Excerpt from Darren Wilson's New Book, Filming God
Being Wrong Is Not The Worst That Can Happen
“Come on, Wilson, you gotta try one thing at least!”
Will Hart was admonishing me, and as usual, I was laughing. I don’t think I laugh more with anyone in the world than I do with Will Hart, an evangelist who has accompanied me on various film shoots around the world, and who has become a trusted friend. He is, without question, one of the funniest people I know. He also has a heart that absolutely burns for God and for saving the lost. But today, he was having some fun at my expense.
We were at an enormous outdoor market in Bangkok, Thailand, taking a day off from shooting to see some sights. At this moment we were standing in front of a vendor who was offering such delectable delights as fried baby sparrows (with legs and head included), wasps, water beetles, and crickets. The other guys had all tried something, which, of course, meant that my manhood was now on the line. I gingerly chose the wasp, since it was the smallest, and crunched down. It tasted like…a wasp. Will bellowed with laughter at my face, and popped another baby sparrow into his mouth. He said it was pretty good, but crushing the skull and dealing with the rubbery feet were kind of nasty.
I had just spent a week with my crew and Will in Bangkok and Pattaya, as we filmed with various ministries who are light in darkness in the truest sense of the word. We spent time with ministries like Nightlight Design, which works tirelessly to get women out of the sex trade and into a job making jewelry. The goal is to give these women a job outside of prostitution, and to give them their dignity back.
Whenever I go somewhere to film, there is almost always at least one ministry I visit who is already working in the area. Only occasionally do I go into a place blind, and that is becoming increasingly rare. But even though we may be working with an established ministry in the area, we will almost always hit the streets themselves with whoever I have brought with me. So I go to an area knowing a little about what I am going to capture, but I always want to allow for God to do whatever He wants with us–to allow for those “God moments” that my films are known for.
Will Hart was the guy I brought along to help with the God moments. He had lived in Mozambique with Heidi and Rolland Baker, and has seen thousands of miracles in his 28 years. He’s done a lot of street ministry and evangelism, and he has a giant heart for Thailand, so I figured he would be perfect for this trip. Plus, I knew we were going into a heavy atmosphere, and the more laughs we could have along with us, the easier it would be for everyone.
We filmed a lot with Will that week; in bars, clubs, and brothels, he wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone, and intimidation didn’t seem to be in his vocabulary. He has one of the most uncanny abilities I have ever seen to instantly make a stranger feel comfortable and unthreatened when he approaches them. I watched in amazement as he approached people, prostitutes, and predators with tenderness and confidence that God wanted to show every one of them how much He loved them. Will is also very prophetic, and he never shied away from speaking prophetic words over people, and many were amazed and left in tears when they heard the words God had for them. It was beautiful to watch all week.
But there was another occurrence that happened with alarming regularity that caused all of us no small sense of embarrassment and awkward moments. For some reason, this week Will had a thing for birthdays.
I kid you not, with nearly everybody Will encountered, the first thing he tried to do was guess their birthday. Now this wasn’t a normal thing for him to do, in fact he’d never done it before in his life, but for some reason this week whenever he met someone he would get a very strong impression of a particular date, and he was almost certain it was a birthdate. So he would approach someone, start a little small talk, then ask them if, by chance, their birthday was October 3. Every person, without fail, gave him a blank stare then stated that no, in fact, their birthday was on April 30. No matter what date he gave, their real birthdate was about as far from it as possible.
The first few times it happened it was kind of funny. Will would look sheepish but then would barrel forward. I’d usually laugh nervously, inwardly hoping he’d stop doing this stupid birthday thing. But with each new person we met there came another stab at the birthday. By the end of the week, Will was…I was shocked to see it…frustrated. God was doing great things, but Will couldn’t figure out what was going on with these birthdays. He was CERTAIN that what he was hearing was from the Lord; he knows that voice, he would tell me over and over again. And he had never been this wrong this often in his entire life. What was going on?
We both got the answer on the same day towards the end of our stay in Thailand. That morning, I had a strong sense of what God might be doing, and later in the afternoon Will approached me with the exact same thought. God was teaching us, and me in particular, a lesson.
