Have you ever had one of those “perfect moments” in time? These moments are not as rare as we may believe. Yet, sometimes we can miss them completely or take them for granted if we are not paying attention.
I had just such “a perfect moment” as a young child. I was reminded of it recently when the church I attend put a tent out on the lawn for Easter service. I absolutely loved that Sunday in large part because it reminded me of one of my earliest childhood memories-one of those formative moments Daddy God used in my life to prep the ground for His future work in me.
The Tent Revival
Headlights approached the pasture, casting both lights and shadows upon the field. Whatever used to grow here—whether cotton, soy, or rice—was long harvested and gone. What remained was rough furrows and ridges, resting and awaiting next year’s planting … or not. Perhaps this was the resting season. If that were the case, the ground would lie in what appeared to be a dormant state. There would be no turning of soil, no planting, and no harvest.
There was much going on beneath the surface, although none saw it with their eyes. The ground was resting. Rest is not nothing. Rest is imperative, crucial, needful even; for without rest, one slowly dies. The nutrients break down, health falters … and be it land, human, or animal, the organism begins to fail. It becomes used up and may never produce another spark of life until it is laid to rest, nourished, renewed, and restored.
Rest is a process and sometimes difficult. Why, even our sleep occurs in a cycle, providing various benefits for our mind, body, and spirit at each stage. Psychologists say those who are sleep deprived can go mad, suffer amnesia, and even die.
On this day, this particular piece of land was not without purpose; it was providing the very foundations of what would be one of my very first memories. The soil that provided physical nourishment for its inhabitants was now, it appeared, providing a place of spiritual nourishment for those gathering upon its grounds.
I am not certain I had ever even been to a revival or even church before this night. I didn’t know why we were there but I felt an excitement about being in this place.
Mama placed the car in park, turned off the headlights, gathered up us girls, and then headed purposefully toward the gigantic open tent. Melly and I followed close behind, my blond curls bouncing upon my shoulders with every step. As we stepped inside, the bright portable lights obscured anything beyond the confines of the tent. All that was visible—other than the occasional light in the field—was absolute darkness.
Portable wooden folding chairs, awaiting their opportunity to serve, sat in neat rows. They faced a low platform, which must have been prepared for the person leading the night’s activities. As I surveyed the scene before us, I do not recall much regarding the people in the audience so much as I recall those simple empty chairs—waiting, hoping, desirous to be filled and to serve their purpose. Perhaps the chairs and the audience had more in common than anyone could ever imagine.
The sounds of the night filled my ears. Crickets, cicadas, frogs, and other night creatures sang together in beautiful harmony that to this very day brings rest to my soul, joy to my spirit, and peace to my weary mind. The sounds of a rural night stir something within me I cannot quite put into words. My attempts to do so seem to fall altogether short. I feel my words create a slight injustice for those simple, yet complex harmonies that create within me a longing for what I do not fully understand. Yet, on any given night on which the creatures sing, I am transported to that tent once more—a small curly blond-haired little girl, listening to the song of the night. Its song is not a furtive one, nor one of desperation filled with anxious tones and callings. It is simply the call of creation communing in absolute oneness with its creator and with one another.
If the songs of the night were sheer beauty, the sticky southern Louisiana heat was certainly not. Sweat began to roll down our heads from the recesses of our hair, down our faces and across the backs of our necks. The people, now packed into the once empty chairs, began to flick their self-made fans of folded sheets of paper, or whatever material they could acquire, in order to provide some sort of relief for their heated faces.
One by one, strategically placed oversized wooden box fans were flipped on. A constant breeze stirred the air within the tent. The whirring of the fans took center stage, drowning out the song of the night, creating a song of its own. Whirr. Whish. Whirr. Whish. Whirr. Whish. Simple. Rhythmic. Consistent. Hypnotic. And while it continued its entrancing tune, it brought with it the fragrance of the Louisiana night. One might assume the predominant scent in such accommodations to be that of sweat, but it is not what my olfactory senses have retained. No, what I do recall is the smell of fresh-cut grass. Nothing less. Nothing more. Nothing mingled within. Just pure, unadulterated fresh-cut grass, smelling just like a freshly cut ripe watermelon.
Memory is a funny thing, for I have absolutely no recollection of the space between those moments and the final minutes of the tent revival. One moment I was hearing the whirring of the fans and in the next I was in my mother’s arms, sitting upon her hip. We stood in a line that stretched across the front of the tent and down a side aisle, which was left open by careful placement of the chairs. We crept forward slowly and were suddenly standing before a man. Having long since removed his jacket, he faced us wearing what could have been at one time a bright white button-down shirt, accessorized with a thin red tie.
