One of my favorite books in the whole world is Nine O’Clock in the Morning by Father Dennis Bennett. Fr. Bennett was an Episcopal priest back in the 60s and 70s* He got filled with the Holy Spirit. All that Charismatic stuff that gets bad wrap was the most pure and beautiful thing ever told through his eyes. I came across the book many years ago when I was becoming part of the Charismatic movement myself. I wasn’t sure what to make of a lot of things, but his book was my favorite because it was pure. Fr. Bennett was just minding his own business when he ended up at someone’s house hearing about “more.” Soon they were more house meetings, and stuff happened—people carried joy and diseases got healed and the power of the Holy Spirit was real. No one was arguing in these meetings about things being real. You can’t debate experience. When the Spirit of God shows up, you don’t argue. But Fr. Bennett caused some arguments, and he ended up being pushed out of his proper church. It’s the story of many Charismatics in denominational churches. But he was the priest. If I am pressed to choose one book besides the Bible as my favorite book, I always say Nine O’Clock in the Morning. This is because even though the book takes place over many years, Fr. Bennett and those with him never, ever lose their excitement and passion. You see, when I had my vision of Jesus, I instantly became a worshiper. I had already discovered the power of intercession a bit, but worship got combined with it and that was all I wanted. I wanted prayer meetings and worship services. All. The. Time.
I had the mistaken thought that I was behind as far as Christianity and now that I had found the secret I would fit in at church and with Christians instead of being that “second class” Christian I perceived myself to be because I never got the passion people had. Instead, I was merely tolerated, and often told I was “too heavenly-minded” or in the “cage stage” and would calm down eventually. Fr. Bennett taught me I never had to calm down. It was possible to keep excitement about Jesus and never lose passion. I wanted so much to be in that world. That book has held its impact on me because it is what I want. Even in the down years, it’s what I have wanted deep inside because I know the only times I have had true contentment have been times of deep prayer and worship. There, I am with Jesus, and there is the only peace and life that exists.
I remember the day I decided I loved my pastor in Tyler, TX. Pastor Jerry was preaching one morning and was leaping around the stage, whooping with excitement about Jesus. He wasn’t worked up in some Charismatic fervor. He was genuinely filled with the passion of his love for Jesus, even after, at that time, 20-plus years in ministry. I loved him because he would never tell me to calm down about my faith. Others did. And I did; I hate that, but wanting constant prayer and worship meetings isn’t mainstream most of the time. My heart never changed, but I put up walls to protect it. I was in awe of Fr. Bennett–and Pastor Jerry, and Rees Howells and John Hyde, and all the great heroes of prayer over the years, and how they had resolve I could not sustain. But in my heart I wanted it. I have always been drawn to the people who encouraged me to pursue with passion. I read Acts, and I see that only 120 of the thousands end up in that upper room when all is said and done. I want to be one who would have been there. People, that happened. After Jesus left. I want that.
I reread Nine O’Clock in the Morning pretty regularly, at least parts of it. I try to read it again every year. It ignites fire in me. When I came home from The Miracle, I pulled out almost every book I had on the Holy Spirit, which is a lot. They sit on my bed, my coffee table, the bookshelf near my bed. I somehow must think if I read have them close I will take the context in by osmosis. I’m reading a devotional type book by RT Kendall on 40 Days with the Holy Spirit, which studies a different facet of Him–and He is a Him–each day. I sometimes find my heart stirred. I get up and started praying. I brush my teeth and on my way to bed I start pacing and worshiping Jesus because the urge hits me.
Tonight at church I had a long conversation with a dear woman of God. She’s an older lady, but her spirit is young and fiery I have loved her from the beginning. I have a love for her I don’t usually have for people until I get to know them. She was telling me about being filled with the Spirit in that same time frame when Fr. Bennett wrote. She talked like she was in this book, so I asked her about it; she knows it well. Her stories and hunger for more of the Lord consuming everything after that filled her beautiful eyes that radiate Jesus. I was trying to find a way to explain that I sort of got what she was saying because this is how I have been feeling since The Miracle. I could go to a prayer meeting every single day and not be tired of it. I want more.
I don’t know that there is a whole lot of difference from the private home meetings of the 70s where people discovered there was more than dry Christianity than there is in what happened in that living room on March 7 in Texas. That same power flooded the room, flooded my mind. How do you explain when the Holy Spirit surges through you and literally rewires your mind so you can see and think in a way you couldn’t just an hour or two ago? You can’t reason that one away. Especially 10.5 weeks later when I still want the same thing. Sure, the “newness” of that moment may wear off day-to-day, but then new comes again and my fire is ignited. It wasn’t a high; it was an empowering like I have not known since the day of my vision. What I have learned since then, though, is how I have to fight for that to stay alive–the me part of it. The Holy Spirit is alive and unchanging, but as the parable says, the cares of this world can consume us. I am desperate to be the same age as this dear woman, as Pastor Jerry, as Fr. Bennett before he died, and to still have fire. I am desperate for that now.
Tonight I looked at my new friend and said, “Why can’t we have that now? Why can’t it be like it was?” She said she didn’t see why it couldn’t. I said, “Then let’s do it! Let’s go after this again!” Without missing a beat, she said, “Okay, let’s do it.”
I don’t now what that means. But I know she means it. I know she was one of the first to jump at the idea of a new prayer meeting. She walked in last week and her face was on the floor in worship and prayer in moments. Later she told me I was “on fire.” But I told her, “you’re the one on fire.”
Maybe we can burn together.
That’s what happens when the Holy Spirit comes, you know.
*Back before the Episcopals did things like endorse abortion; now there is a Spirit-filled offshoot of Episcopalianism which has retained its godly roots, that emerged from Fr. Bennett and this movement.