Without question the most frequently voiced comment I hear from people when they see my films is some iteration of “Boy, I sure wish stuff like that would happen to me.” When I ask them if they ever pray for people around them, the same look of shock and horror that I know so well flickers across their face. “Oh, I could never do that. It would be terrifying!” In my experience, though, the people who do these kinds of things on a regular basis–who see someone in need no matter where they are, and approach them to pray for them–are always nervous about what they’re about to do. It’s never easy to pray for someone, especially if you don’t know them. But often, even when we do know them, even if it is a member of our own family, we become so paralyzed by fear that we are grounded by inaction.
Jesus was quite clear that we would “do greater things” than he did. This seems like a pretty clear directive to walk confidently into the dark unknown and face our own unbelief head on. Having talked with countless Christians over the years, I am now convinced that the overwhelming reason more Christians are not stepping out in their faith, are not praying for full blown healing and intervention in someone’s life, and generally do not act on Jesus’ admonition to do greater things than he did is because we are terrified, utterly horrified by the prospect of being wrong, looking foolish, and in no small way, making God look weak. We either fear man, or we fear a silent God. Either way, it is fear that is keeping us from a life of faith.
I remember a story Kevin Deadmon, a staff member at Bethel Church, in Redding, California, told me when I was filming Finger of God. He was standing on the sidewalk in town one day, waiting for the rest of his ministry team to show up, when he saw a man coming towards him on the sidewalk. He heard, what he felt was quite clearly, the voice of the Lord repeating the same word, over and over again.
“Lord, is that you? Is this a word of knowledge?” he asked.
“Roger. Roger. Roger,” was all the voice repeated, over and over again.
Kevin wrestled with God as the man approached, after all, he had never done anything like this before. He had never had a word of knowledge before, but he knew he had a choice at this moment. Step out in faith, or back away to protect his dignity. He took a deep breath and stopped the man.
Or at least, he tried to.
“Excuse me, is your name Roger?”
The man looked at him like he was a nut or some kind of predator. He kept walking , and Kevin had to turn to keep up with him. The guy wanted nothing to do with Kevin, and even crossed the street to get away from him. Kevin was left standing there, dejected and embarrassed, and mumbled this prayer, “Thanks God. Thanks a lot for that one. Now I look like a total idiot.”
Almost immediately, the same still, small voice spoke back to him.
“Kevin, that word was from me.”
This didn’t quite line up with Kevin’s theology. After all, hadn’t the word been wrong?
Then the Lord taught Kevin a valuable lesson.
“Kevin, I wanted to show you that this is not about a performance. I’m not interested in performance, I’m interested in faith. You stepped out in faith, and as far as I’m concerned, what you did was a total success.”
We’re all guilty of it. Someone close to us is sick. Others are gathered around to pray for them. We step up to pray, and we are immediately faced with a line in the sand. Do we go for it and pray for total healing, right then and there? Or do we pray for strength to “deal with this” or wisdom for the doctors or grace on the family members? Have we ever stepped out and prayed for God to just out and out heal someone, and nothing happened? Of course. Happens all the time. Does that mean God’s not listening to us? Are we doing something wrong? Later I’ll deal with why I believe God doesn’t heal everyone all the time, but for now, let’s worry about ourselves for a moment. We have been called to be like Jesus. Our very name, Christian, refers to us as “little Christ”. Jesus set an example for us when he was here, and not once did he shy away from someone who needed him because he was intimidated. Neither should we.
I find myself falling into the trap of sometimes wanting to protect God from Himself. I realize that I’m dealing with an invisible entity here, and no matter how much I have seen or experienced, it still stretches me to step out and pray for someone to be healed because deep down, I’m wondering if I’m just praying to my own imagination. I’ve prayed for people so often where nothing happened that when I’m faced with a situation of real need and desperation, I get nervous that once again I’m going to pray and nothing will happen, and this need and desperation in front of me is going to turn into bitterness and defeat. I don’t want to subject this person to that, so I will withdraw my own bold faith and fall back on the safer, “comfort this person” prayer.
