I have encounters with God more often now than ever before. A great service at church, a song on the radio, a movie, a thought or a pray with a friend or my family. These can be powerful but frequently short in duration. There are a few times in my life where I am overwhelmed emotionally and spiritually. Like when I go to a retreat or in this recent case for me, a conference. Yea, I know, a conference you say, with vendors and booths and free pens? Yes, that was a part of it. But what I found this time, I was immersed in an unyielding exposure and experience with the Lord. Add in that the people around me were engaged in His presence as well, upwards of 7000 in one room, wow.
I have been to the Wild at Heart retreats by John Eldredge in Colorado and those were times of incredible spiritual and personal growth for me. I have been to the Wildfire Weekends for Men and left feeling empowered to go do His work. I was at the Million Man March, Walk For Jesus and more, all good God times. This year’s American Association of Christian Counselors in Nashville, Tennessee was not what I expected. There was time after time I had my breath taken away from me in His presence. I found myself there while laughing, praising, crying, immersed in deep thought and reflection. It was off the chart.
The invitation by Dr. Tim Clinton, the founder, was personal and I knew that I needed to be at the event. Honestly, though, I didn’t think much past the hotel and flight reservations except to sign up for a few workshops.
The only real clue I got was from the one other person on the shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel. He said he had been coming for years and to make sure I did not miss any of the Plenary Sessions. The what sessions? I had to look that one up (of a meeting, to be attended by all participants at a conference or assembly, who otherwise meet in smaller groups). So that was my solid commitment to myself and personal objective, to make all those.
The workshops were held between the Plenary Sessions. There were maybe a hundred to choose from. They included treatment tools for hurting families, chemical dependency, eating disorders, the makeup of the brain and so much more. All designed to advance the educational needs of counselors, pastors and others in the counseling industry – Christian counseling that is. Each session I attended was openly based on Christ in the healing process. It was amazing how everything, everything, began and returned to the healing of Christ, His gifts, His heart and how to use science and knowledge to work with Christ’s love to provide direction and healing.
My mind raced, I knew there were good Christian counselors, I knew they loved the Lord, but I guess I never thought about how dedicated they are to incorporating the Truth with their work. The ones I met were committed, fully engaged in their profession and with Christ in the center. They prayed in the workshops and stood in the Plenary Sessions with hands raised in prayer and praise. They sang worship songs with tears and joyful hearts and breathing in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I was in awe.
The first night I fell in with a group headed to an evening event I didn’t know about and that is when it began for me. Speaker after speaker came on stage at the Plenary Session and shared God’s Word, solid wisdom in relation with Him and life, counseling with a mighty and loving Father. Praise and worship music was live and powerful. And so it was. Every morning, noon and evening there was more.
The voices of Dr. Clinton, Ravi K. Zacharias, John Ortberg, John Eldredge, Margret Feinberg, Max Lucado, Dr. James Dobson, Gabe Lyons and others. The music of MercyMe, Tim Hawkins, Michael O’Brian, Mandisa, Charles Billingsley and Mathew West poured over us live before, during and after each session with full-out concerts in the evening hours. The Spirit filled the Opryland Hotel and conference center.
Time and time again I sat in awe. Tears flowed freely. The morning Margret Feinberg came on stage she explained her new book and how she explored the Bible through sheep, wine, honey and more. You would have to read her new book to understand it, but it is brilliant (Scouting the Divine, Searching for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey). However, it was when she shared her current battle with breast cancer I had to breathe deeply. My wife’s sister is battling the same and her words were almost more than I could handle. In all of it she was giving Him praise, everyone was wrecked.
There are many scriptures that declare the authority of a counselor or guide. They encourage and empower those I met at this conference.
Hebrews 4:12-16, For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
In this time, a time of much pain, confusion and suffering in our world there is no more important occasion for an army of Christian caregivers to be refreshed and unleashed with a renewed mind and heart. The conference theme was “Our Time Is Now” and the conference scripture”…Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” Esther 4:14B.
I’m sitting on the plane now headed home. I am full of applicable tools to help instruct and encourage, raise up and disciple those I am charged with ministering too and train. I am wondering how I can impart everything I experienced and learned. The DVD’s, the books, the notes I made will help. But the thing I am going to do first will be for next year, planning a way to get as many people I know in ministry to come to the conference in 2014. It was a personal thing on many levels for me, but there are few events I feel this strongly about and when this ole dog gets on a scent, it’s heads down and go.
TJ Greaney is an award winning writer and radio show host. He is also founder of the Kids Outdoor Zone youth outdoor adventure ministry. www.kidsoutdoorzone.com