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THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST

August 15th, 2011

 

This is a story of God blessing, and transforming, a humble heart.  I cannot say that humility is my strong suit; however, it is one of those attributes that I hunger for and continually chase after.  My efforts are always rewarded, even though I am often unaware of the fruit that falls in my lap.  I simply know that God smiles over me when my goal is to imitate Him, and the warmth of that smile lifts my spirit.  Plus, Scripture says that God gives grace to the humble.  Jesus walked in perfect humility; mine is ragged at best.  But on this particular day, the Holy Spirit gave me grace to put on humility and wear it to the glory of God.  My reward exceeded any expectation I might have had.

A few years back when I was but a babe in my new walk with the Lord, I ‘discovered’ a preacher/prophet named Juanita Bynum, and I did my best to watch and listen any time she was on television.  She had such a fresh and direct way of sharing that I hung on her every word.  I had struggled with a lack of self-worth all my life, and I knew nothing about my identity in Christ.  When she spoke with power and assurance, I longed to experience some of what the Lord had poured into her.  So, when she announced that she would be hosting a women’s conference, I announced that I would be in attendance, no matter the cost.

For me, that was a pretty bold statement.  On the outside I projected independence and confidence, but my exterior was mostly propped up with pride and works, hiding my fear that I really might not have much value.  After all, that was the message I had heard most of my life.  But God had been doing a new work in me, and I was determined to grab hold of whatever He was offering.  I was going to step out and chase after the Lord, and I was going to attend that conference all by myself.

During the weeks prior to my trip, the Lord often spoke to my heart, telling me that this encounter would be life-changing, and I would not be the same person coming home as I was when I left.  Those words quickened my heart, and I expected I would learn how to do a better job of serving God.  Little did I know that while I was focused on what I could do for the Lord, He was focused on the wonderful encounter He had planned for me.  (Typical of me to base my value on my productivity!)

God’s first blessing came when I contacted a business associate for assistance in choosing a hotel that would be convenient and safe.  Her comment was that if I was coming to her city, I would be staying with her.  Bless her heart, that newfound friend met me at the airport, took me shopping, hosted me in her home, transported me to and from the conference, and even organized a reception in my honor.  In truth, I was having difficulty receiving such lavish attention, but she loved me through it all.  I had no idea then how our friendship would grow into something beautiful in the days and years to come.

For weeks, God had been burning three strong messages deep in my spirit:  “The last shall be first.”  “Love My children.”  “Walk in humility, obedience, and Christlikeness.”  And from the beginning of the conference, those words set the stage for each encounter.  Most certainly, I was given opportunities to walk out those directives:  at the airport when my luggage was lost, at the conference where pushing and shoving was standard fare, in the auditorium where ladies horded blocks of seats, and at the concessions where it was common for groups of ladies to cut in line.  I finally got to the front of a food line just as the concession ran out of food (after a large group of ladies had cut in front of me).  I waited in a long line to purchase a shirt at a table that was not equipped to take my credit card and I had no cash on me.  I went for cash and waited another hour for a shirt, only to be turned away because they ran out of inventory.  I was exhausted, but victorious.

I spent most of the conference seated in the third balcony, because I was determined to walk in love and humility, refusing to join the dogfight for seating.  The first night I headed to the seats on the main floor, only to discover that section was considered to be Preferred Seating and I was not preferred.  I was quite disappointed because I had waited in line in the hot sun all afternoon, in hopes of getting a seat close to the stage.  I smiled and said thank you, and I walked away.  By the time I got to the first bank of raised seating, most of those chairs were taken, and other ladies had marked off every remaining seat.  Everywhere I found an open seat, someone would tell me it was being saved for someone else.  Same story in the first and second balconies.

So, I sat in the third balcony, and praised the Lord for his ‘perfect’ seating for me, determined to honor Him while choosing to love His children.  Scanning the room from the top deck, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of thousands of women dressed in white and filled with anxious anticipation.  The stage held replicas of the furnishings of the Tabernacle:  the Bronze Altar and Laver, the Table of Showbread, the Incense Altar, the Gold Lampstand, and the veil that covered the Holy of Holies.  Ah, the veil was stunning with red, blue and purple, and a white filmy curtain across the middle.  Behind the veil and barely in view was the Ark of the Covenant with the Mercy Seat and the Golden Angels.  The sight nearly took my breath away, and raised the hair on my arms.  The Holy Spirit filled the room as soon as worship began, and I was surely surrounded with His Presence!  Ms. Bynum said the Lord told her that if she would build this stage, He would show up – and He always keeps His promises.

Each session included powerful worship followed by teachings on the various furnishings found in the Outer Court and then the Inner Court of the Tabernacle.  The Presence of the Holy Spirit was so heavy I often found it hard to breathe; I could barely contain my anticipation for the next session.  Could I wait for Saturday morning to arrive, when no doubt she would pull back the veil and reveal the mercy seat?

On Friday morning I woke up very, very sick – with an intensely pounding headache, blurred vision, lightheadedness, extreme nausea, and weakness.  After traveling this far, missing a session was simply not an option, so I pressed on.  I have no idea how I managed to get myself to the arena, let alone all the way up to the third balcony.  (I didn’t even bother trying to find something closer!)  My miserable condition was so obvious that the lady sitting next to me began to pray over me.  The Lord impressed upon me to find someone in authority to lay hands on me, so I excused myself and headed out to find a staff person.  I was having such difficulty walking, or even seeing, and it seemed as though everyone was staring at me.  Unfortunately, every staff person I approached was either busy or long gone by the time my brain engaged.  Confused and in pain, for a while I simply stood in a corner.  Then, in desperation, I headed toward the carpeted area I had seen in front of the stage, hoping to find someone there who would pray for me.  Somehow I eventually found my way to the front, after getting lost several times and taking three wrong elevators to places where guards chased me off.

