Overwhelmed by an encounter with God

This is one in a series of daily excerpts from “The Legend of Morris Cerullo: How God Used an Orphan to Change the World.”

By Morris Cerullo

That first night of freedom from the orphanage found Morris staying with Ed Maurer and his wife. They were new to the Christian faith themselves and welcomed Morris into their home until a more permanent solution could be identified.

Meanwhile, neither the orphanage nor the state ever sought to locate Morris Cerullo. The troublemaker apparently wanted to be on his own, and they were happy to accommodate that desire.

Morris attended a public high school near the Maurer’s house for a few months. Once he reached his sixteenth birthday, though, he dropped out without any remorse. He had bigger and more important things on his mind.

Toward that end, he attended a Christian church for the first time, accompanying the Maurers to Bethany Assembly of God.

The church blew his mind.

Morris had spent his entire spiritual life within the confines of the synagogue, with its rich traditions and earnest formality. The sense of freedom to connect with God that was a hallmark of the Pentecostal style of worship was a difficult concept for Morris to grasp. His first few times in attendance he watched in amazement as several hundred charismatic Christians sang songs of praise with great energy and emotion, many of them (mostly women) with eyes closed and waving their hands in the air as they sang. It was so different than the repetitious prayers and solemn incantations of the rabbi in the Jewish services.

Every week he watched in fascination as people prayed with a genuine belief that God was hearing their cries and would respond appropriately. Morris had a sense that prayer really did matter, that there is a God who hears and responds. The intensity of the prayer life of the people around him left a deep impression.

To someone with an open and hungry mind, like Morris, the preaching was especially captivating. Each week the lengthy teachings intersected directly with the narratives he had been diligently reading day after day in the New Testament. As the teen tried to make sense of this new spiritual reality to which he was continually exposed, the lessons from the pulpit helped to fill in the blanks.

Other teens in the congregation were typically fidgety during the preaching. Morris was spellbound.

Bethany Assembly at that time was led by an elderly British preacher. Morris was drawn to the man’s intellect and erudition. His teaching — the first Christian sermons Morris had ever heard — was a highlight, challenging Morris’s thinking about God, his own life, and what the future held.

His head was swimming at the end of the first service he attended. But the most remarkable experience was yet to come that day.

Toward the end of the service the pastor said something that caught Morris off guard.

“If you would like to join me here at the altar to pray, please come down now. We serve a mighty God who hears and answers our prayers. Whatever your need or request may be, let’s join together in asking Him.”

People all over the building popped up from their seats and moved down the aisles toward the altar. Morris watched for a few moments then joined them; he had a child’s naive faith in prayer.

He knelt on the carpeted floor at the foot of the altar with people all around him and began to silently pray. He was not expecting anyone to pray for him or with him and had no expectations about the outcome of his prayer.

But neither did he expect what happened next.

Morris’s eyes were closed as he concentrated on communicating with God. He was fully conscious, but at the same time it seemed as if his spirit had left his body behind and mysteriously arrived in an unknown place, which he assumed was part of heaven. That place was filled with people — so many that he could never count them all. Everywhere he looked his field of vision was packed with people.

Looking around at the masses, Morris focused on the front of the crowd and saw himself in the very front row of the throng. As he considered his place in that multitude, a blinding light appeared before them all. Somehow he knew without a doubt that it was the presence of the glory of God. He just knew it.

Without warning a ray of brilliance shot out of the central light toward Morris. It actually hit him like a wave of the ocean overtaking him, and his entire body shook. Then, like a strong undertow of the ocean current, he felt himself being irresistibly pulled toward the primary light source. Morris had no sense of control; it was as if he were a robot and had been programmed to move at a predetermined time toward a designated spot. Without any sense of time lapsing he found himself standing at the foot of the light with the crowd hovering all around. The light had a mesmerizing beauty and sense of power. It was riveting and majestic. He could not take his eyes off it.

In the next instant the light moved away from Morris. Immobilized, he immediately felt keen disappointment, almost like the loss one feels when a loved one dies. Morris wondered why the light — a manifestation of God – moved farther from him. Had he done something wrong? Was there a way he could get closer to the light again?

Morris looked back at the place where the light had moved from. That’s when he noticed two large footprints.

He knew at once that God had communicated to him that it was his choice, Morris’s choice, of what to do with his life. As Morris stared intensely at those footprints, he realized that they revealed a manifestation of the pit of hell. Peering down into the space beneath those footprints he saw a sea of people aflame, physically engulfed in fire but not being consumed by it, twisting in pain and yelling for relief. Their agonized suffering conveyed the hopelessness of man without the saving presence and forgiving love of God. He could hear bloodcurdling, tortured screams coming from within the pit.

Morris felt distraught, desperate to do something to help them. Without further hesitation, he placed his own feet in those footprints.

In that next moment his life changed. Morris felt engulfed by the presence of God. He felt as if God had wrapped His arms around him. He felt secure, powerful, and loved like never before. His entire body was warmed, with a slight tingling sensation, and he had an indescribable sense of pleasure and rightness.

God then startled Morris by speaking to him: “Arise and shine, for your light has come. The glory of the Lord is upon you. When you feel this presence, know that I am there in your midst to do great things for My people.”

Morris was overwhelmed by the love and power of God. He committed his life to serving the Lord God from that instant forward.