It was the picture of his face which caught me.
A dear brother and spiritual son, Bradley, invited me to attend a worship gathering with him on a recent evening. Not a typical kind of gathering for me. The speaker that night was a remarkable man, Georgian Banov, used by God in reaching a nation and countless other nations besides with a message of the gospel and joy. He had escaped Bulgaria when under the communists, met Jesus on the streets of Hollywood during the Jesus People movement and lived out this relationship.
He and his wife wrote children’s music (Bullfrogs and Butterflies and The Music Machine) which in the 1980s we played and played again for our children. Since then they have reached Bulgaria with the gospel in a revival that continues. He is a musician and beautiful witness to joy.
But it was this picture with Georgian and his wife laughing with such joy shining on their faces that most spoke to my heart.
I was supposed to be there.
Bradley, his wife Bryna, and I ate dinner together and then drove to the Vancouver event. Before the event, I slipped into the bathroom and found myself standing next to Georgian. The basic rule for men at urinals, if you want this detail, is not to speak. But seeing Georgian, I greeted him saying, “You are tonight’s speaker, right?” I introduced myself and told him how the picture of him and his wife shone with so much joy I had to come to this event. We chatted briefly.
The band that night led in worship for one magnificent hour. Near the end of that time, Georgian took up his fiddle and played with the band. He walked into the congregation and played a melody which somehow was unique yet remained supported by the other instruments. This was the beautiful thing: As he played, there was a move of the Spirit in the place. Bradley, who sat next to me, as the Spirit moved upon him, began to laugh and laugh. He told us later, the Spirit showed him image after image which continued to increase his joy. As Georgian’s melody reached me, it was like a sweetness washed over my entire body and I felt embraced by God’s love. It was similar to the joy that floods me when I dive into a cold, mountain lake.
It was a marvelous picture of how the power of God can move through an instrument. I thought of the entire psalter and how David played his harp to soothe King Saul.
When time came for Banov to speak, he held up a copy of his book and said, “I’m looking for Brian. Where are you?”
Not certain if I was “the Brian” he sought, I raised my hand.
“Yes. Brian,” he called to me, “Could you come up front with me?”
Astounded. I went forward, all the while asking within, “Jesus, what are you doing?”
“I would like to give you this copy of my book,” he told me and everyone else present. Then to the people, “Brian and I met just before tonight’s event and he told me something. Could you tell them?” So, I repeated how because of the picture of him and Winnie on the advertisement for the event, seeing the joy on their faces, I knew I needed to be there.
“This spoke to me,” Georgian then told the congregation and me. “For joy is the mission God has given to my wife and me.” He told part of the testimony written in his book. It felt awkward to stand there, yet also incredibly rich. I was just where I was supposed to be. He spoke for perhaps 20 minutes while I stood there, reminding us of what God had said to him, under the bright lights, in front of the gathered congregation.
“I would like to bless you with joy, tonight,” he said, placing a hand on my heart. “Come and join in praying for Brian.”
You know those prayers that are more than words? Like a prayer which is as much water and fire as it is language? That was this prayer. As Georgian led everyone in prayer, there was a shift inside of me. The sense of sadness, which had been a battle for a season, dissipated. I felt this immense relief. After the prayer he said, “Now, go share that joy with others. Anyone want some joy out there?”
Many hands went up.
I understood this style of ministry. I did not feel like I had anything to share, but the most remarkable thing happened. As I went from person to person, grabbed their hand or hugged them, praying for them, God’s Spirit moved through me and upon them. One person shook and then laughed. Another shouted. A third laughed. Another exclaimed “Incredible!” On and on I went for the next 15 minutes.
Finally, returning to my seat, I sensed God was up to something in my life and heart.
Often the work of God is not a visible or even a felt thing, but is real nonetheless. This was my experience. As I have walked on from that night, it is true, something shifted within me. My joy has returned.
With Jonah I can say — “But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah2:9).
Georgian’s book continues to witness to this joy. In one passage he wrote down this direct message for him:
Georgian, you cannot do anything to become My son. Fathers and mothers make their sons and daughters; children don’t make themselves for their parents. Spiritually, it’s the same way. Through Jesus, you became My son. When you accepted My Son’s sacrifice, you became born again. You were born from Me. I gave you a brand-new life and a new heart. Your new existence and your identity now come from Me. I’m pleased with you from the start because I made you, and you are Mine”from Joy: God’s secret Weapon for the believer Chosen Books: c. 2021, arr, ics ubp, p 64.
The last three words of this statement, “You are Mine,” echoed deeply into my own heart. This was what I heard from the Lord while walking the Camino in 2016 when I wondered aloud, while walking miles alone, “Who am I if I don’t speak?” And God’s resounding answer was, “Mine.” This was life changing for me.
This same message came loudly through a novel, AD 30, written by Ted Dekker. In a marvelous, revolutionary scene toward the end, the main character Maviah speaks the name “Father…” aloud, and we read this:
His response came from the stillness. A breath.
His breath, flowing over me like life-giving water in the deepest sands. It washed over my face and down my neck and arms. Over my chest and belly and down my legs.
You are mine, his breath said.
“Yes,” I whispered, closing my eyes against the tears that welled. “Yes…”
Trust me.(AD 30 by Ted Dekker, NY: Center Street, c. 2014 by Ted Dekker, ubp, p. 427)
Perhaps the most powerful reality in the world is belonging. God continues to speak this and to dwell there, in the Real Presence of belonging to this immense, good, glorious God, there is joy.
May this joy also be yours.