The Day I Almost Caught Him
Running hard after GodPs. 63:8
We think we know where God lives.
We think we know what He likes, and we are sure we know
what He dislikes.
We have studied God's Word and His old love letters to the
churches so much that some of us claim to know all about God.
But now people like you and me around the world are beginning
to hear a voice speak to them with persistent but piercing
repetition in the stillness of the night:
"I'm not asking you how much you know about Me.
I want to ask you, `Do you really know Me?
Do you really want Me?'"
I thought I did. At one time I thought I had achieved a good
measure of success in the ministry. After all, I had preached in
some of the largest churches in America. I was involved in
international outreach efforts with great men of God. I went to
Russia numerous times and helped start many churches there.
I've done a lot of things for God . because I thought that was
what I was supposed to do.
But on one autumn Sunday morning, something happened
to change all that. It put all my ministerial accomplishments,
credentials, and achievements in jeopardy. A long-time friend
of mine who pastored a church in Houston, Texas, had asked
me to speak at his church. I somehow sensed that destiny was
waiting. Prior to his call, a hunger had been birthed in my heart
that just wouldn't go away. The gnawing vacuum of emptiness
in the midst of my accomplishments just got worse. I was in a
frustrating funk, a divine depression of destiny. When he called
I just sensed that something awaited us from God. Little did we
know that we were approaching a divine appointment.
I am a fourth generation Spirit-filled Christian, three generations
deep into ministry, but I must be honest with you: I was
sick of church. I was just like most of the people we try to lure
into our services every week. They won't come because they are
sick of church too. But on the other hand, though most of the
people who drive by our churches, live within sight of our
steeples, and inhabit our meeting halls may be sick of church
as well, they're also hungry for God.
"Somewhat Less Than Advertised"
You can't tell me they're not hungry for God when they
wear crystals around their necks, lay down hundreds of dollars
a day to listen to gurus, and call psychics to the tune of billions
of dollars per year. They're hungry to hear from something
that's beyond themselves, something they are not hearing in
the Church of today. The bottom line is that people are sick of
church because the Church has been somewhat less than what
the Book advertised! People want to connect with a higher power!
Their hunger drives them to everywhere but the Church. They
search in pursuits of the flesh to try to feed the hunger that
gnaws at their souls.
Ironically, as a minister I was suffering from the same
hunger pangs as the people who had never met Jesus before! I
just wasn't content to know about Jesus anymore. You can know
all about presidents, royalties, and celebrities; you can know
their eating habits, address, and marital status. But knowing
about them doesn't imply intimacy. That doesn't mean youknow them. In this information age, with tidbits of gossip
passed from mouth to mouth, from paper to paper, and from
person to person, it's possible to traffic in facts about someone
without knowing him personally. Were you to overhear two
people conversing about the latest calamity befalling some
celebrity, or the latest victory he experienced, you might be led
to think that they know that individual, when really all they
know is facts about him! For too long the Church has been only
conversant in the things of God. We talk techniques, but we
don't talk with Him. That's the difference between knowing
someone and knowing about him. Presidents, royalties, and
celebritiesI may know many facts about them, but I don't reallyknow them. If I ever met them in person, they would have to
be introduced to me because mere knowledge about a person
is not the same as an intimate friendship.
It's simply not enough to know about God. We have churches
filled with people who can win Bible trivia contests but who
don't know Him. I am afraid that some of us have been sidetracked
or entangled by everything from prosperity to poverty,
and we've become such an ingrown society of the self-righteous
that our desires and our wants and those of the Holy Spirit are
two different matters.
If we're not careful, we can become so interested in developing
the "cult of the comfortable" with our comfortable pastor,
our comfortable church building, and our comfortable
circle of friends, that we forget about the thousands of discontented,
wounded, and dying people who pass by our comfortable
church every day! I can't help but think that if we fail to even try
to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, then He sure wasted
a lot of blood on Calvary. Now that makes me uncomfortable.
There had to be more. I was desperate for a God encounter
(of the closest kind).
