I concluded the last section of my story by explaining that because of my father’s job relocation, we moved away from the church in which I had been so happy.
For me, moving away from my friends and the church I had so loved was tough. Suddenly I discovered that there were actually churches that were different to the one in which I’d grown up. Well, that’s not quite true as previously I had been aware of the Anglican church that had been linked to my primary school—but the subtleties of the different nuances of church was something I would discover over the next few years.
During the next ten years I attended two independent charismatic churches, an Elim Pentecostal, and St. Helen’s Bishopsgate (an Anglican church), where I loved the preaching, but hated the worship style at the time.
I also went through a hard time at school, since pupils at my new grammar school really didn’t know what to make of this crazy Christian. Actually the hard times didn’t begin immediately as when I arrived I landed straight in the nearest thing to a revival I have ever experienced. The kids were praying. I don’t know how it started, but we met for prayer every morning before school. Revival is often characterized by protracted seasons of prayer.
These kids had decided quite spontaneously a few weeks or so before I arrived to begin to pray. And boy did they pray. The tangible presence of God was in the room in such a weighty manner. I can only remember a handful of other times in my life when God felt as close as he did at those times. There was seriousness, as well as a joy about it all. It was this seriousness that marked it out from what I would later experience in the so-called “Toronto Blessing.”
The Toronto Blessing, incidentally, seemed to be a joyful time of refreshing which had a limited impact on the outsider—there were not large numbers of conversions as far as I am aware. The experience I had in a grammar school lacked the phenomena of Toronto, but it did have salvations. People would come to the prayer meetings not quite knowing why and would be saved there and then. There were tears sometimes. There was a sense of God undoing you in the room—he revealed himself in his fearful holiness and boy did you want to get yourself sorted out. There weren’t hundreds of people saved, but there are times even now when I look back on those days and say, “Do it again, Lord!”
Sadly those times of blessing didn’t continue for long, and before I knew it most of the boys who had been saved in such a way had left the school. I found myself running what was left of the Christian Union after it had decided to split from meeting with the CU from the nearby Girls High School. I would stand up in school assemblies and announce meetings people could come to. I would propose to the school debating society subjects for debate of a Christian nature. I even managed to organize a mission week which involved a whole team taking over many lessons and saw a number of people sign up for “just looking” classes. I learned much at that time, including depending on God for resources—funds for the mission week came in to cover the last penny of expenses.
But, I became painfully aware of two things. One, that for all our efforts God was not so obviously present with us owning what we were doing. Two, the majority of the kids in the school seemed to hate me for no apparent reason, other than that I was the leader of the “God Squad.”
There seemed to be little fruit at the time, but in later years I discovered that wasn’t entirely true. One of my most angry opponents in the school debating society decided on arrival at his university that he would check out for himself the truth of what we had bandied around. He said that he had never understood how I could continue being nice to him whilst he was nasty to me! Within weeks he was powerfully saved.
Another guy reported that he sat in meetings, especially one when I was speaking about the evidence for the resurrection, thinking, “Why does everyone else seem to disagree with him, but I feel like what he is saying makes sense?” He became a Christian at Greenbelt the summer after leaving school. Hearing of these late fruits from what we did at that school was a great encouragement to me—we never know the impact we are having on the people with whom we share the gospel.
But, deep inside at that time I felt rejected and alone. I was angry, even with my parents, because I wished we hadn’t moved. I wasn’t really enjoying my church even though they had been gracious enough to give me my first preaching opportunity whilst I was in my early teens. I am sure that the problem largely lay in me rather than anyone else.
I felt like no one in the world loved me (which was not, of course, true!). I remember my arm was broken by school kids, and I was not invited to many parties during those years. One day, I was hiding in the school library and discovered a book by David Wilkinson—it was “Have You Felt Like Giving Up Lately?”
The message of the book seemed to me to be that I needed to learn to depend on God alone—if you like, make God my “one thing.” I remember so well saying to God, “Are you saying I have to get by on your love alone?” I felt God say to me, “Yes, but trust me to provide others who will demonstrate my love to you.”
This was a radical departure for me, and changed my life. Shortly after that I joined a different church and met some very dear people who impacted my life massively. We were in a “youth group” which included people from age 13 to 30ish. I was able to get involved in the leadership of that group, and more importantly, met some great friends. One of them, the church pastor, greatly encouraged me in my sense of call to some form of ministry. He prophesied that I would go on to effect thousands of people- I have been astounded at the way that the surprising growth in readership of this blog has led to that prophecy being fulfilled. I find it humbling and surprising to realize that these witterings are now so widely read, I hope with some benefit at least to some. I know that at the time I was given this prophecy I would never have believed it since I still felt that I was just the kid in the playground no one wanted to play with.
By the time I was in my late teens my life was going really well. I had been given more experience of Christian leadership than most people at that age. I had preached several times, including once to around 300 people. I had done well at school and was about to head off to medical school to train to be a doctor—although I was secretly convinced someone had swapped my exam papers over and that someone else was mystified as to why they had failed their A Levels! Life was sweet, although I never did have many friends at school. With the confidence of youth I knew little of the plans God had in store for me just around the corner when I moved away to university. I was about to be surprised once again!