Finally reaching all the activity at the front of the stage, I asked a staff person to pray over me.  Instead, she sent me directly to the carpet, helping me make my way to a little space where I could lie down.  Oh my, it felt so good to lay my head down and close my eyes!  For a minute I even forgot about still needing prayer.  However, I had barely settled in when another staff person tapped me on the shoulder and told me it was time to get up.  Oh, I did not want to even move; but determined to be obedient, I rose and made my way off the carpet.  Tears rolled down my cheek as I told the lady I was waiting for someone to pray over me.  She told me to go get my things and return, and then go stand by a certain staff person that she was pointing out.  I did not understand, but I obediently made my way back up to the third balcony, gathered my personal things, and returned to where that particular lady was standing.

Immediately, a different person approached and asked if she could help me.  This woman appeared to be the keeper of the VIP seating, and she was a bit troubled when I told her I was instructed to come and stand here.  Still in a fog, I was not very coherent, and not certain about what was happening around me.  I was simply following instructions, hoping to finally get some help, and some prayer.  When the lady said I could not stay down here, more tears rolled down my face – I was not sure if I even had the strength to make it back to the third balcony.  At that moment I spotted the first lady I had spoken to, and I waved at her.  When she came to my assistance, she confirmed what I had said.  The other lady asked what she was supposed to do with me.  I stood there confused, but silent.  The first lady said to find me a seat; the other lady was unhappy because she did not have an open seat.  The first lady looked around, pointed at an empty seat and said to put me there.  I followed her to the seat and breathed a huge sigh of relief just to be able to sit down.  When I finally composed myself, I looked up and realized that I had just been placed in the third row from the front, exactly in the center – so close that I could see the facial expressions of those on stage!  As the tears rolled again, the Lord spoke to me, reminding me that the last shall be first.  I sobbed as He told me of His great love for me, and how valuable I am to Him.  This was a concept I was still trying to get my arms around, and I was overwhelmed.  There I was, in one of the very best seats in the house (something I never could have arranged in my own strength), having been singled out from more than twenty-eight thousand women!  I could barely hold it together, seeing the evidence of the depth of His love and His goodness toward me.

My joy lasted only a few minutes (about as long as it took me to get settled in my seat of honor) before the noon session began and the volume of the music nearly blasted me out of my seat.  I was painfully aware of my intense headache and nausea, and I saw no solution other than giving up that seat; my head simply could not cope with the volume.  Once again I began to cry at the thought of vacating this honored position.  And how would I ever find the strength to make it back up to the third balcony?  With tears streaming down my face, I gathered up my things and stood up to leave.  Just then the large boom camera came right toward me.  I could not leave while the main camera was on me, so I sat down and waited.  A few minutes later, I tried again to leave, but ushers were escorting a group of dignitaries into my section and I couldn’t just push through them.  So, I settled in again to wait for an opportunity to leave.

Feeling trapped, I closed my eyes and prayed that God would rescue me, breathing deeply until the guy finished singing.  Suddenly my ears perked up and I opened my eyes.  There on the stage was Vicki Yohe, one of my absolutely favorite worship leaders, and I could even see the color of her eyes!  Suddenly I was crying with joy over this sweet blessing, totally forgetting about the pain.  Little did I know that this was only the beginning.  As Vicki sang, her worship brought forth an even greater Presence of the Holy Spirit, and the room was filled with electricity.  Juanita was well aware of the Presence as she walked over and spoke to the worship team.  Then she spoke to Vicki, who launched into another song about “running to the Mercy Seat” – the most beautiful song I had ever heard!  It felt like all the air left the auditorium, and there I was, right in the middle of it!  As Vicki sang, she walked across the stage as someone began to pull back the veil, revealing the Holy of Holies.  You could almost feel the collective intake of breath throughout the audience.  Vicki continued singing and slowly walked until she stood behind the veil.  The Holy Spirit came over her and she dropped to the floor.   Juanita looked around and then escorted two ladies behind the veil where they dropped to the floor.  Then she came for two other ladies in the audience (one a well-known actress), and then she brought her mother.  Now there were bodies everywhere in front of the Mercy Seat.  Juanita then walked to the edge of the stage, asked the security team to move to the side, and motioned for the rest of us to come forward.  I felt as if the Holy Spirit lifted me up and carried me to the stairs.  The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, on a stage littered with bodies, a few feet away from that Mercy Seat, with my head resting on a speaker and some lady’s high heeled shoe pressed into my stomach.  Once again the Lord spoke to me:  “See, the last shall be first!  This is how much I love you.  This is how much I value you – do not ever question your value again.”  He also must have removed my sickness because it was totally gone.

We laid at the feet of Jesus for what seemed like hours, basking in His glory in the middle of an altar prepared just for Him.  I do not even remember how I got untangled from the group or how I made it outside the auditorium.  I do remember the indescribable joy of soaking in the Presence of the Holy Spirit, and the freedom that came with wholehearted, uninhibited worship of the Lord God Almighty.  Looking back, I can see that my heart was forever changed that day, and as the Lord continued to refine me, I learned that I would never again need to question my value in this world or in the next.  If you are looking for me, I can be found in Preferred Seating.