It took John Wesley some hardship to get to revival. He tried pastoring in Georgia for a short time before returning to England beat and broken. But then, while attending a service where a preface that Martin Luther had written was being read aloud, Wesley remarked that,
About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.John Wesley (“May 24, 1738.” The Journal of the Reverend John Wesley. p. 74.)
A few months later, he shared yet another experience in which, “The love of God was shed abroad in my heart, and a flame kindled there, so that my body was almost torn asunder. I loved. The Spirit cried strong in my heart. I trembled: I sung: I joined my voice with those that excel in strength.” (Ibid, “July 6, 1738.” p. 116.)
And then, by the end of the year, things got crazy. Wesley and his friends got together to pray and as New Years Eve became New Years Day, God showed up tangibly. “About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.” (Ibid, “January 1, 1739.” p. 117.)
Revival was pouring out and the Methodist movement came into existence. People got saved, knocked to the ground, delivered from demons, healed, raised from the dead, and more. God continued to pour out his love on Wesley, empowering him for the ministry he was doing and reminding him of the love he needed to do it with.
Unfortunately, Methodism is remembered by most today (including those in the Methodist stream themselves) as a simple pursuit of holiness and reason. Some might even tell you that God doesn’t do those kinds of things anymore and take on the cessationist view that the gifts died out with the apostles. I believe, however, that Methodism would not be around today if it wasn’t for the supernatural presence and love of God being shed on Europe. There’s no way people were flocking to fields simply to hear pastors preach rational sermons about living the right life—no, there was a presence they were looking for. Word had gotten around about people falling to the ground and convulsing under the power of the Holy Spirit and outsiders wanted to know what these crazy people at these crazy meetings were all about. Was their God real or were they fabricating the experiences?
I like to call the Holy Spirit experience that John Wesley had, “the shockwave experience.” It’s an experience that some revival leaders seem to endure before the revival starts. Let me share a few other shockwave experiences with you so that you might hunger for more of God’s tangible love for yourself.
Charles Finney’s shockwave story is an interesting one. One day he took a walk in a forest, set on giving himself over to God. It was there that he was suddenly overcome with conviction for his sin and prayed before God. After what he thought had been a short time, he headed to his office, but found that it was already dinner time and his co-worker had left. Being alone, Finney grabbed an instrument and played a few hymns, weeping while he did so. He felt as though he was face to face with Jesus. After some time, he got up and went into his front office where a fire that he had made was about to go out. That’s when the shockwave hit.
But as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.
No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more,” yet I had no fear of death.Charles G. Finney (Memoirs of Rev. Charles G. Finney. Bedford, MA, Applewood Books, 1876, p. 20.)
An impression. A wave of electricity going through and through me. Waves and waves of liquid love. These are the kind of poetic words those with the shockwave experience have used in attempts to describe to us the immense love of God.
If you’ve ever read anything by Brennan Manning then you’re probably aware that a common critique of him is that he writes too much about love and not enough about themes like sin and judgment and what have you. But where did Brennan’s incredible message about God’s love come from? Perhaps partially from his own shockwave experience, where he was caught up in the “terra incognita” of unconditional love for three hours.
The experience was like roiling waves, spring storms, and bursting dams all in the same breath. Like the prophet Isaiah, it left me a man undone. The little child who heard “Boys don’t cry” throughout his life was then a man sobbing uncontrollably. It seemed the only response I could make to so great a gift—that Jesus had died on the cross for me and then called me by name! The Catholic crucifix finally took on flesh and bone. It was in those golden moments that I was battered by wave after wave of the theology of delight, that God not only loves me but also likes me. I was given a glimpse, an assurance that long ago we wound God’s clock for good. It was not that I found the more but rather the more found me. Christianity was not some moral code; it was a love affair, and I had experienced it firsthand.Brennan Manning. All Is Grace: a Ragamuffin Memoir. Colorado Springs, CO, David C. Cook, 2011, pp. 91-92.
Heidi Baker is another great example of a person wrecked by the shockwave experience—the liquid love of God. If you have ever seen her speak in person then you have seen the Holy Spirit at work. I once saw her speak at a conference that she was late to because her flight was delayed. We had an extended time of worship in order to make space for this and eventually she entered the church, walked right up on stage, fell to her knees and worshipped God in front of us for what felt like half an hour. She almost didn’t even have to speak. Watching her worship God unashamedly was a message in and of itself. She had been wrecked by God and is still wrecked by God. Where she speaks, his shockwave pours out.
