“They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.’ ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” – Mark 1:21-25
Perhaps you have watched Hollywood movies depict their rendition of an exorcism with heads twisting, writhing on the ground, bodies levitating, screaming and so on. These visuals are designed to emit strong emotions in the viewers. Or, maybe you have watched a “reality” TV special, documentary or an exorcism session on a video where the priest is splashing holy water or thrusting a crucifix in the candidate’s face while 2-3 grown men are trying to hold the afflicted soul down.
There are plenty of biblical references to Jesus exorcising demons (such as the one mentioned above.) In the midst of this encounter, the demons being expelled by Jesus, knew who He was and they feared Him. It is interesting that this episode happened “in church”…not somewhere in some dark alley or dense jungle where we might suppose such evil forces might lurk (even if we believe in such things.)
Ever since being baptized in water when I was probably about 8 years old, I have referred to myself as a Christian. I was your standard “church kid” of the 1950’s middle America. Being a product of a divorce in that era was quite different from today’s proliferation of single motherhood and fatherlessness, in that there was a sense of societal shame attached to the whole mess. By the time I went to college, there were some severe symptoms of insecurity starting to plague my mind in a way that caused mental and emotional grappling to ensue. What did it mean to be a man? What about someday being a father? Would I turn out like my biological father who beat my mom and abandoned us in the mid-1950’s?
All of this led me to cry out to my God, not knowing where else to turn. At the age of 20, I got “baptized again”, but not with water; rather, with the Holy Spirit. This was something totally unfamiliar to me and my church tradition, but it introduced me to my heavenly Father in a way never known before. I was absolutely fascinated, enthralled and excited about the future; but, under the surface were father issues yet unresolved. This eventually led to marriage, kids, career – you know, all the stuff of living in America. We were very active in our non-denominational church where I was a leader and “personal pastor” for several families that met in home groups. My prayer life was active with regular scripture reading and multiple weekly services attended. HOWEVER…I came to a place, rather, a condition where I could only express it by saying that I was keeping God at “arm’s-length.” I had a trust issue with my heavenly Father.
This was manifest in my own faith-walk where I constantly battled in my mind with my own dedication and faithfulness. From all outward appearances, It looked like I was doing the right things, being responsible, loving my family, going to work every day, etc. BUT, I was terrified that the Lord would ask something of me that either I could not do or would not be willing to do. I wanted to get closer to Him, but I could not. Hence, the arms-length superficial spirituality.
During that season of life, our pastor announced that he was going to bring in an evangelist for a series of services. The congregation was invited to fast in preparation for this event. Somehow, I knew this was a watershed moment for me, evidenced by the power to fast for 3 WHOLE days – something I had never done. The day arrived when all the home group leaders were invited to a special prayer time with the guest speaker prior to his preaching engagement with the rest of the congregation. We arrived at the “prayer barn” and formed a circle of 20 guys or so. Mahesh Chavda started walking around the circle praying for each man, individually. A fairly common phenomenon experienced in our spiritual circles at the time was called, “being slain in the Spirit” where (presumably) the Spirit of God would overpower the prayer recipient who would faint backwards onto the floor. I had already announced to the Lord that I didn’t…wasn’t…going to go along with that program to “go down” even if every other man did so. The die was cast.
Mahesh Chavda was a short Eastern Indian who had a dramatic conversion experience with Jesus as a young man which lifted him from his familial Hindi religion. As he made his way around the circle of men – sure enough – every man was falling to the floor. As he got nearer to me, I would circumvent the guy standing next to me, repetitively, until I was the last man standing. Now what? As he walked up to me, I told him that I was really afraid. He gently asked me if I had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, to which I was a bit offended that he would ask. Of course I was. He asked if he could just pray with me. I consented and he lightly put one hand on my shoulder. There is no recall of anything that he prayed, but within moments I started having the “dry heaves” as if I was going to vomit. Yet, I was not nauseated. The next thing I knew, I had not “fallen out” as the other men, but I was on the floor in a fetal position, soon followed by this deep, guttural scream like a man in severe pain – reminding me of my wife’s birthing pains with our children.
Guys were talking in the near-distance. Some even wanted to come over to check on my physical well-being, but I heard Mahesh tell them to leave me alone. God was doing a healing work in me. After some time, I eventually got to my feet, feeling embarrassed at first. I knew what my body did, but I didn’t do it. Later on, my best friend came to me explaining that when he saw me in the process, he was wondering who I was. He did not recognize me because of the pain, anguish and contortions on my face until after I was freed. What had just happened?
I was that man, in church, on a day when Jesus came with authority. The evil spirits recognized Him. They were afraid. They shook me violently. They came out of me with a shriek. I have no other explanation. From that time until now (35 years later), I have never felt like I have kept God at “arm’s length.”