I returned home after speaking at my friend's church in
Texas. The following Wednesday, as I was standing in the
kitchen, the pastor called again. He said, "Tommy, we've been
friends for years now. And I don't know that I've ever asked
anybody to come back for a second Sunday in a row . but
would you come back here next Sunday too?" I agreed. We
could tell that God was up to something. Was the pursuer now
being pursued? Were we about to be apprehended by that
which we ourselves were chasing?
This second Sunday was even more intense. No one wanted
to leave the building after the Sunday night service.
"What should we do?" my pastor friend asked.
"We should have a prayer meeting on Monday night," I said,
"with no other agenda. Let's gauge the hunger of the people
and see what's happening." Four hundred people showed up
that Monday for the prayer meeting, and all we did was seek
the face of God. Something was definitely going on. A minuscule
crack was appearing in the brass heavens over the city of Houston.
Collective hunger was crying for a corporate visitation.
I went back home and by Wednesday the pastor was on the
phone again, saying, "Tommy, can you come back again for
Sunday?" I heard past his words and listened to his heart. He
really was not interested in "me" coming back. What he and I
both wanted was God. He is a fellow God chaser and we were
in hot pursuit. His church had fueled a flaming hunger in me.
They too had been preparing for pursuit. There was a sense
that we were close to "catching" Him.
That's an interesting phrase, isn't it? Catching Him. Really,
it's an impossible phrase. We can no more catch Him than the
east can catch the west; they're too far removed from each
other. It's like playing chase with my daughter. Often as she
arrives home from a day of school, we play this little game that
countless fathers and children play around the world. When
she comes and tries to catch me, even with my hulking frame,
I really don't have to run. I just artfully dodge this way and then
that, and she can't even touch me, because a six-year-old can't
catch an adult. But that's not really the purpose of the game,
because a few minutes into it, she laughingly says, "Oh daddy,"
and it's at that moment that she captures my heart, if not my
presence or body. And then I turn and she's no longer chasing
me, but I'm chasing her, and I catch her and we tumble in the
grass with hugs and kisses. The pursuer becomes the pursued.
So can we catch Him? Not really, but we can catch His heart.
David did. And if we catch His heart, then He turns and chases
us. That's the beauty of being a God chaser. You're chasing
the impossible, knowing it's possible.
This body of believers in Houston had two scheduled services
on Sundays. The first morning service started at 8:30, and
the second one followed and began at 11.
When I returned for the third weekend, while in the hotel,
I sensed a heavy anointing of some kind, a brooding of the
Spirit, and I literally wept and trembled.
You Could Barely Breathe
The following morning, we walked into the building for the
8:30 Sunday service expecting to see the usual early morning
first service "sleepy" crowd with their low-key worship. As I
walked in to sit down in the front row that morning, the presence
of God was already in that place so heavily that the air was
"thick." You could barely breathe.
The musicians were clearly struggling to continue their ministry;
their tears got in the way. Music became more difficult to
play. Finally, the presence of God hovered so strongly that they
couldn't sing or play any longer. The worship leader crumpled
in sobs behind the keyboard.
If there was one good decision I made in life, it was made
that day. I had never been this close to "catching" God, and I
was not going to stop. So I spoke to my wife, Jeannie. "You
should go continue to lead us to Him." Jeannie has an anointing
to lead people into the presence of God as a worshiper and
intercessor. She quietly moved to the front and continued to
facilitate the worship and ministry to the Lord. It wasn't anything
fancy; it was just simple. That was the only appropriate
response in that moment.
The atmosphere reminded me of the passage in Isaiah 6,
something I'd read about, and even dared dream I might experience
myself. In this passage the glory of the Lord filled the
temple. I'd never understood what it meant for the glory of the
Lord to fill a place. I had sensed God come in places, I had
sensed Him come by, but this time in Houston, even after there
was all of God that I thought was available in the building,
more of His presence literally packed itself into the room. It's
like the bridal train of a bride that, after she has personally
entered the building, her bridal train continues to enter the
building after her. God was there; of that there was no doubt.
