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Suddenly, chapter 7
Suddenly, it’s as though everything in Ian was imparted to me.
First, let me back up a little.
All the way back to 2006. My prayer partner Cees and I were teaching and equipping in the Lutheran Church Mission in Uganda (LCMU).
Sitting on the tarmac at Entebbe airport, just about to depart from Uganda, I looked out the window, rested my head, and said, “I never want to see this place again.”
We had worked hard. The people were hungry for the good news of Jesus. The congregational leaders’ teaching times lasted a couple of days, and then we were off visiting leaders in theirlocal areas to encourage and equip them. We’d travelled to places you’d never be able to book through a tourist agency, over some of the bumpiest roads in the dustiest terrain. We’d leave early and get back late. On the return journeys, there would always be many questions about what we’d taught and the practical implications. It was exhausting.
Suddenly, on the second-to-last evening, I got a fever. Cees and I were sitting down for a much-anticipated evening meal after a full day of teaching and interacting. Just as my meal arrived, I started to feel a bit strange. I picked at the meal and told Cees I was going to lie down. Part way back to the room I became completely disoriented. I even had to ask some members of a British educational team to help me find my room. I was so confused I couldn’t even use the key. They helped me in and laid me on the bed where my temperature proceeded to skyrocket. The Brits obviously got help because next minute one of the staff and Cees were swabbing me down with cold towels on my forehead, armpits, and groin while I was off in a gaga land of delusion. Half an hour later it was all over, but I was left drained and despondent. The sense of despair was still with me while sitting on the plane waiting to leave.
We flew to Amsterdam to spend a few days with Cees’ parents before returning to Australia, but I was in a demoralised state. Cees invited me to attend a church service with his sister and her family the next day, but I declined. However, at the last minute, I changed my mind.
The LevendEvangelieGemeente (Living Gospel Church)is a large charismatic community who encourage their people to naturally engage with others out of the love of the Father. It was neat being taken to the reception desk to pick up a headset. The announcements, bible reading, prayers, and even song introductions were all beautifully translated.
Imagine my surprise then, when the person who got up to preach was speaking perfect English in a Canadian accent … with a translator for everyone else to understand!
His name was Ian Ross, and I gathered he’d shared there once or twice before. Ian was part of the senior staffwhen renewal began at the Catch the Fire Church in Toronto (formerly Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship) in January 1994. The Holy Spirit called Ian from that role in 1998in order to carry the message of the Father's love to the nations on a full-time basis.
When Ian took the microphone and began to speak, I was immediately unimpressed. Listening through my despondent mindset, I felt Ian and I were in the same boat. In my memory, his opening words were something like, “Good morning, I’m Ian Ross. I don’t really feel like being here today as I’m tired. My wife Janice who normally travels with me can’t be here. She’s having some time out for a couple of weeks processing some stuff.”
I thought, “Give me a break!”
However, my interest increased sharply as Ian shared about his earlier career at IBM, his coming to faith, and his encounter with the incredible love of the heavenly Father. Then, after an introduction that would normally be the length of some peoples’ sermons, Ian prayed
“Father, we come today to seek your heart, not just your hands.”
Suddenly, I saw it all. In an instant. One nanosecond before I didn’t see what I saw so clearly now. And it was the real reason behind the despair afflicting me.
In that moment, I relived what had happened in Africa. Burdened by such genuine lack, people would share their needs and ask for prayer.“Please pray we have money for school fees.” “Pray that I can have a new bicycle to do more ministry work.” “Please pray for our crops.” My revelation was this: these beautiful people are so understandably anxiousabout getting things from the Father’s hands that they never actually get to his heart.
Then, in the same moment, I had apicture of us in the western world. Our hands are full to overflowing with cars, houses, clothes, food, leisure-pursuits, options, and excesses, to the point where we are completely preoccupied with them. We mistake the fullness of our hands for ultimate blessing and settle for less than his heart.
Ian’s prayer was short, but so powerfully revealing: “Father, we come today to seek your heart, not just your hands.”
Suddenly, near the end of Ian’s message on the Father’s love, I had a picture in my mind of a large room in Jinja, Uganda. The Holy Spirit was impressing on my mind that I was to return the next year, with a team of people, to facilitate a conference. The picture revealed there would be at least two representatives from every congregation or preaching place of the LCMU, so that they could experience the love of the Father and be empowered to live from his heart and not just his hands. Where did that come from? Forty-five minutes earlier I didn’t want to leave Adelaide again, let alone go back to Uganda.
Next, I heard Ian asking anyone who wanted a blessing from the Father’s heart to come down the front. No more invitation than that was needed. Ian’s message from the Father’s heart had already breathed life into me, despite my preoccupation with God’s hands. Just hours before, I had been full of despair; why not take refreshment when it was offered! Plus, apart from Cees’ family, not one single person in the room knew me. I almost sprinted down to the front and as soon as I got there, I dropped to my knees and started crying—again. Ian just casually walked along, not saying anything I could audibly decipher, laying his hands on peoples’ heads.
What a refreshing time. This didn’t feel like a quick shower to get the grime off when you’re dirty; rather, it was like a soak in a nice warm bath. I experienced the love of my heavenly Father in a tangible way. He was washing away despair, replacing a perfectionist mindset, and overcoming a tendency in me to sometimes see life through the lens of rejection. It was not hugely emotive in the happening—a man prayed over me while I was kneeling—but it was profoundly impacting in its depth. It was a personal love being placed in me. There was relief at being so richly accepted and loved for who I am, not what I did or achieved.
After a period of time—I honestly can’t remember—I got up off my knees and went to look for Ian to say thanks. Finding him I said, “Hi Ian. My name’s Peter. I’m a Lutheran pastor from Australia on my way home from Uganda, and I’ve had it!”
Ian just looked at me and smiled. He then placed one hand on my head and another on my ribcage. It felt as though a sword had pierced me. I doubled over, fell to my knees, and then went gently to the ground. What I experienced is hard to describe. Let’s just say I was caught up with the Father’s love, blissfully unaware of my immediate surroundings. At no point was I unconscious or out of control. I could have ‘snapped out of it’ if I wanted to, but that thought never crossed my mind. I was too enamoured with the Father’s love, too enraptured with the Father’s heart.
When I regained awareness, Cees was leaning over me praying, and Ian was standing in the background grinning. Apparently, Cees had seen me go to the ground from the other side of the building and came running over. He wasn't perturbed; Cees knew this was the Holy Spirit at work and wanted to support me. Ian, however, didn’t know Cees or his connection to me. So, as I was informed later, Ian put out his arm to stop Cees saying, “Don’t worry, he’s a Lutheran pastor, he needs this!”
It’s true! I just didn’t know how much I needed it. Here’s the amazing thing. Suddenly, it’s as if everything in Ian was imparted to me.I could have hopped on a plane backto Uganda right there and then and shared on the Father-heart of God. Bible verses from years of journaling started coming alive with the message of how incredibly loved we are. The despair lifted in the light of that love. I still had to apply self-care and rest due to all I’d experienced in Uganda. The difference now was that I was doing it from a position of acceptance and living in the Father’s “well done”, rather than from a place of dejection and self-pity.