Suddenly I felt it. Oil! Oil being poured over my head! It ran between strands of hair and over my scalp. The fingers that had been in my mouth began to wipe oil as it ran down my forehead. He had ruined my curls! Mama had rolled it, and I had slept in my pink foam curlers all night. Now all that work … my beautiful hair … gone!
Then we were in the car. The engine turned over, bringing the headlights to life, shining once again upon the big tent in the field. I again saw the box fans, the wooden folding chairs, and the portable lights. Mama put the car in reverse and backed away. The headlights’ impact upon the tent became dimmer. The vehicle turned, and the tent disappeared from view.
When I was older, Mama told me what the preacher said when he poured that oil all over my head. He said things about having dreams and visions and told Mama to believe me when I told her these things. Mama said when we left the tent that night, I told her I had seen Jesus. She took me to the store and showed me picture books, but none of those pictures looked like the man I had seen. Mama tells me this scared her, so she did all she could to help me forget what I had seen that night. Although she now regrets this course of action, her efforts were successful; for I have no memory of what the preacher said or what I am told I later saw that night. My memory stops at the oil running down my head, the thought of my hair being ruined, and begins again in our departing car.
I was only a child. Memory is a shapeshifter playing tricks upon a child’s mind. I may never recall the specifics of one of my first memories, but I will forever love the song of the night and the smell of fresh-cut grass. I can still see those old wooden chairs and hear the rhythmic whirring of the fans. At any given moment I am there again, resting, and I can feel oil running down my head into my little blond curls.
Some years ago, as I recalled this story to a friend of mine, I realized I had been angry at that preacher for ruining my curls. I felt a quickening in my heart to forgive the preacher. So, I did. That is when the memory of that night became more than a memory of a tent revival one night in South Louisiana. It became a part of my spirit. And in the retelling of it, God has used that night to teach me some important lessons.
Lessons From the Tent
1. Be the Light— Light Drowns Out the Darkness!
When you are standing in the light, it is difficult to peer into the darkness. When I was inside the tent, all I saw was what was in the light. But those who are in the dark can see the light and the things in it. Light illuminates and brings insight and knowledge. Light reveals the truth.
Genesis 1:2 tells us the earth was empty, void, formless, and dark. An extraordinary darkness covered the depths of the earth. The darkness was absolute. The Hebrew word for darkness in this verse can be translated as obscure. That’s a loaded word! Obscurity can mean a state of being unknown or unimportant. But it can also hint at mystery. It is here, over this absolute darkness—this state of unknown and mystery—that the Spirit of the Living God began to hover. His Spirit brought hope to the darkness. He rested over the waters, brooded over the deep. Then he said,
“Let there be light!”
And so, there was.
You may have felt much like the earth of Genesis 1 at times—dark, empty, void, formless, obscure, unknown, and unimportant. Believe me. I’ve been there, too—more than once. But God says to you,
“Let there be light.”
God hovers over you when you are at your darkest. He speaks to the darkness and brings forth light. He speaks to the emptiness and brings forth life.
God saw you before He blew the first breath into Adam. He saw you before He flung the stars across the sky. He saw you millennia before He stepped out across the void and said, “Let there be light.” When He spoke forth light, He was thinking of you!
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 5:14-15 KJV)
According to Ecclesiastes 3, there is a season for everything. One of those seasons is rest. In Leviticus 17, God commanded the Israelites to allow the soil to rest on the seventh year. After years of being toiled, planted, and harvested, the soil becomes depleted of its nutrients. It has given everything up to the life it nourished. It needs time to regenerate and restore itself. The cool thing is, soil that has been rested and restored absorbs water more efficiently than soil that has never been rested. Depleted soil will allow the water to just sit on top and then drain off. It’s almost as if it does not realize it is thirsty. So, it ignores its supply.
Much like the soil, we need rest. In a society that thrives on activity, this may be a foreign concept or even one looked upon with derision. Did you know statistics state that Americans use less than 40 percent of our vacation and paid leave time?
However, rest is not nothing. Denzel Washington said this to a Dillard University graduating class:
“Just because you are doing a lot more, doesn’t mean you are getting a lot more done.”
Just because you are resting does not mean you don’t have purpose.
Remember: rest is a process. We must rest our muscles after a workout for them to heal and become stronger. Furthermore, just as healthy sleep happens in cycles … so does true rest. We prepare for bed, or most of us do. Prepare to rest. Plan it.
I’ll be honest with you. Rest is not really an issue for me. I love spending time alone, meditating on the word, laying in a hammock at the beach, drinking coffee all alone in a café, or hot tea on the back porch. I do struggle, however, with feeling a bit guilty at times for doing so. I think,
“I should be_____________________________________.”
(You fill in the blank.) But let me encourage you as I encourage myself: Do not allow the enemy to throw guilt at you. Jesus spent time in rest, so if we are to be like Jesus, we need to rest. Everything and everyone will be there when you step out of the rest. Take some time to ask yourself these questions.