But more of Him kept coming in the place until, as in Isaiah, it
literally filled the building. At times the air was so rarefied that
it became almost unbreathable. Oxygen came in short gasps,
seemingly. Muffled sobs broke through the room. In the midst
of this, the pastor turned to me and asked me a question.
"Tommy, are you ready to take the service?"
"Pastor, I'm just about half-afraid to step up there,
because I sense that God is about to do something."
Tears were streaming down my face when I said that. I
wasn't afraid that God was going to strike me down, or that
something bad was going to happen. I just didn't want to interfere
and grieve the precious presence that was filling up that
room! For too long we humans have only allowed the Holy
Spirit to take control up to a certain point. Basically, whenever it
gets outside of our comfort zone or just a little beyond our control,
we pull in the reins (the Bible calls it "quenching the Spirit"
in First Thessalonians 5:19). We stop at the tabernacle veil
too many times.
"I feel like I should read Second Chronicles 7:14, and
I have a word from the Lord," my pastor friend said.
With profuse tears I nodded assent and said, "Go, go."
My friend is not a man given to any kind of outward demonstration;
he is essentially a man of "even" emotions. But when
he got up to walk to the platform, he appeared visibly shaky. At
this point I so sensed something was about to happen, that I
walked all the way from the front row to the back of the room
to stand by the sound booth. I knew God was going to do
something; I just didn't know where. I was on the front row,
and it could happen behind me or to the side of me. I was so
desperate to catch Him that I got up and publicly walked back
to the sound booth as the pastor walked up to the pulpit to
speak, so I could see whatever happened. I wasn't even sure
that it was going to happen on the platform, but I knew something
was going to happen. "God, I want to be able to see whatever
it is You are about to do."
My pastor friend stepped up to the clear pulpit in the center
of the platform, opened the Bible, and quietly read the gripping
passage from Second Chronicles 7:14:
If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked
ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Then he closed his Bible, gripped the edges of the pulpit
with trembling hands, and said, "The word of the Lord to us is
to stop seeking His benefits and seek Him. We are not to seek
His hands any longer, but seek His face."
In that instant, I heard what sounded like a thunderclap
echo through the building, and the pastor was literally picked
up and thrown backward about ten feet, effectively separating
him from the pulpit. When he went backward, the pulpit fell
forward. The beautiful flower arrangement positioned in front
of it fell to the ground, but by the time the pulpit hit the ground, it
was already in two pieces. It had split into two pieces almost as
if lightning had hit it! At that instant the tangible terror of the
presence of God filled that room.
People Began to Weep and Wail
I quickly stepped to the microphone from the back of the
room and said, "In case you aren't aware of it, God has just
moved into this place. The pastor is fine. [It was two and a half
hours before he could even get up, thoughand even then the
ushers had to carry him. Only his hand trembled slightly to give
proof of life.] He's going to be fine."
While all of this happened, the ushers quickly ran to the
front to check on the pastor and to pick up the two pieces of
the split pulpit. No one really paid much attention to the split
pulpit; we were too occupied with the torn heavenlies. The
presence of God had hit that place like some kind of bomb.
People began to weep and to wail. I said, "If you're not where
you need to be, this is a good time to get right with God." I've
never seen such an altar call. It was pure pandemonium. People
shoved one another out of the way. They wouldn't wait for
the aisles to clear; they climbed over pews, businessmen tore
their ties off, and they were literally stacked on top of one
another, in the most horribly harmonious sound of repentance
you ever heard. Just the thought of it still sends chills down my
back. When I gave the altar call then for the 8:30 a.m. service,
I had no idea that it would be but the first of seven altar calls
When it was time for the 11:00 service to begin, nobody had
left the building. The people were still on their faces and, even
though there was hardly any music being played at this point,
worship was rampant and uninhibited. Grown men were ballet
dancing; little children were weeping in repentance. People
were on their faces, on their feet, on their knees, but mostly in
His presence. There was so much of the presence and the
power of God there that people began to feel an urgent need
to be baptized. I watched people walk through the doors of
repentance, and one after another experienced the glory and
the presence of God as He came near. Then they wanted baptized,
and I was in a quandary about what to do. The pastor was
still unavailable on the floor. Prominent people walked up to
me and stated, "I've got to be baptized. Somebody tell me what
to do." They joined with the parade of the unsaved, who were
now saved, provoked purely by encountering the presence of
God. There was no sermon and no real songjust His Spirit
Two and a half hours had passed, and since the pastor had
only managed to wiggle one finger at that point to call the elders
to him, the ushers had carried him to his office. Meanwhile, all
these people were asking me (or anyone else they could find) if
they could be baptized. As a visiting minister at the church, I
didn't want to assume the authority to tell anyone to baptize
these folks, so I sent people back to the pastor's office to see if
he would authorize the water baptisms.
