Our individual story makes up the tapestry of all our stories, and they are woven together as one cloth. I was not the only dazed teenager confused by the turbulent mixture of the 1960s. It only felt like I was. I did not know back then that I was just one of millions. All I knew was that I was starving for Something Real, and I didn’t know how to find it. I didn’t even know what I was looking for. But I knew it had to exist because I had a craving for it.
I was the absolute personification of the person Paul describes in Romans 7. The good I wanted to do, I could not do. The bad I did not want to do, I did daily. I wandered from church meetings to pornography dens, from prayer meetings to lustful liaisons, from hours of Bible study to hours of dissipation, until the dichotomy of this inner contradiction began tearing me in two. And I was not yet 17.
I used the freedom of my newly acquired driver’s license to take me to either heaven or hell, often on the same evening. I was learning the dangerous habit of compartmentalizing my mind and emotions. I was able to shut out one set of behaviors and feelings in order to give myself fully to the other. At Bible studies, I was the young man with all the answers. And in the dark, I was unhindered by conscience or truth in my pursuit of counterfeit love. The Bible truth was only applicable when I was in that world. I was a literal Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – one of me lived in the light; one of me lived in the dark. It was tearing me in two. David prayed a prayer I would eventually come to know and repeat: Unite my heart to fear your Name. How I needed my inner life to be made one heart, and for that heart to be set on God and not my idol gods!
About this same time, my mom decided she needed a delivery milk man. Though we lived literally within a stone’s throw of the grocery store, we began to have regular visits on Monday and Thursday from Mr. King. I remember vividly his appearance that hot Mississippi summer. Although soaked with sweat from the blistering heat, he was always smiling! I was intrigued by Mr. King’s attitude of joy. It was something I had never seen in anybody I knew. It wasn’t long before our shallow conversation took on more depth. He began to describe what was happening around the country. There were thousands getting baptized in the Pacific ocean. Biker gangs in Houston and university students at LSU were being filled with the Holy Spirit at the same time they were receiving Christ Jesus! This was the same gospel that I had heard and discussed at my various Christian encounters, but with one vast difference: the power to change! Mr. King told me how his family drove an hour every Sunday (one way!) to be with people who not only believed the gospel, but who lived in the joy and power of it. I was starving for this to be true, so I began to go with him on Sundays. I had to check this out for myself.
One Wednesday night, I couldn’t stand the inner war anymore. I drove myself to the service an hour way. I slid into the altar and was met by a man who simply asked me, “Son, what do you want?” And out of my mouth came the unrehearsed answer: “I want the Holy Spirit!” With my head, I knew the Holy Spirit was more than a doctrine, and a real Presence. But just knowing that wasn’t enough. My life was such a mixture of light and dark, I needed more. I was so thirsty for the cleansing stream of Holy Ghost power. I didn’t want to discuss the theology of it all with my head; I wanted desperately to EXPERIENCE the personal power of His love in ME!
I have never had visions. Though I have had many supernatural encounters of various kinds from both kingdoms, I have never ‘seen’ things. Except one time. And it was this moment at the altar. I saw standing over me the golden robes of the Great High Priest. I could only see his upper torso and shoulders. I became momentarily conscious of only Him. Everything else seemed to fade and become dim. Then a flood of golden power poured into me. I knew I was being baptized in His Spirit as wave upon wave upon wave descended. I could have spoken in English if I had wanted to, but I did not want to resist the strange language that erupted from my core.
Like all people who experience such power, especially young inexperienced ones, I thought, “Wow! My battle for living in the light is now over. It will be a constant ascent to more and more victory from now on!” But as soon as I got home, the worst migraine headache of the many I had suffered since age 5 hit me like a blindness. The dark presence that I had always known began taunting me with the lie that what had just happened wasn’t real and didn’t change me from the scum that I really was. After just leaving the atmosphere of His Presence, I was enslaved once more by lies, and settled back into my dark but familiar way of living my double life. I sank back into my old mindset. The very next night, after such a wonderful encounter with the holy, I was back prowling in the gutters again.
Thus began a decade long war in my soul. Not FOR my soul, but IN it. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying I was the object of some tug-of-war between God and Satan. I was covered by His blood and belonged to Him. What had happened in that powerful encounter was this: His empowering presence had destroyed my inner ability to compartmentalize. I was now in a fully conscious battle between the light and dark, good and evil, truth and lies that had become the poisoned food of my inner world. I would have liked for that all to have been destroyed by Him instantly, but that was not what He wanted. He wanted me to choose Him, to learn to walk with Him daily, to choose holiness, to embrace the Cross. So it was HE who set in motion the inner storm. I was being baptized in the Holy Spirit and FIRE, and that holy fire set in motion the war that exploded in my head. Thus began the demanding daily, sometimes hourly, struggle to help me – more and more – unite my heart to fear His Name. I was being led by His Grace to live in the unending joy of real holy love instead of the quick empty fix of unholy lust.
I’m glad I didn’t know how long it would take. I had to choose. The Power had come not to give me supernatural wings with which to glide above the demonized valley, but Power to descend into it, confront it, and tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy. It was not power to live above pain. It was power to ENDURE the pain until the cause of the pain, my selfish will (notice, not my WILL which is good and essential, only my SELF will) was brought fully to the end of itself. And no, I have not arrived. (As if you needed to be told!)
Many had similar and even greater experiences with the Holy Spirit, but over the years, drifted away or got embittered with disappointment when their training in battle began. I had plenty of opportunities to do that too. I can only say that one of the reasons I didn’t, was that at 17 I had already sunk to the bottom. I had encountered the hell of myself. I knew there was nowhere to go, and no one else to turn to. So I just clung, and clung, and clung to Jesus. And now, after 50 years, I look back and can say that all that time, through all those inner and outer wars, it was not me clinging to Him, but He who was holding me. That’s why I so often quote Philippians 1:6: He who has begun a good work in us WILL FINISH IT.
I was longing for an encounter of power, and I got it. But He was after far more than that. He was after unsullied complete heart union. He wanted a relationship with me. I was longing for freedom from sin, but He was longing for my will to learn to choose Him in spite of my temptations. I was longing for happiness, but He was planning never ending Joy. And as always, His plan was, and is, best. Give up YOUR will, and NEVER, NEVER, NEVER give up on His!
Not my will, but Your will be done. Selah…