- What can I do to plan my time of rest?
- When is the best time to step into the rest God has called me to?
- Where do I feel most rested?
Those who rest on a regular basis are more productive. Lack of rest affects our moods and leaves us open to attacks on the mind, body, and spirit. When we are tired, we may be more likely to allow fear, depression, anxiety, and stress to influence our decisions and actions. We may be more vulnerable to temptations. Our goal is to walk in and operate from power, perfect love, and a sound mind.
“So, we conclude that there is still a full and complete “rest” waiting for believers to experience. As we enter into God’s faith-rest life we cease from our own works, just as God celebrates his finished works and rests in them.”
(Hebrews 4:9-10 TPT)
4. Serve One Another
THIS is NOT my strongest gifting, or my ripest fruit, when thought of in a traditional sense. When I was in college, I tried waitressing for two weeks. Yep, two whole weeks! I asked to be moved to a hostess job. I did enjoy student mentoring, however. It was rewarding to see a freshman, who had been told he would probably not make it through the first year, turn his grades around, discover the resources to cope with his dyslexia, overcome negative words, and fight through that first year as if it were only a small obstacle in the way of his dream.
But I forget to make the coffee at work. In fact, I don’t even think about it because there is always coffee in the pot. Both the secretary and our office manager in my office will pull the coffee cup out of my hand to refill it or wash the cup. I don’t even put up much of a fight. I will often walk right past things that need to be done if it is not in my own house … because I just don’t see those undone things.
I do, however, get joy out of cooking a special meal for others or making them a dessert. That’s my thing. I will make the best cake I can put together with the best ingredients available for co-workers’, friends’, and family’s birthdays. I will even travel out of town to get those best ingredients if need be.
But I have never identified with Martha. I am most certainly a Mary, much to the chagrin of the Marthas out there. By the way, whatever you have heard about Martha, it is okay to be like her. We need servants in the body of Christ. I think she gets a bum rap. My best friend is a Martha. She is a servant and loves doing it. She brings out some of the best parts of me by reminding me there is joy in serving others. The trick is to balance it all.
When I was young, my parents would invite pastors, evangelists, and Bible teachers over for dinner or coffee. We even had some living with us for a time. In fact, there was often someone outside of our immediate family living with us. Mama and Daddy would offer them a chance to get on their feet or a place to wait while they were in transition. While the other kids were outside playing, I would hang back listening to every word the adults had to say about Jesus. I got run off sometimes and told to go play with the other kids, but I relish those memories and would not trade them for anything.
I don’t think servants fit into any one category. Servants aren’t always those who flit around, making sure everything is clean, or that dinner is on the table, or coffee is made. Servants also visit the hospitals, pray for the sick, help busy mothers out with errands, or watch the kiddos for a bit. Servants listen with an attentive ear. They mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Servants speak encouraging words, notice a new outfit, help schedule events for a group of friends, plan nights out, carry heavy burdens others cannot bear, stand in the gap when others cannot stand, pray when others are beyond words, sing when others cannot sing, or laugh just to spread the contagion of laughter. Most of all, they love others. A servant brings his ability and supply to the table. A servant is not a slave, but one who brings provision where there perhaps has been none.
Just like those chairs that had been carefully positioned in the tent, we have been positioned in the kingdom of God. The chairs provided comfort and rest. We are called to do the same for one another. Servants are invaluable! Servants are vital to the Kingdom of God. Servants perpetuate the freedom of Christ as they reveal the very nature of the Son of God. He came to serve others. He serves because he loves. And he laid his life down in that love.
“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy our sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13 NLT)
Worship is one of my favorite places. Yes, I said places. In John 4:24, Jesus tells us that those who worship the Father will worship IN spirit and IN truth. “In” represents place: a place in your heart, in your mind, in your soul, in the throne room and presence of God—not necessarily a physical place. Where are you when you worship? Are you truly “present?” Worship is not distracted. Cicadas, crickets, and frogs sang that night outside the tent regardless of how many cars pulled into that field. They continued to sing, communing as in one voice with their creator and with one another. They continued to sing even when the big box fans drowned them out and we could no longer hear them.
The word of God tells us that the whole earth will praise Him, and rocks will cry out when we do not, so praise Him.
Worship is a posture of the heart giving voice to what’s inside us. It is like a spring bubbling in us and overflowing so that we cannot contain ourselves. When we worship we pour ourselves out to Him, so that He fills us up with all He has for us.
6. Be Willing to Be Uncomfortable
That South Louisiana heat is nothing compared to the Middle Eastern sun. (And hey, at least we had fans.) When Jesus sent the disciples out to spread the Good News in the Gospel of Luke 9, He told them to take nothing. No walking stick, no overnight bag, no road food, no extra shirt, and no money … not even a sleeping bag! There were no convenience stores along the way. And even if there had been, they had no money to buy any lamb chop jerky or almond date trail mix.
