Pastor Ward calls Brother Lester and I his ‘lifeguards.’ When the altar call is given, we slip out of our seats and stand behind anyone receiving prayer. That way, should a petitioner be inclined to fall, we can prevent his or her head from connecting with the nearest church pew. Pastor wants the Holy Spirit, and not a concussion, to cause the fallen one to hear angels sing.
We are also there to keep order. Some members used to get so filled with the Holy Spirit that they would begin causing a holy ruckus.
Take Sister Myrtle, God bless her. Two years ago, after Pastor Ward declared her digestive problems to be healed, Sister whooped, “I can feel it glowing!” all the while holding her rather large belly. Before anyone could put out a hand to guide her to her seat, she jitterbugged all the way along the altar rail. She almost grabbed Pastor Ward as a dancing partner but her husband, Brother Alex, intervened. I still recall Pastor’s ashen face, sweaty brow, and widened eyes as he asked us all to bow our heads for the benediction.
Afterwards, in a meeting of the church elders, Lester and I were appointed to our lifeguard positions. The rules have been relaxed over time. If a person is so led they can say “Alleluia” while raising their hands to the sky. Brother Lester and I make sure anyone starting to wade into the spiritual river does not lose control in more volatile ways. All that is necessary to remind us of our duties is a quick thought of Sister Myrtle’s jiggling stomach and victorious whoops. We take our job seriously.
Last Sunday, though, the Holy Spirit flooded our church with a river of revival. Even Brother Lester was carried away by the riptide of the current.
The service seemed normal until Pastor approached the altar to deliver the sermon.
“I had an interesting dream last night,” he began. Lester and I exchanged glances. I remember thinking, That’s an unusual introduction. Wonder where he’s headed with this?
“In my dream, I went to Heaven and the Lord met me. He looked at me sadly and asked, ‘What did you do with the gift I gave you?’” Pastor cleared his throat. “I had to ask what gift He was talking about. He gestured around us at all the glory and the angels and saints praising God and asked, ‘Do you see anyone weeping here?’ I had to admit that I didn’t.”
Pastor smiled. “‘Neither do I,’ said the Lord. ‘Then why did you think I enjoy funeral dirges better than praise songs?’”
With a small grimace, Pastor Ward finished his story. “The Lord told me that revival will not happen in stagnant swamp water.”
Puzzled, I leaned forward in my seat.
Pastor fished in his pocket for something and turned away from us. “‘My joy is your strength,’” the Lord said. Then He sent me back to earth dressed as a clown.”
Pastor Ward faced us then. The tip of Pastor’s nose sported a bulbous red sphere.
I heard snickering from across the aisle and turned to glare at the perpetrator only to see Brother Lester stifling laughter behind a blue bandanna
“Let it out, Brother,” Pastor Ward said. Given permission, Lester guffawed and others followed his lead.
“We need a river flowing through this Body. We’ve allowed the water He’s given us to grow brackish. When did we become so bogged down with church business and busyness that streams of joy no longer bubble up from inside? Sister Myrtle, come up here. Brother Alex, you too.”
She hesitated and then grabbed her husband’s hand, pulling him to the altar.
“Sister, I want to apologize,” Pastor Ward said, removing the red nose piece. “Two years ago, when you danced for the joy of what the Lord had done for you, I was afraid. I wanted to keep everything under control. Lord, forgive me!”
She looked up into her husband’s face, then back at Pastor Ward.
“I know you have come forward many times since with stomach ulcers. Do you want to be healed completely?”
Sister Myrtle, tears dripping, nodded and raised her hands. I stood up to take my position but Pastor shook his head.
“We won’t need lifeguards anymore. This revival river is safe. Who knows where we’ll all end up if we just let the currents guide us?”
No one left the church the same that day. No one.
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