I gave one altar call after another, and hundreds of people
were coming forward. As more and more people came to me
asking about water baptism, I noticed that no one I had sent to
the pastor's office had returned. Finally I sent a senior assistant
pastor back there and told him, "Please find out what Pastor
wants to do about the water baptismsnobody has come back
to tell me yet." The man stuck his head in the pastor's office,
and to his shock he saw the pastor still lying before the Lord,
and everyone I had sent there was sprawled on the floor too,
just weeping and repenting before God. He hurried back to tell
me what he had seen and added, "I'll go ask him, but if I go in
that office I may not be back either."
We Baptized People for Hours
I shrugged my shoulders and agreed with the associate pastor,
"I guess it's all right to baptize them." So we began to baptize
people as a physical sign of their repentance before the
Lord, and we ended up baptizing people for hours. More and
more people kept pouring in, and since the people from the
early service were still there, there were cars parked everywhere
outside the church building. A big open-air ball field next to
the building was filled with cars parked every which way.
As people drove onto the parking lot, they sensed the presence
of God so strongly that some began to weep uncontrollably.
They just found themselves driving up onto the parking lot or
into the grass not knowing what was going on. Some started to
get out of their cars and barely managed to stagger across the
parking lot. Some came inside the building only to fall to the
floor just inside the doors. The hard-pressed ushers had to literally
pull the helpless people away from the doors and stack them
up along the walls of the hallways to clear the entrance. Others
managed to make it part way down the hallways, and some made
it to the foyer before they fell on their faces in repentance.
Some actually made it inside the auditorium, but most of
them didn't bother to find seats. They just made for the altar.
No matter what they did or how far they made it, it wasn't long
before they began to weep and repent. As I said, there wasn't any
preaching. There wasn't even any music part of the time. Primarily
one thing happened that day: The presence of God showed
up. When that happens, the first thing you do is the same thing
Isaiah did when he saw the Lord high and lifted up. He cried
out from the depths of his soul:
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man
of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean
lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts (Isaiah
You see, the instant Isaiah the prophet, the chosen servant
of God, saw the King of glory, what he used to think was clean
and holy now looked like filthy rags. He was thinking, I thought
I knew God, but I didn't know this much of God! That Sunday we
seemed to come so close; we almost caught Him. Now I know
They Came Right Back for More
People just kept filling the auditorium again and again,
beginning with that strange service that started at 8:30 that
morning. I finally went to eat at around 4:00 that afternoon,
and then came right back to the church building. Many never
left. The continuous "Sunday morning service" lasted until 1:00
Monday morning. We didn't have to announce our plans for
Monday evening. Everybody already knew. Frankly, there would
have been a meeting whether we announced it or not. The people
simply went home to get some sleep or do the things they
had to do, and they came right back for morenot for more of
men and their programs, but for God and His presence.
Night after night, the pastor and I would come in and say,
"What are we going to do?"
Most of the time our answer to one another was just as predictable:
"What do you want to do?"
What we meant was, "I don't know what to do. What does
He want to do?"
