DTS: Coming to the Altar

When we walked into the classroom that Friday morning, we saw a big, white sheet hanging near the back wall with a midsized wooden cross propped up in front of it.

We were nervous, excited, hopeful. But not surprised.

Our speaker, Mark, had been preparing us for this all week. Work duties were cancelled. Local outreach was cancelled. Instead of the usual three hours of lectures, Friday, today, was to be an all-day experience of finding freedom in Christ, of stepping deeper into intimacy with God, deeper into the glory of the tabernacle in all of its Old Testament foundations and New Testament fulfillment.

While that Friday was the pinnacle of intensity, the whole week had been a whirlwind of color and noise and passion. Mark clocked in more hours of lectures than any other speaker we’ve had before or since, but that wasn’t his legacy. He wasn’t afraid to shout, or look ridiculous, or even offend people if that’s what he thought it would take to reach them … if that’s what he felt God wanted him to do. Sometimes, he was so frank and expressive and persistent that we couldn’t help but laugh, and love him for saying it like it was. Other times, he was so frank and expressive and persistent that we were turned off, offended, even upset. His lectures were chockfull of content, but he spoke with an urgency intended to shake us and make this week, the only week he had with us, be five days we would remember. And, love him or hate him, he succeeded.

“What do you want to get out of today?” he asked Friday morning.

Freedom. More love. Revelation. Transformation.

“Things happen in one day,” he stressed, urging us not to just wish or hope that God would do something, or start something, but to desperately want it. Expect it. Believe it. And God would honor those desires of our hearts.

After this beginning, we filed past the staff members and into the classroom, giggling a little as we took part in the hongi (“sharing of breath”), a nose-to-nose Maori greeting.

We started at the gate with thanksgiving. Songs of worship gave way to sharing something God had done in each of our lives over the past few weeks. Then, we moved into the outer courts of praise. The English students and staff members welcomed us the traditional English way: with cups of tea and handshakes (minus the tea). We turned to each other next, taking mere greetings to the next level. Love through embraces, encouragement through words, and truth through the attributes of God we’d seen in each other.

Then, we began to step out of our comfort zones.

We moved to one end of the classroom, across from the sheet and the cross. Between those objects and us, right in the center of the room, stood half a dozen chairs back-to-back. One by one, we were to climb on the chairs, speak out or shout out words of praise and acknowledgements of who God is, then climb over to the other side. Once there, we could spend as much time in front of the cross as we needed to. Those who felt like they couldn’t make it across would receive help.

One of the staff members led the way, then I stepped out. Before I could climb on the chair, however, Mark had a few words to say to me: He was proud of my courage in being the first girl to come forward, but encouraged me to take my time. I slowed down a little, then clambered up and shouted one “GOD IS…” sentence as the person before me had done.

“Keep going!” Mark said, so I did, and was up there another minute or two before crossing the barrier and kneeling before the cross. While it was definitely a moment of stepping out of my comfort zone, I’ll admit that the music in the background assuaged some of my nervousness. Perhaps it would’ve been better had the music not been there … had our raw voices been the only sounds piercing the silence. Because of the music, too, I had trouble hearing what a lot of the others said, but it was still a powerful experience.

Two people needed to be helped across. One was raised up and carried on the shoulders of others. Another gingerly crossed the wall with the supporting hand of a friend on each side. I was one of those friends.

From here, we moved to the altar to make two offerings to the Lord. We spent the most time here, comforted by the warmth of the blaze, but also afraid of what would be required of us. What would happen when we placed certain items in the flames? Important items, treasured dreams … secret items, shameful deeds. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first was the burnt offering of public surrender at the cross. Some brought passports, money, and other important objects to either symbolically lay down at the cross or give away to others (with the exception of the passports, of course).

I didn’t have any physical mementos of my offering, but I offered up myself, my future, my time, and my right to marry.

Part two, the sin offering of public repentance, came after our lunch break. This was the part I had been dreading, and not just that week. In conversations with other YWAMers over the last year or two, I had learned that this kind of baring of one’s soul happened on DTSes. For months, I had been dreading this, but knew that it was necessary. For freedom’s sake.

This offering of repentance lasted nearly three hours. One by one, after a sharp intake of breath and a painful hesitation, each of us stepped forward into the middle of the room near the cross. A backpack filled with firewood was provided for those of us who felt the need to physically carry a burden as we confessed our sins, then to lay that burden down after repenting of those sins.

I won’t recount what anyone else said, only to say that all were vulnerable and real in what they shared, which gave me the courage I needed to be equally real. No one was forced to speak, but everyone did.