God will sometimes call us to step out into things for which we are unprepared, and we may lack what we believe to be the essential supplies. It is in those moments He teaches us that He goes before us and prepares the way. He is our teacher, and He is our supply.
He asks merely for our obedience. It is during these moments of feeling unprepared or that we are not enough, that the very breath of God, just as the fans did on that night so long ago, brings comfort and peace. But know this, the breath of God also stirs things up a bit, and we must be willing to let go of our perception of perfect.
7. The Oil of God Messes Up Your Idea of Perfect
Sometimes God is messy.
Moses may have thought he had it pretty good. He had a family, worked for his father-in-law, didn’t have to go into an office every day. He got to work outside and had left the responsibilities of royalty behind. But God messed that up. He sent him right back to the land he had fled. He was wanted for murder there. The Israelites hadn’t seen him in forty years. But God sent him. God chose him.
Esther was the Queen. This was probably not the life she would have chosen for herself and at first may have felt angry about being taken from her home. But she had been chosen by an earthly king to be his wife. She had servants, her own quarters, beautiful clothes, and jewelry. She had learned to make the best of her situation and prospered from that decision.
However, she had no idea that she had been chosen by the King of Kings to rescue His bride, Israel. She said no. She was afraid. But God continued to call and use the voice of another of His servants to do so. God called her to a place in which she finally said,
“If I die, I die!”
She was willing to lay down her life for the purpose and calling of God to rescue her people and to fulfill her destiny. That is pretty messy!
Paul, when he was called Saul, was a member of the Pharisees. Top of the top. Educated at the best school by the most sought-after teachers. He was doing a job he relished. He got to track down heretical Christians and kill them! In his mind, he was doing the work of God. He was well respected and feared. The power alone was intoxicating! But then God met him on the road to Damascus and everything changed. God messed up his idea of who God is and what He wanted. So, he lost his job. In fact, he fled from it. He, the persecutor, became the persecuted and spent years in prison writing much of what we call the New Testament.
Sometimes we may have a plan all laid out for our lives. But then God happens, and often those plans (but not always) get messed up. So, don’t write your plans in permanent marker. Be willing to use a dry erase marker. Proverbs 19:21 tells us that we can make all the plans we want, but God’s purpose will prevail.
When we get under the oil of God, which represents His anointing and unity, our heart gets wrapped up in His. We become one with Him, living in Him and He in us. Our desires begin to line up with His. We begin to see what He sees and hear what He says so that we can do what He does. That, my friend, you can write in permanent marker.
8. Jesus Defies Expectations
Mama says she took me to just about every bookstore she could find and looked through every picture book imaginable. None of those guys looked like Jesus to me. Just as I could not find a picture of Jesus in any book, Jesus doesn’t look like what people expect Him to look like. Many times, we have created him in our image instead of remembering we are made in His.
The Israelites expected a king. He came as a servant, born in a shelter meant for animals. He washed the feet of his disciples, was called a drunk and a glutton when He met with what the religious people of the day considered sinners. He let prostitutes touch Him and wash His feet. He allowed a traitor to be his treasurer and even shared a Passover meal with him the very night that same guy betrayed Him. And not once did he try to form a revolutionary army to take over the government. He paid his taxes and his tithes.
He healed people some thought deserved to be sick. Jesus loved the unlovable and touched the untouchable. He sought them out and spent time with them.
Then he was captured, tortured, and crucified. He was dead. This could not have been the King of Kings and Lord of Lords they believed was coming!
Many were afraid of Jesus and his legacy, even in his death. They placed a stone in front of his tomb and sealed it. No one was getting in or out. Except He did! He rose from the dead, removed the stone, and walked out of that grave!
Even today, people are afraid of Jesus—maybe even people who love Him and want to serve Him. He challenges our perceptions, asks a lot of questions, disregards man-made religion, and expects much from us. He tells us to go the extra mile, give the extra cloak, and sin no more. He tells us that genuine religion is serving others, looking after the widows and orphans, controlling your tongue, feeding the hungry, guarding your heart and mind, and refusing to be corrupted by the things of the world.
Following Him will cost us our lives. Paul says it this way:
“My old identity has been co-crucified with Christ and no longer lives; for the nails of his cross crucified me with him. And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives his life through me—we live in union as one! My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God who loves me so much that he gave himself for me and dispenses his life into mine!”
(Galatians 2:20 TPT)
Jesus walked out of His grave. He wants you to do the same. He calls you his bride. You carry His name and all the authority that name brings. I like to call this “the great exchange,” for there is no greater name in heaven or on earth than the name of Jesus, the Christ.