Read an Excerpt
the GRACE OUTPOURING
Becoming a People of Blessing
By ROY GODWIN, DAVE ROBERTS
David C. CookCopyright © 2012 Roy Godwin and Dave Roberts
All rights reserved.
WE BLESS YOU IN THE NAME OF JESUS
I was desperate. Despite a series of miracles that had enabled my wife, Daphne, and me to become directors of a beautiful Welsh Christian retreat center, I was frightened that I had made a mistake. As I thought about it, I realized that for the first time in maybe thirty-five years, several months had passed during which I hadn't clearly brought somebody to the knowledge of Jesus. I believed I had a calling on my life to bring people to Jesus, so what was happening?
I wasn't to know it, but God was hours away from showing me some unexpected answers. In the meantime the frustration mounted. It had been partly provoked by my visit to a business conference in Pembroke in the west of Wales. I had spent the day with two hundred businessmen and women. I felt at home among them. This was the type of pool I had fished in for most of my life.
As I reflected on my suit-clad outing to the hotel on the estuary, the agitation grew. Instead of being with the Christians who came to the center to recharge and reflect, I needed to be with those who had no clear Christian understanding and commitment. I decided the only thing I could do was leave the center.
The next morning I sat in our farmhouse-style kitchen and poured out, with some passion, the details of my agitated day with the businessmen to my ever-patient wife: "It's just no good. I cannot stay here any longer. I need to immerse myself in the everyday lives of people without a Christian faith so I can just be me and share my faith with them."
Daphne, petite and blonde, is always full of incredible wisdom and insight, and she just calmly looked at me and said, "Hmm. Well, if that's how you feel, and you feel so strongly, it's about time you told God about it."
Suitably rebuked, I retreated to the upstairs office to pray. Fortunately I wasn't aware that her internal response was actually Well, you can leave if you like, but I'm not! That just might have affected my conversation with God, which was going something like "Lord, I need to be spending time with people who don't know you. I cannot survive unless I'm doing this, because this is what you made me to be, this is what I am ... somebody who introduces people to you, who connects them, or fans the flame." The pent-up emotions surfaced in my jumbled words. "How can I be whom you created me to be unless I am sharing you with those who don't know you, or seeking to heal the hurting, or fanning flames of passion in those who are on the fringes of walking with you? What am I without you? How can I live unless I obey your call? How can I be someone else? Lord, something has got to happen. I cannot stay here unless you do something."
My talk with God finished, I returned to the everyday rhythms of life at Ffald-y-Brenin. Within hours there was a knock at the door. Tall and middle-aged, the couple calling on us were strangers.
"Hello, I hope you don't mind us calling like this, but I wonder if you could tell us what this place is."
We sat them down at our table, where we had just finished lunch, and the reason for their trek up our long and steep drive unfolded.
"Well, we were driving along here, and we don't quite understand it, but we were compelled to come up your drive." They had noted that it was a Christian retreat center, but that meant little to them. We made them a cup of tea, always a good place to start, and then talked in general terms about the center for a while before finally explaining to them that this is a place where lives get changed because God is real.
They liked the idea of being shown around, so we guided them through the garden, with its special rockery, swiftly flowing stream, and a beautiful view of the valley and surrounding hills. We took in the stone corridors of the main retreat center, walked around the grounds, and back to the final room, which happened to be the chapel. There they seemed to sense something of the presence of God, although they might not have been able to articulate what was happening to them. They sat down rather speedily, rather heavily, as though their legs had gone a little weak.
I immediately created a new tradition: "We have a rule here about how we respond to our visitors. We like to bless them before they leave. May I bless you?"
They had no problem with that, so I simply said, "I bless you in the name of Jesus to know God, his purpose for your life, and his blessings on you and your family and the situations of your life. Amen."
They started to weep. The sense of the presence of God seemed tangible. I quietly let myself out of the chapel so they wouldn't be embarrassed by my presence. It was time to let God do what he wanted to do for that couple.
A little later they came and found me, full of gratitude and rather shaken by what was for them the unexpected sense of God's presence. I was able to share a little more of the good news of Jesus before they left.
Being a somewhat strange, fallible creature, I didn't connect their visit with my earlier prayer. So God sent someone else to my door to help me connect the spiritual dots. The next day another knock on the door was followed by the same inquiring words:
"Hello, could you tell us what this place is and what goes on here?" At last, as I went through the social pleasantries, it was dawning on me: this was God's response to my prayer. That became clearer the more we talked. They had no Christian faith and didn't seem very interested in God. They had sensed something and were simply curious.
