted one of the new NIV Bibles. She immediately asked, ‘So you are ready to give your heart to Jesus then?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘not yet.’ I knew that I would have to bow my knee to Jesus when I became Christian, and I didn’t think I was able to do that yet. ‘Maybe next year.’

Next morning we did Sunday Church at the conference. At one point Terry asked if there were any present who wanted to give their heart to Jesus that day, who wanted to become Christian right then and there. I had already thought this through so stood quietly, along with everybody else, with my hands clasped behind me. Soon, very clearly, I felt strong fingers encircle my right wrist and tug me backwards. ‘Very funny’, I thought. Trish had gone out to check that our kids were ok; no doubt this was her having fun with me as she returned to her seat. Imagine my surprise when I turned and nobody was there. No Trish. No one was near enough to have reached out to touch me.

Who held my wrist? Who tugged my arm? In my spirit I knew that it was Jesus. ‘Come now’, He seemed to be saying, ‘don’t wait till next year, I want you now’.

Straight away I went to the front, I did whatever was required of me.  Probably I prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’, it was all just ‘extra’; I already had said ‘yes’.  I already knew that I belonged to Him.  I was in a cloud of love. I was almost forty-three years old.

I have never for a minute doubted that Jesus actually came and took hold of my arm, and drew me to Himself. No matter how tough things have gotten over the years: how my life seemed to be inconsequential, how I was unemployed for long periods, how spiritually I was stuck, how I seemed not to be growing in Christ, not going anywhere for years at a time. Trish and I nearly got divorced at one point, things were really ugly; my memory of this is that we both wanted to keep the children, and, truth be told, I was more scared of God, who had given me Trish, than I was of Trish herself. We decided to link up with Jesus into a three strand cord. We did this in prayer and He has kept us together, bonding us ever stronger and stronger.

Now I see Jesus’ plans for me, my marriage, my family, and His Kingdom, working out, twenty-four years later. There was never no progress. But it was always His progress, it is His plan, He equips and makes ready in His own time. Patience is one of the fruits of Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). We do not become patient by living only in gratification . . . Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9).

Transcribed from the book – ‘First Love’