Testimony Part 1: Religion to Relationship

While interning at Ignite Campus Ministries, the Lord showed me something I will never forget. It began when I was at a gathering with a few friends in downtown Tacoma. There was worship music playing in the background while the pastors invited the people to make a line and declare their testimony on a mic. I knew it wasn’t good to be discouraged when people shared, but I gave in anyways because I couldn’t help but believe that the testimonies these people had were more powerful than my own. This was when I began to realize that I didn’t know who I really was and what God had done. I was blind to it. The enemy was robbing me of who I was. Days later, I sat down in Dan’s living room with his two-year old daughter, Mikiah, watching The Lion King. The Lord spoke to me through Mufasa when his son, Simba, was out in the field confused and needing help. He says, “Simba, you have forgotten who you are. Therefore you have forgotten who I am.” I asked the Lord to show me who I was and who I am now, and He showed me many things—things that were key points in my life that had a major effect on me.
RELIGION TO RELATIONSHIP
Growing up in Tennessee, my parents were worship leaders, and we were very much involved with church. My parents told me that I had to be saved first and then baptized, but I thought they meant that I had to be literally saved from death. Because of this belief, I ended up getting baptized several times just to make sure I was going to heaven. Well, one Sunday morning my family got in a car wreck. Everyone in the car was fine, and then I thought to myself, “Finally! I am saved!” I made sure I got baptized as soon as possible once again. This was the beginning of “religion” for me.
I thought that Christianity was being a good person even though the Church always said that it was about relationship with Christ. I didn’t see anyone walk in faith throughout my childhood years, so I didn’t understand. All I knew then were some important scriptures to memorize, old testament stories, dead speeches and empty sermons, and that there was a God who created the universe and me, and I was told to be saved and baptized so that I could go to heaven when I die someday. However, I understood love for the most part because of my parents and their example, which was and will forever be a blessing.
Shortly after I had encountered the Lord through a “heartbreak” in the springtime, I disciplined myself to seek the Lord with everything I had. I started getting serious in going to church, getting fed through empty messages still, but wanting to grow in relationship with God. The Lord took me on a spiritual journey, knowing Him, the purpose of Christ, the great commission, and all the topics such as humility, strength, unity, love, persistence, ect. Since my encounter, I had been increasing in knowledge, and little did I know that it was puffing me up.
It was my senior year of college when I really experienced the Lord through prayer. In the fall, I read a passage in Mark that got me in the secret place: “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35). After reading this passage, I knew there was something about prayer that I wasn’t experiencing. I began waking up every single morning to pray from six to eight in Tower Chapel on the campus before classes started. It wasn’t so much discipline for me, but zeal because when I took that first step, it seemed as though the Lord rewarded my sacrifice. I became in love with prayer and the secret place to the point where that was all I wanted to do, and nothing else. When I climbed to the top of the stairs to Tower Chapel, I expected God to meet me their each time I went, as it states in Matthew 6:6. I would get there and His presence was already there. He would give me pictures and words for the people I would pray for. It was so amazing for me to see the results of prayer—seeing my lost friends come to Christ within a week. However, as this revelation of the prayer life came to me, I counted it as righteousness and compared myself to lots of Christians because no one else was doing what I was doing.
