I was 18 years old, and part of the leadership team of a small youth group in our church. I was good friends with the youth pastor. He had long hair, drank beer and preached U2. He was just what I needed.
On this particular Friday night, with activities ended and all the teenagers having gone home at 9.20pm, he turned to me and said, “Shall we go and catch that band at Churchills?”
Churchills was a local pub, and the band was called Thirty Three, fronted by the inigmatic Rob Warren on vocals and electric guitar, his brother Garth on bass and Andrew Shuttleworth on drums. It was one of those typical backend joints, inset on an alley around the corner from an already-obscure side street. Only locals really new how to get there. The band was already on stage when we arrived and I remember the banter from the stage, an epic drum solo from Shuttleworth, and the usual character-ridden pub scene. Think Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’.
And then it happened. Warren spoke over the mic: “This is a song by friends of ours in Durban, and you’ve probably heard it on the radio…”
And they launch into A Million Lights by Tree63.
Suddenly all these eclectic characters (as disparate from each other as the drinks they were consuming) all stopped separate conversations and jovial banter between each other across the room, and with one voice started singing the chorus line:
“Yours is the only throne I’ll ever get down on my knees before.”
I can’t fully do justice to the feeling in that tiny room, in that moment, that evening. Random people – some more lubricated than others – with their eyes closed, singing about getting down in front of someone else’s throne. Warren himself stopped playing, closed his eyes and lifted his hands in the air – as if in surrender – and sang along with them. The vocal chorus that rose was heartfelt, genuine… and loud! It was the sound of everyone pouring the hearts out, spilling their guts and surrendering.
I had heard that song many times before that night. I had a copy of the album. And I had been in pubs many times before then. However, that night, the experience was simply not normal. I was shocked and thrilled all at the same time. For me, it was a moment in my life where I understood, for the first time tangibly, that the Spirit described in the Bible is simply not confined… and it affected me profoundly. It was like heaven calling me beyond what I knew, which was youth groups on Friday, church on Sunday and a fairly mundane spiritual existence (or ritual).
A realm opened up to me that night, which I feel in many ways I continue to seek out – in music, in pubs, in churches, on the street, in queues at the local grocery store, in people’s homes… wherever. It’s the search for spirit and truth.