While we may like to think that spiritual breakthrough will be surrounded by stirring worship and heartfelt preaching, we now began to observe a pattern that involved the simple hospitality of welcome, cups of tea, scenic tours and moments, and then a few minutes—or sometimes hours—of profound encounter with the Holy Spirit.
Our latest couple was open to the idea of a prayer of blessing when they reached the chapel, so I mentioned our tradition.
This time the Holy Spirit came with even more manifest power, and they wept profusely. But still it seemed right to slip away and leave them to hear from God.
Later, as we prayed together with our ever-changing community, we said to God, "Lord, we like what you're doing, and we bless what you're doing. Lord, would you please do more of it?" And he did. For a period of time, each day, we would pray and say, "Lord, would you please send someone else?" And he would. Many people came up the drive. (In fact, God started sending so many people that today there is a reception area for them where they are greeted by team members.)
It wasn't always straightforward. One afternoon I was interrupted by a knock at the door, and there stood another inquiring couple. Faced with a deadline for posting a form, I was internally wavering; but our hospitality habit prevailed and the kettle went on for tea. We did the tour and got to the chapel, but even before I could pray the prayer of blessing, they were visibly touched by the Holy Spirit. I slipped away to post my form. Later I was able to talk with them and explain what God had been doing.
As they walked away to their car, another couple walked toward me. No! I've got to get this work finished, I thought, even as I outwardly smiled. Lord, I haven't got time for this now; please turn the flow off!
I explained to the couple that I was a little pressed but asked how I could help. I wasn't anticipating the man's response: "I was driving along, going through the valley, enjoying this beautiful summer afternoon, and the weirdest thing happened when I got to your drive. I've held my driving license for over forty years, but I was compelled to come up your drive, and I'm absolutely convinced that if I'd taken my hands off the wheel, it would've just turned and the car would've found its way up here. I don't understand it. I've never experienced anything like it. Could you please tell us what on earth's going on here?"
I explained that we were a Christian retreat center, a place where the presence of God comes and people's lives are changed because they encounter him.
"How interesting," he said. "That reminds me of the story of the bishop and the prostitute."
By now we were at the kitchen table, and he was telling a pornographic story while his wife blushed with embarrassment.
I was finding all of this very difficult, but nevertheless I offered them a cup of tea. To my intense disappointment they said yes. While the kettle was boiling, he told another story that was even worse than the first one.
I was ready to do some righteous rebuking. I didn't want this in Ffald-y-Brenin, in my house and in my kitchen; but God said to me, "Don't you dare rebuke this man." It was that clear. This worried me. It was not the prompting I wanted to hear. I wondered whether it was God's voice that I was discerning after all.
We heard a third filthy story, and I explained more about the center and what we believed about the presence of God there. When he started his fourth story, I just wanted to be rid of them. But I had made a commitment to God in the previous weeks that if he brought people to the center I would stop, however pressed I was, put them first, and bless them. So I offered to show them around, hoping they would take the chance to make their escape and save me time and irritation. But his wife said yes, and the object of my wrath mumbled something about tagging along though not really being interested. I resisted the temptation to suggest he wait in the car.
The center was packed with guests, so I walked them around via the outside paths. However, we had to pass windows thrown open because of the heat of the day, and the stream of profane anecdotes did not slow down. Internally I was having an animated conversation with God: Please protect the hearing of the guests as this filth is paraded past their windows. Lord, I am committed to blessing this couple, but this is a real struggle.
When we reached the chapel, I told them what the building was, then opened the door and ushered them in. The husband was in full obscene flow. Then he put one step on the stone floor of the chapel, fell headlong to the ground, and began to cry like a baby. He cried out to God, "I'm so sorry. I didn't know you were real. I've heard so much about you and not really believed, and not cared, but I didn't know you were real. Oh God, I'm so dirty. Oh God, how can you ever cleanse me? Oh God, can you ever have mercy on me?"
His wife's legs had given way too, and she'd fallen very heavily onto the stone seating. She sat and wept. I quietly slipped out and let God do his work.
This slipping away was an important part of our ethos. I wanted people to have direct dealings with God. When visitors left, we didn't want them to feel that there was somebody at Ffald-y-Brenin who had led them and taught them, to whom they must speak when they had difficulties in the future. I wanted people to know that God himself had come and met with them, that he was able to convict and counsel them, and that they could speak to him directly—they didn't need to be taught "special words" to pray. If I had been present through these encounters, they might have asked how to pray or been scared to admit that they didn't know how to pray. Afterward, when people would tell us their stories of wonder and weeping, we would explain and encourage, offering them a context for what had happened and suggesting how to find out more about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Several patterns began to emerge in the months that followed. We often did not need to offer to pray a prayer of blessing, as the Holy Spirit fell on people spontaneously as they walked around the center or the grounds. Our job was to go along with what the Holy Spirit was doing and to continue to bless what he was doing and respond to it.