I began fasting twice a week—no food, but water only. There were several occasions where I would fast three days, sometimes two, even a week, and then two weeks. Again and again I counted it as righteousness before God and man. The same senior year, I began experiencing visions and dreams that correlated with many other visions that people had. Some dreams were exactly the same, and many visions had the same messages and linked from one to the next. All this in one year got me to believe that God was going to do something big, and I felt it in my spirit. The school year ends and I’m a different person, counting myself more righteous than anyone else because of what I’ve done. I came home to my family and they saw that I was different, but little did I know that I was hurting them through condemnation. I would ask my brothers to see if they wanted to pray early in the mornings and they felt condemned, even if they did go because truthfully they didn’t feel the urge that I felt. Because of what I’d gone through, some of my brothers felt as though they were farther away from the Lord, unqualified and overlooked. I saw my relationship with the Lord as a race and thought I was much farther down the road than almost everyone I looked at because I knew they weren’t doing what I was doing. I was wholeheartedly determined to seek the Lord with all that I had because that’s what I believed every Christian’s motive should be—You must love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
As the Ignite College Ministry internship started for me, I came thinking that God was literally going to show up at some point during the school year as He’s done in revivals past, such as the Azusa Street Revival, the Welsh Revival, the Asbury Revival, and similar revival stories that occurred in the early 1900s. I was thinking that William Seymore’s 100-year prophecy was going to come true for us in Tacoma. It didn’t matter how it was going to look, all I knew then was that God was somehow, someway going to show up and I was going to be there to witness it and follow Him and leave everything behind—my friends, my family, and my life. I took what Jesus said about following Him to be literal because I didn’t see anyone else dare to do it, and I was thinking what if? There are a couple reasons I came into the school year thinking these things. One, because it was prophesied to me that I was like an Evan Roberts, who I soon found out led the Welsh Revival because he was a man after God and was about the secret place too, and all he did was just spend time getting to know God, and he was about the same age as me when things began happening for him. This was enough to get me to believe that God was going to choose me for the year. Second, my dad shared with me some experiences he has had in the past, being filled with the Holy Spirit, feeling the surge, laying hands on people and seeing instant changes, and just supernatural things that would happen to and through him. After all that I was experiencing at the time, there was no way for me to disbelieve something great was going to happen.
The year started and I was after the power of the Holy Spirit. I was single-minded about experiencing the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I was determined because I knew that this was the key to the power, and every revivalist was about it—the Holy Spirit. For a couple months I even believed I was without the Holy Spirit because I thought that I first needed to receive power, and then fulfill the great commission. Again, there were several occasions where I would fast to receive it because my thought process was that I needed to be empty to be filled up. I thought that the number forty signified the death to myself, and so I was keen to fast forty days with just water starting in January because I believed that then I would truly die to myself and receive that power and anointing from the Lord. I went about seven or so days before I realized that my intention was wrong, and that I just really wanted to see if I could go forty days.
I had a dream around that time that there were different stages of growth, and the last stage was a death to self, and for me to overcome, I needed to jump off the cliff into the deep waters. This was the perfect analogy for everything and it made sense to me, and so I began crying out to God, “Kill me! I must die!” I was thinking that if Evan Roberts said, “Bend me, Oh Lord!” then I can say, “Kill me, Oh Lord!” I felt like an idiot when I ran straight into the truth that we already died with Christ. This was okay for me to believe, but there was still no way for me to believe that I was raised with Christ and baptized because I read the accounts of the revivalists, such as Reese Howels. He believed he was predestined, chosen, justified, but not glorified (Rom. 8:30), and he needed that experience. I also believed as he did thinking I was not glorified, and I needed an experience like he had, being possessed by the Holy Spirit. I pretty much believed that I needed to become like God’s robot—He just needed me to fully surrender so that He could use me, and use me well, because anything that was going to be of me would be sin, rebellion, not His will, selfish, my own strength and not His, and more.
I thought that God was looking for someone to come into and use, and that He was desperate because He loved His people so much but found no one who was willing to die. I thought that I needed to work hard and search the wickedness that was inside of me (Psalm 139:23-24) and bring it out in the open, as if God needed me to search my filthy heart and show Him the wrong things I’ve done, turn 180 degrees around the other way, and try to make myself holy. I was like a servant and He was my Master. I was spiritually anorexic. Many Christians today can relate to this way of thinking. I thought I was going to be baptized at some point soon because it felt like it was God that kept mentioning it—baptism, meaning the drowning of or the submerging of, which signified the death of myself, will, emotion, desires, habits, and everything else. I literally believed that everything about me, God was going to take away—family, girlfriend, friends, music, hobbies, desires, future, ect.
