Derek continues with his account of seeking for truth to know God. He tells of his decision one night to pray but the inability to, and then how the presence of the Lord came to him and there in the middle of the night his life was totally changed forever by a sovereign move of God.
Then I knew what was coming at the end, I knew, “Every head bowed, every eye closed. If you want whatever it was, put your hand up.” I thought to myself, “Last time somebody did it for me, I couldn’t expect that to happen twice. If I really wanted it I better put my own hand up.” So I did.
Well this time I was counseled by the pastor and he approached me at the end and I think he realized he had a problem on his hands, and he said two things. “Do you believe that you’re a sinner?” I said, “Yes, I believe I’m a sinner.” He said, “Do you believe that Christ died for your sins?”
I remember looking at him and saying, “To tell you the truth, I can’t see what the death of Jesus Christ nineteen centuries ago could have to do with the sins I’ve committed in my lifetime.” I could not get further. I’m sure those dear—In fact I know for a fact—those dear Pentecostal people started to pray for this eccentric soldier who strayed into their midst.
I began to experience something strange happening in the sense that I had no longer that intellectual self-confidence that had carried me through Cambridge. I began to doubt whether I really knew all the answers. I had a strange feeling that I had stepped out of one world, but I hadn’t stepped into another. I was like suspended between two worlds. The pressure built up so by about Thursday evening I said, “I’ve got to do something about this. I’m going to pray until something happens.” I had no idea what I could expect to happen.
I shared a room in a hotel in Scarborough in Yorkshire that the army had taken over as a billet. I shared it with one other soldier who was a friend of mine, and fortunately for me he was a free thinker. His attitude in life was everybody’s got a right to do his own thing. This really saved me, I didn’t realize it at the time. So I waited. We didn’t have any beds, we just slept on straw mattresses on the floor. I waited till he’d got onto his mattress, drawn the blanket over himself and fallen asleep. Then the only piece of furniture in the room was a little, backless, folding canvas stool which, like soldiers, we’d picked up somewhere and brought along with us.
So at about 11:00 at night, wearing nothing but my underwear because the army didn’t give us pajamas, I sat down on this stool at the window, put my elbows on the windowsill and said, “Now I’m going to pray.” Then I discovered I couldn’t pray. I didn’t know whom I was praying to, I didn’t know what to say, no words would come. I sat there for I think about an hour just trying to pray.
Well, it was a fine summer evening in July and it grew dark very late. Out on the sea front below me there was a crowd of seagulls flying up and down, making that raucous shrill cry which seagulls make. And somehow I got the impression these seagulls are against me, I’m going to have to pray until they leave. At about sometime like midnight I had the strange sensation that I was talking to a person who was there. I didn’t see the person but His presence was real.
Now I had started to read the Bible as a work of philosophy, not as a religious work, because I felt it was my philosophic duty to find out what the Bible had to say. And so I had started, my first day in the British Army, I started with Genesis chapter 1:1 and about nine months later I had got somewhere in the middle of the book of Job. So I didn’t understand a word of it, it didn’t make sense, it was very boring but I said to myself, “No book is going to beat me. I’ll start at the beginning and I’ll read it through to the end.”
However, it did have this effect, that I recall certain incidents. And as I came in contact with this person I found myself saying words which I absolutely was not choosing. I said what Jacob said when he wrestled with the angel at Peniel, “Unless you bless me, I will not let you go.” And when I got to that phrase “I will not let you go,” I could not stop saying it more and more emphatically. “I will not let you go, I will not let you go, I will not let you go.”
Then I found that something was happening to my whole body. My arms were beginning to go up in the air, which I had never done in my life; and my whole body was beginning to go upwards and backwards. I said to myself, “If I go any further, I’ll fall over.” And then I said, “I’ve come this far now, if I stop now I may never get this far again. So, no matter what happens, I’ll go on.”
And then the words that I was saying, again without any decision of my will, changed and I found myself saying to this unknown person, “Make me love you more and more.” When I got to the words “more and more,” I couldn’t stop. “More and more and more and more.” I went on. Now this was totally uncharacteristic for me. I would have been embarrassed even to kiss my mother in public. Here I was telling some unknown person to make me love Him more and more.
Well, at this point I was lifted off the chair, deposited on the floor—still in my underwear—with my arms up in the air, on my back saying, “More and more and more.” I really made no more decisions. I did go along with the decisions that were made somewhere else.
After awhile the words I was speaking changed and I began to sob. I had no conscious reason for sobbing. I knew I was a sinner but I didn’t feel particularly guilty about being a sinner. I sobbed and I sobbed and I sobbed, and my whole physical body was shaken with these sobs. I’m not by nature an emotional person. I don’t know how long this lasted, maybe fifteen minutes. Then the sobbing imperceptibly changed to laughter. All the time my mind was monitoring what was going on. At first I began to laugh softly, then as I let go I began to laugh louder and louder and louder until I was laughing very loudly in the middle of the night on the floor in my underwear with my arms in the air. I thought to myself, “Now, if I wake somebody up, what will they think?” But I got to the point where I said, “No matter what they think, I’m going to go through with this.”
The only person who woke up was the solider in the same room. Over the back of my head I could see him gradually uncoiling from his blanket and also in his underwear—walking rather reluctantly towards me. He walked around me a couple of times, keeping a safe distance, and then he said, “I don’t know what to do with you. I suppose it’s no good throwing water over you.” Something inside me said even water wouldn’t put this out.
But I didn’t have any religious experience with the Anglican church but I had attended long enough to remember some things that I’d heard read. I remembered somewhere reading men must not blaspheme the Holy Ghost. So contrary to all my natural reasoning I knew that what was in me was the Holy Ghost. I thought, “Let me not make it difficult for my friend,” so with great difficulty I got over onto my hands and knees and crawled to my mattress and got into it and drew the blanket over my face and fell asleep still laughing softly to myself.
The next morning I had to go about my military duties, we got up about 6:00 a.m. I got up and I thought to myself whatever happened to me last night? Was it real? Was it a dream? But I didn’t have time to analyze because I had to go about my military duties. I was what they called in the army at that time a Local Acting Unpaid Lance Corporal, which I tell people is as near as you can get to being a worm without being one. I had the job of getting about six unwilling British soldiers to do the things they didn’t want to do. Normally I would have sworn at them. That was the only thing that made them move was swearing. But, I couldn’t swear. I hadn’t give it up, I just didn’t do it.
Then I wanted a glass of water. I went to the tap, drew the water from the tap and I could not drink the water without first thanking God for it. I just couldn’t drink it. I realized I was incapable of swearing. It wasn’t that I’d given it up, it just wasn’t in me any longer.
So I made my way through the day and about 6:30 in the evening my usual practice was to go to the local pub and get a drink. I had no scruples against drinking or pubs. So I set out, walked to the pub, which was a short distance, turned to go into the door and my legs locked. They would not walk through that door. I stood there having an argument with my legs. And I suddenly realized I’m not interested in what’s in the pub, I have no desire to go there. So I turned around, walked back to my billet and thought I better start reading the Bible.
I was looking for the passage in Job where I finished but I turned to Psalm 126:
“When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, then we were like those that dreamed. Then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with singing.”
I said to myself, “That’s what happened to me.”