Q&A Christy Wimber

We caught up with author and speaker Christy Wimber for the latest issue of Lyfe Journal. We talked suffering, Psalm 23, and the 'charismatic' label. You can read an abridged version of the interview here.

Christy grew up next door to John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Movement, a network of 1,500 charismatic evangelical churches around the world. At 19 she fell in love with his son Sean, and they have been married, parenting their two children and ministering together for almost three decades. The past four years have been a time of struggle, as Yorba Linda Vineyard which they led was hit by multiple lawsuits from their landlord, and the couple faced severe health challenges. In the midst of this, Christy has sensed the Church was lacking an adequate theology of suffering and she’s experienced the Holy Spirit in a new way. Jo Swinney talked to her about God’s presence in hard times, her understanding of how the Holy Spirit works and why she wouldn’t call herself a Charismatic.

How did you come to faith?

I have been a Christian pretty much my whole life. I grew up in a Quaker church, and the Vineyard came out of the Quakers. When I was about nine years old, I first encountered the Holy Spirit; I was quite young. I had been born with problems hearing and in a meeting they said ‘If you have trouble hearing, stand up’ and I stood. I remember what I was wearing and everything. I had no idea about anything really, but I just felt the Lord heal me and I felt the Holy Spirit for the first time. Those were the early days of the Vineyard so there was lots and lots of [spiritual] power. That church was very powerful. And then I did that teenage thing and left for a while. I was playing a lot of sports. I came back to church when I was 19. My husband had just got saved, and that was the first time we really noticed each other.

Your father-in-law John Wimber was known for his expectation God would perform ‘signs and wonders’ and for his embrace of supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. What would you say to someone who was sceptical or afraid of opening themselves to the less controllable, the more mysterious parts of life in the Spirit? How would you encourage them to explore and be more open?

I would encourage people who want to encounter the Holy Spirit just to relax and let the Lord minister to them. It is very personal. What it looks like to them will probably be very different to what it looks like for someone else. I would just pray ‘Lord if this is you, would you show me more of who you are and would you speak to me?’ On the other hand, can I just say to the Church, we’ve got to actually allow people their own experiences and not force formulas onto them of what they should do in encountering Jesus because I think we’ve put things in a box and forced things on people. It has done a lot of damage. That is not our role. We are not the Holy Spirit. When we step into that role, we actually do damage not good. I think there are times you invite the Holy Spirit to come and he shows up in ways that are always different. There have been so many times the Holy Spirit has shown up and done all kinds of things that I wasn’t planning.

As you’ve gone through a time of more struggle over these past few years, have you experienced the Holy Spirit in a different way?

Any time we go through harder circumstances we encounter the comforter or the convicter. It is always a mix because he knows what we need. I know we’ve said that the last few years have been really difficult and they have been incredibly difficult for me, but 20 years ago there was another really difficult season with a lot of loss too. I think we go through different seasons like this where the Holy Spirit shows up in different ways. I say this with much trepidation but I think the Holy Spirit is more present in suffering than he ever is on the mountain top. It is a different kind of presence. I find it quite intimate. It is special. It is not like you would pick that but God is faithful in it.

Psalm 23 talks about a table being set in the valley. I love that picture of sharing a meal, being fed by God in the valley of the shadow of Death. It is quite extraordinary isn’t it?

One of the things the Lord has been reminding me through Psalm 23 is that we walk through these valleys. We’re not to live there. We don’t decorate, you know? But as we do, the promise of God’s presence is right there. That’s the gift of God’s spirit. That’s Emmanuel.

Sometimes people put the Holy Spirit’s activity into the fireworks box – danger, drama, bright lights. I think some people think ‘Charismatic people do the Holy Spirit and I’m not charismatic.’ You must meet people who are really resistant.

I do, and often it is because they’ve had negative encounters with the Charismatic world. To be honest with you Jo, I don’t think of myself as a Charismatic. I think of myself as an empowered Evangelical. I am very Evangelical and I believe in power.

Why would you not want the Charismatic label?

I just think it carries so much baggage and there are a lot of things with it I just don’t identify with. I don’t identify with the prosperity message, I don’t identify with the idea that this is heaven, I don’t identify with the expectation that God heals everyone all the time. There’s a battle here and God’s Spirit is not just for healing us in different ways. The Holy Spirit guides us, teaches us, counsels us. But I also believe in the power of God’s Spirit in suffering. I mean look at Stephen who was stoned to death. God’s Spirit came upon him. I just land in a place where yes, if I allow God’s Spirit to move in and through me, he’s going to, but it’s not all going to be all in my idea of what glorious is, it’s going to be in his idea. If I do not have God’s power and presence with me in times of difficulty, I could not do what I do. I couldn’t make it. I don’t think of it like ‘Oh, we’re going to shake and fall on the ground.’ That doesn’t mean anything will change. I’m not looking for a manifestation. I’m looking at what is God doing in my heart, and what is God changing around me. That is what God’s Spirit is for.

The consumerist, lazy part of us wants the drama and the short cuts. We don’t like the belief in the dark that asks our faith to hang on without evidence.

No one would sign up for suffering. We like quick fixes and we like everything instantly and that’s just not the way life is. I realise people invite me to things because God moves in power, and I love that. I also realize that God tends to reveal things to me and the Church gets stuck in mindsets and old ways. God will move how he wants and not how we want. It is not a show.

I can really see how people would invite you thinking God will arrive with you and do really exciting things.

Yes, and he does. But it is different right now because God’s moving differently in me and in the culture around me. What he’s doing in healing is different. People don’t like talking about mental health and I’m talking about that. But I’m not there to meet people’s expectations. I’m there to obey God. I think that’s the importance of following the Holy Spirit.


Christy Wimber was talking to Jo Swinney. You can read the full interview in the 'Holy Spirit' issue of Lyfe journal

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