Staying Woke After an Awakening

I’ve seen something like this before…

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.

Luke 9:28-29

I’ve seen something before, and no, it wasn’t literally the transfiguration, but it was a taste of it.

Remembering Awakenings 2017

I was sitting on the carpeted balcony floor of Alfred Street Baptist Church Friday night of the Missio Alliance Gathering, gazing into the sold-out sanctuary of 1,000 as the theological depths of N.T. Wright wafted to us up in the rafters. For a moment, I leaned back against the cool wall just to feel. Am I alive? Wow, so real. The conversations. The sessions. The movement of the Spirit in those conference rooms was palpable enough to stir hearts, drive tears, and move paintbrushes.

I had been to other conferences, other events where I not only could look back and see God’s fingertips but experience His movement in the moment. I wasn’t supposed to be there initially, but I changed my plans. And I was glad. So very glad. “I’m awakened here,” I thought, dazzling at the sheer wisdom encased in that building, those days, that night in Alexandria. As I glimpsed at my watch, I felt like Peter on the mountain that day long ago:

Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Luke 9:33

“Almost nine? No, a while longer. Please.” It was one of those moments in life when you want time to stand still, to get out the pup tent and camp out for a little while longer. The good news was I could come back to the mountaintop on Saturday. There was more indeed. The movement of the Spirit in those conference rooms was palpable. Click To Tweet

But conferences like this always end. The mountaintop experience always ends. It’s a place to bask in the light, to converse with Moses and Elijah and Jesus and get some selfies and autographs, but it’s not a place to stay.

 “The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him…”

Luke 9:37

While the transfiguration was the highlight of their three years of study with Jesus, the day after the transfiguration was probably one of the most disappointing occurrences in the lives of the disciples. After a time being in the dazzling shekinah presence of Jesus in all of His glory, failure and frustration knocked at the door. And the demons are back in town.

As my car pulled out of Alexandria and I hit the Washington Beltway to head home, the demons of reality swerved around my Corolla. I was on the valley road, atop the mountain no longer. A phone call buzzed my Bluetooth. My phone beeped with supposedly urgent emails, questions, and text inquiries. The crowd of Sunday morning awaited a polished sermon. I needed to pick up toothpaste.

Nobody demanded an immediate exorcism, but the Spirit-saturated moments I had just left began to fade into memory, into closed notebooks and onto bookshelves.

The phrase “stay woke” originated with Erykah Badu’s song “Master Teachers” and is close to the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement. It has come to be a powerful phrase to those of us outside the African American community who wish to remain aware of the injustices happening all around us.

At Awakenings, Charles Montgomery had encouraged up not just to wake up, but to “stay woke”, not only to injustices, but more importantly to God the Holy Spirit. I had been awakened—rather the Spirit had awakened me, for sure. But how do you intentionally stay woke—especially in the valley? Here are three ways to keep the awakening alive.

1. Confront the demons while remembering the shekinah.

I used to come home from conferences only to become bloated with disappointment. People were messy. Ministry was hard. My church’s music sucked. But then I learned not to compare the valley to the mountaintop but rather live in the valley and minister there in light of the mountaintop. What I had learned needed to be translated in an atmosphere of heavier air.

Jesus isn’t any less present or powerful the day after the transfiguration than he is during it.

I’m reminded that it feels different and looks different, but the valley is where Jesus’ power has the biggest effect. It’s up to me not to run from the demons in the people I minister to, in the neighborhoods that can seem so overwhelming, in my corner of the world that looks so disappointing. This is where the real light glows brightest.

2. Know that valleys are where the most growth happens.

Not much actually grows on the mountaintop—only in the valley. It’s true that my mind and heart are full of new ideas, quotes, and discussion points gifted by NT Wright, Greg Boyd, Alan Hirsch, Tammy Dugahoo, Leroy Barber, and others too many to name. It’s true that my soul has been fed through meeting friends—both old and new—who are so diverse geographically, ethnically, and denominationally, but centered on Christ.

It’s true that there were weird and wild Holy Spirit interactions in those hours at plenaries and forums. But now, it’s my turn. I soaked, now I spill. I was filled, now I fill. I enter the uneasy life of crowds, sickness, and confusion, but this is the place all those learnings take root. At the next conference, I hope I can look back and see what’s changed in me.

3. Try. And fail. And try again.

The valley is the location of holy experimentation. It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday work of ministry, of visiting people, coming up with creative ideas for sermons, and combating the latest internal issue in the church. But the week after a mind-blowing conference, I take my notes and come up with what I call a “And Now” list.

Atonement. Principalities and Powers. Cruciform theology. The Holy Spirit. And now—what do I do with them? I try things. I outline a sermon series. I diagram a conversation with a community leader. I call up a mentor for coffee. I know I’m not going to be able to cast out every demon– especially in the first 48 hours, but I can give Jesus an opportunity to work. Perhaps I’ll be surprised and/or “amazed at the greatness of God” (Luke 9:43).

As I get deeper and deeper into the valley that is the week after Awakenings, the depths of the Ordinary Time as opposed to the Extraordinary Time of this crazy adventure called ministry, I know that I am changed. I am awakened. I have more hope for Christ’s bride, for the Church, than I started with.

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