It was so rewarding to speak blessings on the people God brought along who didn't know him, so we turned our sights outward and began a pattern of speaking blessings into the local community. Every Friday morning in our chapel meeting we would speak blessings over the neighborhood. The valley below us has a two-mile section that you could call our locality. It is home to about eighty people scattered across its half-mile width.
Gradually a structure emerged as we continued in our new tradition of blessing prayer, and we now pray in that pattern as a matter of course. We pray for people and we pray for households. We speak into every household, blessing it in the name of Jesus. We're not interceding; we're speaking to them in the name of Jesus.
The phrase "We bless you from Zion" captures a biblical attitude to prayer that we wanted to apply to our context when we used the words "We bless you from Ffald-y-Brenin, this place where God's presence is being poured out. We speak to you in his name, and we bless you."
So we bless every household, we bless every marriage, we bless the relationship between family members of different generations, and we bless their health and their wealth. We bless the work of their hands. We bless every wholesome enterprise they're involved with, that they may prosper.
Because we're in an agricultural community, we bless the flocks and the herds, and we bless the grass so that it will be nutritious in winter—which it wouldn't normally be—and will not need to be supplemented in order to strengthen the animals.
We bless supportive networks of friendship that run through the community, because they're a sign of the kingdom. We bless the pupils of our rural school and ask God to aid their learning. We bless the teachers and pray that school may be a safe and wholesome place, where simple childlike trust and belief in God and in Jesus can be comfortably maintained.
We pray for both places of worship in the valley, that the word of God and the Spirit of God may flow out from both.
Then we speak to the hearts of all the people who are in the community. We bless them to be safe and to be softened, so they may become more and more responsive to the voice of God. We bless them with the overspill of the kingdom of heaven being made manifest here in Ffald-y-Brenin.
Before long we began to see the fruit of these prayers in quite miraculous ways. A man who rented a small stable in the community and did agricultural repairs had not been finding things easy. After we began blessing the valley in the name of Jesus, his business suddenly began to take off. He had to acquire larger premises and employ people and was able to buy his own house.
The lambing season came, and more miracles emerged. We had been blessing the ewes to be strong and healthy and productive. One of our farmer neighbors told us how he'd been absolutely stunned by the number of quads and triplets being born to his ewes. His normal hope was for many twins. The ewes were coping well, but his wife was run off her feet supporting the rest of the lambs with bottle feeds!
He wasn't the only farmer with a story to tell. Another one stopped me in the road and said, "Come and look in this field with me." Just beyond the gate was a massive bull. He carefully walked around the bull with an arm stiffened in front of him as if to ward off an attack. The bull was staring at him and slowly turning and facing him as he walked around. The farmer invited me to join him. I declined. He insisted. I closed the gate and refused again. Now he was stuck in the field with the bull and had an obstinate onlooker.
He managed to divide off a cow and her calf and invited me to consider how excellent the calf's rear end was. Being no expert on bovine hindquarters, I merely murmured some niceties. He had to spell it out for me. The calf was clearly, given the breadth of its rear, going to be a superb bull. It seems that farmers pray that at least once in a lifetime they will have a calf like that one.
He still clearly felt I wasn't grasping how good this was. "I had one like this last year as well. It's completely unnatural." I told him that we had been praying that the blessings of God would fall on the cattle, on the herds of the locality. Another seed was planted in another life as God's blessing unfolded in the life of a farmer in this green valley in Pembrokeshire.
But there was more. A lady who lives out in the wilds at the head of the valley runs a farmhouse bed and breakfast. Suddenly she was awarded AA landlady of the year for Great Britain and was busy at awards, on publicity trips, and in TV studios. Even now we tease her and tell her we're having a plaque put up at Ffald-y-Brenin, which will claim we are friends of the award-winning Lilwen MacAllister.
This remote valley was seeing material and spiritual blessing. The chapel had not had a baptism for a good few years, but after we prayed the prayer of blessing, a dam seemed to break. One very cold day, muddy underfoot, we were able to witness about seven people being baptized in the open-air baptistery, fed by the local stream.
My old ways of sharing my faith were being changed as this understanding of blessing people began to not merely take hold of our hearts but actually bear fruit in our community.
I was no stranger to the "truth and Scripture" method. This appeal to the mind is valid, good, and powerful for many. But for people who don't consider themselves particularly literate and for those who have moved to a more visual, "discovered in life" knowledge, it can often fail to stir their hearts, minds, and emotions.
Excerpted from the GRACE OUTPOURING by ROY GODWIN, DAVE ROBERTS. Copyright © 2012 Roy Godwin and Dave Roberts. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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