Last night was one of those times.
My wife and I (and others in the church leadership here) had had a tough week, facing some criticism, and trying to address some long-running and unresolved issues in the church.
I was tired, but I was excited; one of the most dynamic and honest preachers I've heard in a long time was coming to visit us. Prior to our move last year she had spoken at the church in Northampton, and had delivered a message that was just so perfectly inspiring, challenging and empowering for where we as a church were. I hoped that God would use her as powerfully again.
Well, Kate Coleman, unbriefed about the issues, and indeed unbriefed about the nature of our forthcoming church conference, spoke directly into the heart of our situation, both generally as a church and specifically into the issues of the week. It wasn't just me feeling under fire, the whole team here were.
She gave a challenge for the church to address the issues that would prevent us from moving on to the next level our development, mission and community. She spoke, using Moses' life as an example, of the need to address the things we know about ourselves that others don't, to find ways of hearing the things others know about us but we haven't realised, and also to discover the things that neither we nor others know, but God alone knows.
Sitting and listening, it felt like cool spring water was washing my soul. I sensed God's affirmation. I knew the Spirit was kneading some of the knots out of me, and I felt I heard the voice of Jesus quietly drawing me out of my funk, empowering me to stand, washing off the dross of the week, and my own less than gracious internal responses.
More than God dealing with me personally, I felt the wider congregation were hearing and responding to the challenge to move out of the place where we are, and on into the next stage of our life together.
I know that there is nowhere we can go where God isn't already. I know it's a daft prayer to ask God to be present with us, and I know that what we need to pray is for us to be more aware of the ever-present nature of the divine. But sometimes, just sometimes, that dividing veil between us and God becomes gossamer thin, and in those times it is as though God is with us, truly present in ways that we don't regularly experience. Is it because the change in context (a speaker from outside, the forthcoming church conference, the amount of prayer in the preceeding week) increases expectation, is it because the prophet in our midst is able to speak in a way that other giftings are less keen or able to?
I don't know.
I do know that church is very different when God shows up.