The God of Surprise Blessings
When we arranged for our 1st official pastors training seminar in 2009, we were a bit ignorant of both the spiritual and physical environment into which we were entering. As we drove for hours into Manyara Region, the dust was intense and the landscape dry. As we approached our destination, the village of Ndareda, I commented to our translator, “Oh, look! I see the corn is nearly a foot tall. That’s a good sign!”
His face saddened as he corrected, “No, the crops failed. Those are the sprouts that came from our planting 2 months ago, but rain never came.” As we continued to converse, we were made aware of the 2-year ongoing drought there in the “breadbasket of Tanzania.” When a farmer has had a good harvest, he always keeps some of the seed for planting the next season. A lack of rain in the proper season causes that planting to fail, a devastating circumstance which requires the family to “tighten the belt” and reserve a portion of their food-grain to try planting again next season. When the lack of rain again causes the next season’s crop to fail, there is neither food for the family, nor seed for the next planting. There is little hope, as people and animals starve.
“This” our translator explained “is why you are invited here!” Local pastors who (like Christians around the world) generally avoid crossing denominational lines, had agreed to set aside their differences; they met together, and decided to ask us to come and help them seek God for a solution. Pastors were coming from miles around, some arriving from 2-day walks over the mountains.
Lord, don’t disappoint them! Their hope is in You. I have nothing to offer except You.
We possessed a “healthy” lack of self-confidence, but a hopeful dependence of God. We realized that IF pastors from many denominations were willing to meet for this common cause, that MUST be the Holy Spirit’s unifying work, because that’s just not “normal”! Though we had not fully understood the situation, we had prayerfully prepared teaching about repentance that breaks the spiritual bondage over people and their community.
“…If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV)
We encouraged them first to ask God to examine their own hearts for any sin: unforgiveness, past agreements with the spiritual enemy, etc. Then we challenged them with something completely unheard of: as God’s appointed spiritual leaders of their communities, they can stand as representatives of their people before God, in identificational repentance. Just as Daniel, Nehemiah, and others in the Scripture, these pastors can stand on behalf of their people, repenting for the ways in which “we” (not “they”) have run after counterfeit solutions; repenting for aligning “our” (not “their”) lives with the enemy’s plans and ways.
One of our team members stood with a rather sobering, clarifying word:
“If our hearts are hard toward God, we should not be surprised if the ground outside is hard. But if we soften our hearts and repent, perhaps God will bring the rain to soften the ground.”
The pastors listened attentively, having never considered that the physical state of the region could be a result of the spiritual state! For the next 2½ days, we all got vulnerable and honest in investigating, uncovering, and repenting from personal sin, generational sin, and community sin.
Near the end of our time together, we asked each pastor to go outside and grab a rock that represented the hard hearts that they have had. We constructed a makeshift stick cross, where we brought our stony hearts to Christ. The leaders—young and old, men and women--cried in repentance, submitting to God and asking for His forgiveness and for the forgiveness of others in the room.
Concluding 3 days together, we felt emotionally and spiritually exhausted. It was an intense time together, and we had done some serious spiritual work in realigning our lives, ministries, and communities with God. At our final break, we asked our translator if he would be willing to thank everyone for coming and then close our conference with prayer.
His prayer ended with “Amen,” followed by a sudden BOOM, as thunder cracked overhead and rain began hammering on the tin roof! Every eye was wide, many mouths gaping open, as sheets of rain beat down. Suddenly, the entire crowd erupted into celebration, jumping and praising God! We grabbed the audio recorder to capture the joy and jubilation, but for 45 minutes the noise of God’s rain drowned out even the shouts of praise that were offered up to Him!
The believers had been praying for the blessing of rain. Truly, God wanted to bless them; but there was something in the way: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2, NIV) God responded to His people’s prayer when they returned to Him!
Fast Forward one month:
We returned for a follow-up conference one month later. Even as we entered the territory, we saw men and women in the fields, some of them turning new soil and preparing for more planting and some of them among the now head-tall cornstalks! The rain had continued off and on, not as destructive “gully-washers,” but in steady, ground-soaking rain that was regenerating the land. Even the growth rate of the crops appeared supernatural! The communities of Manyara region quickly became a breadbasket again, providing harvests that feed many throughout the country and even exporting to neighboring Kenya.
When I asked one pastor what the people of the village thought about it, he smiled as he admitted: the people say that God sent the rain because the pastors repented.
He is the God Who blesses those who repent and return to Him!