For me, it was a huge step. In the past, I had shrunk from so many similar opportunities. Will I ever be able to be completely open in certain areas? I had often wondered, my heart sinking as the years passed but the morass within me never did. If left to its own whims, my mouth seemed destined to remain forever closed. Hence the strange combination of dread and hope within me as this day drew near.

After we’d repented, Mark would often share encouraging or challenging words with us, or invite others to pray for us. Here’s some of what he said to me then, and later that evening: “At first, you were just sitting there, but then you came up not just once, but a second time and a third time. I’ve been watching you all week. You know that. I don’t have a daughter, but if you were my daughter, I would be so proud of you. God’s going to do great things through you in Asia.”

Our afternoon of repenting was somber, heavy, quiet. Then, after a break for dinner, the music was switched back on. When I returned to the classroom, the building was pulsating with worship. I felt drained. The afternoon especially had taken a lot out of me.

From here on, I’m not completely sure which activity correlated with which aspect of the tabernacle, but I’ll give it my best shot. We reached into the brazen laver (washing basin) of the Word through praying for each other and worshiping. I especially appreciated these prayers, and the love they exemplified, after such a heavy emotional and spiritual ordeal.

The golden candlestick is the Holy Spirit. The staff anointed our foreheads, our wrists, and our feet with oil and prayed for us individually, that the Holy Spirit would come upon us. Following this, we listened for words and pictures from the Holy Spirit about specific people, then shared the messages with those people. Some of us (me included) didn’t hear anything conclusive, a recurring issue for me that has been frustrating and discouraging.

I’ve since realized that my attitude, often a mixture of fear and unbelief, has likely been at the root of it and other self-denigrations. Too often, it’s all about me and what I can or cannot do. Too easily, I’m resigned to the patterns and failures of the past, believing the lies that I’m too weak to ever change. Too quickly, I let hope harden into cynicism.

Too wonderfully, I’m here for six months learning about the God who is faithful and makes all things new.

After the anointing, we took Communion at the Table of Showbread. When taking Communion at home, the congregation is almost always silent. Here in England, though, whether in a church or YWAM setting, the person passing me the bread and the cup says “The body of Christ, broken for you” for the first, and “The blood of Christ, shed for you” for the second. And then I say those words to the person next to me. It makes it so much more real and personal.

The final four elements of the tabernacle were the altar of incense (prayer and intercession), the veil (disobedience/alienation), the ark of the covenant (Holy Spirit – the presence of God in us), and the Cloud of Glory (the Holy Spirit above us), but they weren’t as strongly emphasized, and, if I’m remembering correctly, all that happened after Communion was worship and a debrief that involved sharing our thoughts about the day and praying.

We finished at 10 p.m.

What a day. What a week.

I felt absolutely drained by the end of it, and because I spent the weekend away from Holmsted and without much time to myself, I didn’t have a chance to process it all before the next week started. That threw off my whole week. Since then, though, I’ve finally gotten the chance to sit down with this wealth of material and memory and try to sort through it all.

Now, however, it’s been more than two weeks since that unforgettable Friday, and I’ve been wrestling with what it means, what it looks like, to continue living in that freedom. I do know one thing, though: I can’t just live off of that experience. Been there, done that. After an incredible few months of spiritual growth in 2010, I stopped walking forward. I basked in the glow of what God had done then instead of seeking a deeper intimacy with Him now. I had no accountability, nor did I seek out deeper human relationships. Essentially, I knew the key to a deeper relationship with God in theory (still a major breakthrough), but I stopped applying it and barely looked at my relationships with others. I learned that I couldn’t live on old revelations and unapplied knowledge forever, though, when I returned to school in the fall. All the familiar challenges, insecurities and fears hit me again, and I found myself unequipped to deal with them.

I don’t want to do that again. Now, I’ve discovered a new freedom, a truth to the lie that people wouldn’t love me if they knew the darkness within. But you know what? My value in God’s eyes doesn’t change based on others’ perceptions. He knows the truth, has always known the truth, and still, He loves.

But how to walk in that freedom? What do I do to live each day in light of my value in God’s eyes, to know not just in my head that I am free and beloved, but to know it in my heart and press forward confidently in that knowledge?

Maybe it’s as simple as my revelations two years ago: Focus on God, not on the things I don’t like about myself, and seek Him not as a means to an end, but as an end in Himself. To that fundamentally important ambition, I would add this: To give the love of God to others, and to find people to grow and share with, for mutual edification.

While transformation is a process, our generation is “quick to repent and slow to obey.” So stand up, fix your eyes on your destination, and start moving. Say, “Today is the day. God will change me. I will believe this and will step out in obedience even though I can’t see the big picture.” Do this again the next day, as you wake up bleary-eyed and bewildered. And the day after that, and the day after that.