Finally, during spring break, I went to the coast with some friends from Eugene. A man named Paul prophesied over me, and this was how we met. He knew a lot about me just by listening to the Spirit—it felt like he actually knew me more than I new myself. My ears were open to every word that came out of his mouth, except for one thing. He said to me, “I know what it is you are after. And I have sought after it myself. You are after the baptism of the Spirit, and you need to know that you are already baptized.” I could not believe him because I read the accounts of the revivalists who got told the same thing, yet they responded with, “No, I’m not. I’m determined to be baptized in the Spirit.” John G. Lake’s testimony really stuck with me then because it was a clear example. So I was encouraged, yet I still believed I was without the fullness of God. I believed that the Holy Spirit was with me, but not in me. I did not feel the power or had a crazy experience from God or a “baptism”, and that is why I believed I was without Him—because my soul told me so. I thought that I needed to achieve it in my own strength.
A month had passed still walking in deception, when I had another dream that got me on the right track:
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This was the only thing I saw in the dream,but a powerful feeling. I woke up to the words, “It is finished.” There were two sides: the religious and the rebellious. The religious are the ones who are of the old law, walking as Pharisees wanting nothing but order, rules, systems, and what-to-dos. The rebellious are on the other extreme, walking in darkness, fulfilling the lust of the flesh, and are conformed to the world. Deception is what pulls both farther and farther from the truth. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). This message was powerful for me because it explained how important it was to know the truth. There was something about the truth that I needed to know and the enemy was keeping me from it.
Towards the end of the school year, I again run into my friend Paul at a worship night. We prayed and he said, “Phil, I think the Lord just wants me to ask you: What are you waiting for?” I immediately thought of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that’s what I responded with, feeling dumb as we already went over this before. “You are already baptized in the Holy Spirit. What are you waiting for?” He asked again.
“The power of the Holy Spirit.” I answered.
“You have the fullness of God living and dwelling in you. Christ, the hope of glory lives in you. All power has been given to you. What are you waiting for?”
I thought for a second. “To be sent.”
He had a concerned look on his face and said, “Christ said, ‘Go!’ two thousand years ago. What are you waiting for?”
I could not respond. I was lost for words. And his point was clear and this was the beginning of a mind change for me: “Sometimes we think we are to wait for more power, more anointing, for God to tell us where to go and to wait for Him to speak through us, when He is actually the one waiting for us.”
This was the very moment that I realized I had been deceived. Yet, God is so kind to bring me to a renewal of mind. The enemy had me bound—prevented me from loving others by thinking only of my relationship with God, made me believe I had no power and authority, made me believe I had to achieve things in my own strength, made me believe my relationship with God was like a servant to his master, and many other things. It is finished! I have all power, I am perfect in Christ, complete in Him, lacking nothing, forgiven once and for all, accepted, predestined, chosen, justified, glorified, sanctified, favored, reconciled, adopted as a son of God, and an heir of Christ. All things have been given to me (1 Cor. 3:22), I have received every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3), I am anointed and know all things (1 John. 2:27), every good thing lives in me (Phile. 6), Christ lives in me and I no longer live (Gal. 2:20), I have died with Christ and rose with Him (Rom. 6:4), I am a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and the truthgoes on. When did all this happen? Two thousand years ago. No striving for it. It was already given. This was grace. “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. 3:3-5).
I ran straight into truth and my mind didn’t like it. There were so many lies growing up, so much deception, and it is still going on. This was when I first began to know the gospel and the two very different covenants—before the cross, and after the resurrection. I was seeking something I already had—very much like the deception that happened to Eve, wanting to become like God, when she already was like Him, made in His likeness.
No more prostrating myself for hours crying out to God for more power, no more asking for more faith, no more asking for the fruit of the Spirit, no more trying to love God, no more trying to please God, no more trying to be like God, no more trying to become holy, no more trying. I can just be. “…Be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
—Galatians 2:21
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
—Revelation 21:7
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