Her own story is one of passion and fire. While attending a conference, she was suddenly overwhelmed with desperation and ran up to the altar in front of everyone and worshipped and screamed. The speaker paused and gave her a prophetic word, wondering if she was willing to serve in Mozambique. She received the call and then the shockwave hit. To use her own words: “The power of God hit me like lightning. I vibrated and screamed. I truly thought I was going to die.” (Baker, Heidi. Birthing the Miraculous, pp. 7-8.)
As you might have guessed, Heidi now ministers in Mozambique. With help, she and her husband have planted over 2,000 churches, some of them among the Makua, a people group that missiologists once considered as nearly unreached. They also have 35 bases of ministry in about 20 nations. And all of this rabbit trails back to a shockwave experience God poured out on her so that she might go pour his love out on others. (Baker, Rolland. “About Us.” Iris Global, 13 Dec. 2010, http://www.irisglobal.org/about. Accessed 3 May 2017.)
Another time I saw Heidi speak, she made it clear that she wanted people to have their own defining moment to look back on like she did. That night she invited everyone to the stage who felt a calling to overseas missions and many answered. She walked around and prayed for each person. You could visibly see the Spirit at work as they wept and shook.
Another ministry you might be familiar with is that of Bethel church in Redding, CA. Their church has seen countless miracles, raised up many disciples through their school of ministry, and has written most of the worship songs that we all sing in our churches today. But before all of this happened, their pastor, Bill Johnson, has his own shockwave story:
Once in the middle of the night, God came in answer to my prayer for more of Him, yet not in a way I had expected. I went from a dead sleep to being wide-awake. Unexplainable power began to pulsate through my body, seemingly just shy of electrocution. It was as though I had been plugged into a wall socket with a thousand volts of electricity flowing through my body. My arms and legs shot out in silent explosions as if something was released through my hands and feet. The more I tried to stop it, the worse it got.Bill Johnson (Hosting the Presence. Shippensburg, PA, Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2012, p. 186.)
Of course the shockwave experience isn’t just a modern day experience. People have been enduring the shockwave for a long time. St Teresa of Avila had her own story back in the 1500’s. She writes of a strange moment in which an angel appeared to her.
In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God. It is not bodily pain, but spiritual, though the body has a share in it—indeed, a great share. So sweet are the colloquies of love which pass between the soul and God that if anyone thinks that I am lying I beseech God, in his goodness, to give him the same experience.Teresa of Avila (The Life of Teresa of Jesus: the Autobiography of Teresa of Avila, pp. 192-193.)
We could throw it back even further to Biblical times and look at the early church’s own shockwave experience on the day of Pentecost when, “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Ac 2:2-4).
Paul himself had a shockwave experience, though it’s so crazy sounding that it seems he tries to pretend it was someone else’s: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor 12:2-4).
I’ve seen the shockwave experience poured out on people many times. I remember attending a conference once where the ministry staff prayed for each person by sending them through a prayer tunnel. Most of those who entered the tunnel didn’t make it to the other end because God came so strongly upon them that most people got knocked over before they were half way through. There were volunteers whose actual job was to pick people up and drag them off stage to a place where they could lie on the ground and let God’s work continue. My friend was one of those who arose from that pile. She later tried to explain the vision she had in that sacred space, but it seemed hard for her to put it into words. (I tried to capture what I could of her experience and wrote a song called, “The More,” based off of it.)
One of my most memorable moments in college was in my doctrines class. The professor was running behind and all of the students were waiting to see if he was going to show up. After some time, he walked into the room in a bit of a holy daze. Apparently he had just come from his office where he had an unexpected and intense encounter with God’s love.
With tears swelling up in his eyes, he ditched his lesson plan and waxed poetic for the next hour or so about God’s radical love for us. The presence was on him and he couldn’t hold it in. I will always remember that moment, because that’s what the shockwave does—it shocks others around you and leaves a mark.
When the Holy Spirit comes strongly upon people, they’re often left grasping for words, trying to explain the experience to the best of their capabilities. “God is like waves of liquid love; like a piercing of the heart; like fire, electricity, lightning, and silent explosions; like the very breath of God; like immense wings fanning me; like a kindled flame in my heart; like violent and ravishing pains; like the verge of death; like a mighty rushing wind; like tongues of fire.”
Want it. Crave it. Embrace the shockwave. Hunger and thirst for more. Be willing to ask for it. As B.T. Roberts, the founder of the Free Methodist Church said,
If you thus earnestly serve God, from deep-seated principle, he will not leave you long without enjoyment. There will soon be a supernatural element introduced into your religion. It will not be a bare morality, frigid and sparkling as an ice berg.B.T. Roberts (Fishers of Men; or, Practical Hints to Those Who Would Win Souls. Rochester, NY, G.L. Roberts & Co., 1878, p. 164.)
Stay hungry, give your all, and seek out the intimacy of God’s love in every way he gives it.