I think this reasoning is birthed from my own stupid assertion that I really have anything to do with anything supernatural that is or is not happening. What I have begun to learn in my travels, though, is that in the end, it’s not really about me at all. Let me give you two stories to illustrate my point.
Occasionally when I go out to film, I get sucked into what is going on and am sometimes even asked to “partake” in what is happening. My natural inclinations are, like many Christians, to stand on the sidelines and watch. I am as edified as anyone by what I’m seeing, and I’d like to keep it that way as much as possible–just let me watch. When people turn to me and say, “Okay, now it’s your turn,” I break into a cold sweat and search for excuses why I couldn’t possibly do such a thing. Nothing, it seems, is more terrifying than having to see whether or not what you say you believe is actually true or not. I may have traveled the world and have seen some of the most amazing things God has done, but when I’m the one at the center of what is happening, suddenly my faith becomes pretty small and filled with doubt.
There was one time, though, when I was filming someone and the exact opposite was true. I was at Yale University with Jason Westerfield, and we were finishing up a long, productive day of filming on the streets. I was still coming off my buzz from having seen into the supernatural realm earlier that day, and part of me didn’t want this day to end, knowing that tomorrow life would return to normal. It was around 11pm, and we were heading back to our car when a homeless man approached us. I watched him walk up to us, limping, and my natural reflex was to look away, act like I didn’t see him. The less fortunate always make us uncomfortable it seems, probably because they are such a stark reminder of just how fortunate we are in comparison. But this guy approached us with a purpose.
He timidly asked if we had any change so he could get something to eat. He was about as stereotypical as a homeless man could get. He smelled horrible, mumbled as he spoke, wouldn’t look us in the eye, and was incredibly dirty. Jason didn’t miss a beat. He told the guy that sure, we’d give him some money, but first he wanted to give him something better. He then asked if he had any pain in his body, and the man told us about the pain in his neck, as well as his leg. Jason explained to him that he was God’s son and that He loves you, and that we’d like to pray for him that God would touch him.
The moment will forever be burned into my memory. Jason and I gathered around this man and prayed for his leg, and I remember looking up at him through my camera viewfinder, and I just stared at his face. His eyes were closed and he had a look that oozed childlike innocence. Here was a man who was normally ignored by the world. Just minutes before I was planning on ignoring him too! But here he stood, right in front of me, and he didn’t know what was going to happen. I had no idea what he was thinking at that moment, but I sure knew what I was thinking. This guy is about to be healed. His leg is going to be healed right here, right now. There was not a shadow of doubt in my mind that this would happen. Even when I was in the bush of Mozambique with Heidi Baker, and people were being healed all around me, I still had that twinge of doubt when the next person approached, and I wondered if it would actually happen this time as well. But here, as midnight approached on this street outside Yale University, I knew a healing was about to happen. I would have staked my entire life on it. It was something I had never felt before, nor have I ever felt it again. At that moment, that still, small voice I had begun to hear more regularly spoke to me and said, “You are filming the end of your movie.”
Jason finished praying and the man said it felt better. Jason made him run down the street and back, and upon his return, the man was…smiling. He had just been healed, and he knew it. I knew it. The man was so happy, in fact, that he completely forgot to ask for the money he had originally approached us for, and he walked away from us–no, he strutted away from us–like a man who had just been hugged by his long lost father. This was the scene that indeed did form the ending of Finger of God, and it is the reason I held that particular shot for so long and faded the focus on the street and traffic lights the way that I did in the finished film. Because I knew I was filming the end of my movie, even though I still had close to a year left of shooting to go.
If the streets of Yale were my greatest triumph of faith, the villages of Tanzania were my shameful low point of belief. I was now filming Furious Love, and I had come to Tanzania to help Jeff Jansen film his crusade. His main camera person was an old student of mine, and we worked out a deal where my crew and I would come and help Jeff with his crusade if we could use whatever we filmed for my new movie. I had little idea of what to expect, but as usual, God had a few tricks up His sleeve.