Sometimes we'd go in and start trying to "have church," but
the crying hunger of the people would quickly draw in the presence
of God and suddenly God had us! Listen, my friend, God
doesn't care about your music, your midget steeples, and your
flesh-impressive buildings. Your church carpet doesn't impress
HimHe carpets the fields. God doesn't really care about anything
you can "do" for Him; He only cares about your answer
to one question: "Do you want Me?"
Ruin Everything That Isn't of You, Lord!
We have programmed our church services so tightly that we
really don't leave room for the Holy Spirit. Oh, we might let
God speak prophetically to us a little, but we get nervous if He
tries to break out of our schedules. We can't let God out of the
box too much because He can ruin everything. (That has
become my prayer: "Break out of our boxes, Lord, and ruin
everything that isn't of You!")
Let me ask you a question: How long has it been since you
came to church and said, "We are going to wait on the Lord"?
I think we are afraid to wait on Him because we're afraid He
won't show up. I have a promise for you: "They that wait upon
the Lord shall renew their strength" (Is. 40:31a). Do you want
to know why we've lived in weakness as Christians and have not
had all that God wanted for us? Do you want to know why we
have lived beneath our privilege and have not had the strength
to overcome our own carnality? Maybe it's because we haven't
waited on Him to show up to empower us, and we're trying to
do too much in the power of our own soulish realm.
God Ruined Everything in Houston
I am not trying to make you feel bad. I know most Christians
and most of our leaders genuinely mean well, but there is so
much more. You can "catch" Godask Jacoband it might ruin
the way you've always walked! But you can catch Him. We've
talked, preached, and taught about revival until the Church is
sick of hearing about it. That's what I did for a living: I
preached revivalsor so I thought. Then God broke out of His
box and ruined everything when He showed up. Seven nights a
week, for the next four or five weeks straight, hundreds of people
a night would stand in line to repent and receive Christ,
worship, wait, and pray. What had happened in history, past
and present, was happening again. Then it dawned on me,
"God, You're wanting to do this everywhere." For months His
manifest presence hovered.
God Is Coming Back to Repossess the Church
As far as I can tell, there is only one thing that stops Him.
He is not going to pour out His Spirit where He doesn't find
hunger. He looks for the hungry. Hunger means you're dissatisfied
with the way it has been because it forced you to live withoutHim in His fullness. He only comes when you are ready to
turn it all over to Him. God is coming back to repossess His
Church, but you have to be hungry.
He wants to reveal Himself among us. He wants to come
ever stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and stronger until
your flesh won't be able to stand it. The beauty of it is this: neither
will the unsaved driving by be able to resist. It's beginning to happen.
I have seen the day when sinners veer off the highway
when they drive by places of an open heaven. They pull into
parking lots with puzzled looks, and they knock on the doors
and say, "Please, there's something here . I've got to have it."
What Do We Do?
Aren't you tired of trying to pass out tracts, knock on doors,
and make things happen? We've been trying to make things
happen for a long time. Now He wants to make it happen! Why
don't you find out what He's doing and join in? That's what
Jesus did. He said, "Father, what are You doing? That's what I'll
God wants to move in with your church family. How long has
it been since you've been so hungry for God that it consumed
you to the point where you couldn't care less what people
thought of you? I challenge you right now to forget about every
distraction, every opinion, but one. What are you feeling right
now as you read about how God Himself invaded these churches?
Are you squelching it? What is gripping your heart? Don't
you feel the awakening of what you thought was a long-dead
hunger? How long has it been since you felt what you're feeling
right now? Rise up and pursue His presence. Become a
I'm not talking about the excitement of praise and worship,
as we would call it. We know how to get the music "just right"
so the singing is stunning, the accompaniment is awesome, and
everything seems perfect. But that's not what I'm talking about,
and that's not what is causing your hunger right now. I'm talking
about a hunger for God's presence. I said "a hunger for God's
Let me be blunt for a moment. I know in my heart of
hearts that the truth of the matter is this: The Church has
lived in self-righteous smugness for so long that we stink in
God's nostrils. He can't even look at us in our present state.