One day, some of the local church leaders decided to take some members of Jeff’s team up a mountain to some remote villages where they could do some street evangelism. I was back in my wheelhouse, and I eagerly joined them to capture whatever God had planned for these unsuspecting villagers. My technical director, Braden, was with me and we were milling around the crowd that had gathered to hear the team speak. They all began praying for people, and I quickly noticed one of the team, Anton, praying for a short villager’s leg. He would pray, ask if the man’s leg was any better, and the interpreter would tell him that, no, it’s not better in the slightest. Anton kept praying, but nothing was happening. While I was filming this scene, Anton stood up, turned to me and said, “Hey Darren, you want to pray for him too?”
My first (and only) thought was, “No!” That was just about the last thing I wanted to do. Anton and the other team members were old hands at this stuff, had gone on countless mission trips and evangelistic outreaches, had prayed for hundreds, if not thousands of people for healing, and had preached for years and years. I had traveled the world, yes, but with a camera in my hand. I documented this stuff, I didn’t actually DO it. The lump formed in my throat.
“Yeah…yeah…” was my response. It was about as uninspired as you can get.
I handed my camera to Braden, trading him a silent, “get me out of here” glance, then turned to meet my humiliation. I knelt down and put my hand on the man’s leg. Suddenly, I realized that I had no idea what to do. I had seen people pray for healing before, but I’d never actually done it myself. What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to do? I quickly tried to remember key words or phrases I had heard people say while I was filming them, but nothing was coming to me. I think I muttered a few lame “God, heal him,” petitions, and the rest of the time I just sat there, staring at his leg, wondering how long this charade would have to continue before I would be allowed to stand up again and still make this guy feel like I had put forth some kind of an effort. I even remember thinking about the absurdity of this situation, that I was actually thinking these things. All the while, the camera is burning a hole in my back. I made a silent vow to myself that my wife would NOT be seeing this footage when I got home. How embarrassing.
Finally, I stood up and turned to my interpreter. It’s not that I had little faith, I had absolutely no faith that this guy had been healed. I asked him, mostly out of duty and because that seems to be the way these things are done, if the man could feel any difference. He talked to the guy, who moved his leg around a bit, put weight on it, and tested it. They talked for a while in their language, then the interpreter turned to me and said, “It’s well.”
“It’s well. He says it feels good.”
I looked at the man I had just prayed for. He was smiling. It took a second for everything to register in my brain. How could this be possible? I thought you had to have some faith to heal someone. I didn’t just have a little faith, I had no faith whatsoever! The only response I could muster was an incredulous, “Praise Jesus!” and I hugged the guy. It was then that I realized that this whole scene wasn’t about me at all. It was about God doing what He wanted to do all along. He didn’t heal the guy while Anton prayed for him because He wanted all the glory. I step in, a complete numbskull in a situation like this, pray with no faith at all, and God heals the man. When I put this experience up next to my experience with the homeless man at Yale University, one thing becomes crystal clear.
I had nothing to do with either of these miracles.
Sure God had used me, in a sense, but the healing didn’t come because of my great faith or theological training. I didn’t have a special gifting or use a particular formula. For one healing I had great faith, and for the other I had none. But God moved both times. How could I reconcile this?
In the end, fear is the great motivator for doing nothing for Christ. How often do I hear that inner voice, the Holy Spirit, nudging me to step out of my comfort zone and do something, or say something to someone? How often do I ignore it? Create an excuse? Or just out and out rebel against it? I don’t think God is as concerned with our results as He is with our motivation. Is our motivation for praying love? Fear? Glory? Fame? Curiosity? Are we motivated by performance or faith?
When we pray for someone, love must reign supreme. We cannot love them with the agenda to convert them. That is no different than my wife showering me with kisses with the hidden hope that I will buy her that washing machine. That’s not love, it’s manipulation. But God approaches all of us, whether we believe in Him or not, with pure, agenda-less love. Our job is to simply identify a need, then step out of our own fear and into the obedience of prayer.
Let God do the rest.