In the same way that you or I might feel embarrassed in a
restaurant or grocery store when we see someone's children
acting up and getting away with it, God feels the same way
about our self-righteousness. God is uncomfortable with our
smug self-righteousness. We are not "as together" as we think
"What causes this kind of thing to happen?"
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the
wilderness of Judaea,
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the
way of the Lord, make His paths straight (Matthew 3:1-3).
Repentance prepares the way and makes the road of our
hearts straight. Repentance builds up every low place and takes
down every high place in our lives and church families. Repentance
prepares us for His presence. In fact, you cannot live in His
presence without repentance. Repentance permits pursuit of
His presence. It builds the road for you to get to God (or for
God to get to you!). Just ask John the Baptist. When he built the
road, Jesus "came walking."
This is the crux of what I have to say: How long has it been
since you said, "I'm going for God"? How long has it been since
you laid aside everything that ever occupied you and ran down
the road of repentance to pursue God?
It's Not a Pride Thing; It's a Hunger Thing
I used to pursue preaching good sermons and great crowds,
and attempt great accomplishments for Him. But I've been
ruined. Now I'm a God chaser. Nothing else matters anymore.
I tell you that as your brother in Christ, I love you. But I love
Him more. I couldn't care less about what other people or ministers
think about me. I'm going after God. That's not a pride
thing; it's a hunger thing. When you pursue God with all your
heart, soul, and body, He will turn to meet you and you will
come out of it ruined for the world.
Good things have become the enemy of the best things. I challenge
you and release you right now as you read these words to let
your heart be broken by the Holy Ghost. It's time for you to
make your life holy. Quit watching what you used to watch; quit
reading what you used to read if you are reading it more than
you read His Word. He must be your first and greatest hunger.
If you are contented and satisfied, then I'll leave you alone
and you can safely put down this book at this point and I
won't ever bother you again. But if you are hungry, I have a
promise from the Lord for you. He said, "Blessed are they
which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall
be filled" (Mt. 5:6).
We Have Never Been Hungry
Our problem is that we have never really been hungry. We
have allowed things of this realm to satisfy our lives and satiate
our hunger. We have come to God week after week, year after
year, just to have Him fill in the little empty spaces. I tell you
that God is tired of being "second place" to everything else in
our lives. He is even tired of being second to the local church
program and church life!
Everything good, including the things your local church
doesfrom feeding the poor, to rescuing babies at the pregnancy
counseling center, to teaching kids in the Sunday school
classesshould flow from the presence of God. Our primary
motivating factor should be, "We do it because of Him and
because it is His heart." But if we're not careful, we can get so
caught up in doing things for Him that we forget about Him.
You can get so caught up in being "religious" that you never
become spiritual. It doesn't matter how much you pray. (Pardon
me for saying this, but you can be lost, not even knowing
God, and still have a prayer life.) I don't care how much you
know about the Bible, or what you know about Him. I'm asking
you, "Do you know Him?"
I'm afraid that we have satiated our hunger for Him by reading
old love letters from Him to the churches in the Epistles of
the New Testament. These are good, holy, and necessary, butwe never have intimacy with Him. We have stifled our hunger for
His presence by doing things for Him.
A husband and wife can do things for each other while never
really loving each other. They can go through childbirth classes
together, have kids, and share a mortgage, but never enjoy
the high level of intimacy that God ordained and designed for a
marriage (and I'm not just talking about sexual things). Too
often we live on a lower plane than what God intended for us,
so when He unexpectedly shows up in His power, we are
shocked. Most of us are simply not prepared to see "His train
fill the temple."
The Holy Spirit may already be speaking to you. If you are
barely holding back the tears, then let them go. I ask the Lord,
right now, to awaken an old, old hunger that you have almost
forgotten. Perhaps you used to feel this way in days gone by,
but you've allowed other things to fill you up and replace that
desire for His presence.
In Jesus' name, I release you from dead religion into spiritual
hunger, this very moment. I pray that you get so hungry
for God that you don't care about anything else.
I think I see a flickering flame. He will "fan" that.
Lord, we just want Your presence. We are so hungry.