“We Will Meet You There”

WE WILL MEET YOU THERE: A SAFE, UNCONVENTIONAL WAY TO EAT BETTER AND STAY FIT… WITHOUT EVEN TRYING!

I. Eat a hearty, well-balanced lunch. This will effectively persuade your family, friends, and blog readers that the next several steps are not a routine–though, if you think about it, perhaps they should be.

II. Prepare for dinner; before sitting down at the table, allow a close loved-one to make a slight–very slight–reference to something in the Bible. Let your imagination run wild.

III. Pray, just before sitting down to that fabulous plate of food set before you. Thank the Lord for His holiness, His glory, His manifest presence in your life, His love and mercy, His power and healing, for drawing those who need His grace into those everlasting arms, and for that plate of nourishment you’re about to receive. Except, by now, that plate of nourishment is probably getting cold… Oh, well–you’re grateful for it anyway.

IV. Oops! Everyone else in the family is watching television, something you’re not interested in. Go and get your iPod. Find the playlist entitled “Prayer Closet”. Take it to the table with you; this is a no-holds-barred meal when Peggy Post etiquette may be temporarily abandoned.

V. First, examine that teriyaki steak you’ve been looking forward to all day. Begin to eat, while listening to a worship song. For purposes of this experiment, I used “I Want to Be Like Jesus” which is, arguably, a children’s song. But it was sung by British children–and don’t societal norms about age levels and Christian music fail to apply if the music happens to be foreign? Besides, isn’t “Zacchaeus” a worship song if sung with reverence in your heart and a Bible in your hand? So, anyway, eat your steak while listening to this or any other beautiful worship song. Allow the words to sweep you off into thoughts of God’s nearness. “Lord, I want serving hands … Eyes to see You, ears to hear from You, / Feet that follow after You…” Oh! Have you been listening to that song for five minutes, slowly consuming only half your steak in the meantime? And now you aren’t really hungry for the other half anymore. Moving on…

VI. Now your peas. You really do have to eat all of these, if you want to derive any nutritional value at all from this meal. Then, too, you’ve changed worship songs… But “Guiding Light” is just as magnificent. Light… light of the world… Gospel of John… Revelation… The Lamb of God gives light to the city of the New Jerusalem, according to Rev. 19-22… Candlesticks, lampstands, tabernacle… You’re distracted again! Oh, well; those last few bites of peas won’t really add that many more micronutrients to your life, will they? Leave them on the plate.

VII. Time for your baked potato. The cheese you put on top will compensate for the steak you aren’t eating, and those chives will make up for what was lacking in your peas. Find a seven-minute worship song and slowly, slowly enjoy. Thank the Lord for every bite. Remember that day in 2012 when you ordered just such a baked potato from a nearby deli–the day you also spent several hours in worship, took Communion, and generally basked in the presence of the Lord. Thank You, Lord, for that forkful of potato, for this taste of sour cream, for that shred of cheese… “Better Is One Day in your courts…” Thank You, Lord, for this chive, and for that sip of water, and for the opportunity to worship You during this precious, precious meal… “How Great Is Our God…”

VIII. Did you forget your bread? It’s time to nibble it now. Pick up one of your two breadsticks and take a bite. Then, imagine breaking off a piece–preferably one with as little garlic as possible. Imagine grape juice. Force another bite of bread. Think about another piece, just large enough to be broken if need be, and again imagine grape juice. Now you’re thinking on Communion in general. Ah, those Scriptures in Matthew 26, and that passage in I Corinthians 11:26! And then there are the worship songs–“Remember Me”, a song about Communion by Marty Nystrom; “We Remember”, a Communion-service song by Calvary Chapel Music; and “We Will Meet You There” and “Come Expecting Jesus”, both celebratory Communion worship ballads by John Chisum. How can you focus on finishing both breadsticks now when your heart is set on Communion, on the best of all sacrificial gifts, on holiness and beauty… You really didn’t need the other one-and-a-half breadsticks on your plate, did you?

IX. Quite obviously, dinner is over. It’s time to worship, to write, to read Ezekiel through and then start on Revelation, to proclaim the next hour a time of prayer. Go downstairs and prepare to find some quiet place to do all of the above. But what’s this? Suddenly, your attention is captured by the elliptical machine in the den. Did you know that the motion of that machine simulates dancing before the Lord–at least to some extent? Do you remember what that kind of dancing feels like–that hands-raised, joyful expression of praise you used to engage in every Sunday before several hospitalizations weakened your resolve and reduced your stamina? Perhaps there’s a way… So, take your iPod and set it in the drink holder of the machine that might just help you to remember how to worship boldly. Find a song–any song that touches you. It doesn’t have to be fast. I chose Robin Mark’s upbeat but not rockish “I Will Walk”, but I might have been just as likely to choose “Jesus Name Above All Names” if I felt moved to do so. Now, gently climb on, place your hands as far up on the handlebars as they can go, and proceed to ellipticize. Hint: If you use the moving handlebars as opposed to the stationary ones, the feeling of dancing in the Lord is increased because you’re engaging your heart, mind, soul, and all of your strength. Now, don’t feel obligated by any set of conventions. Continue on the elliptical as long as you want–be it two minutes or thirty–as this is an exercise in grace, not in works. If you stay in rhythm with the song, you’ll probably end up imagining this worship session taking place at Calvary Chapel, minus the hundred-or-so other worshipers. If you’re feeling too joyful to maintain any sort of rhythm, so be it!

X. Now you’re tired. You stopped when you wanted to, and that’s good. The whole point of this evening was not to stay slim and trim, or to exercise your way toward health. It was to spend time in the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you accomplished this? Of course you have! But you can do more if you want. Your sanctuary, the place you go when you want to be in God’s presence, beckons. So do I Thessalonians and I Corinthians, II Peter and the Gospel of Luke. And so do Don Moen, Casey Corrum, Dennis Jernigan, and Marty Nystrom. So do prayer, and a moment of private Communion, and the precious fragrance of frankincense-and-myrrh anointing oil. Project “We-Will-Meet-You-There” has become a private one, and I shall leave you to it, to do with as you wish.

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“I Waited for the Lord on High”

It was July of 2004, and I had not yet lived two full years in the knowledge of the Holy Spirit. I had given my heart to the Lord as a very young child, but had only just begun truly living my commitment to Him.

Anyway, that week in 2004 was one of singular pain for me, for I was feeling both spiritually bereft and deeply unhappy about the state of two dear friends in the Lord. As far as I could tell, they desperately needed reconciliation–a healing of sorts–that I could do little to help them accomplish.

Finally, I found the strength and wisdom to do what I should have done all along. Quite by accident, I fasted most of the day. It was not a conscious decision, but I believe the Lord might have allowed it in order to keep me focused on Him. First, breakfast slipped by me, unnoticed; then, lunch. Instead, I listened to various recorded sermons and began asking the Lord in earnest for the desires of my heart–for peace and joy, for reconciliation and wholeness, and for a renewing of my own heart.

That evening, I was having dinner with these precious friends. Now, dinner was something I couldn’t quite eschew… we had been planning this for some time. Just for the sake of ambiance–expecting nothing save a little background music–I turned on Michael W. Smith’s album, Worship. We ate, we talked, we sang… And then, suddenly, we danced before the Lord with hands upraised. And–oh, the beauty of it!–we knelt before Him, praying and rejoicing in the restoration that we suddenly knew had taken place. My prayer had been answered.

How easy it was back then! I read the Scriptures on prayer, I took them to heart, and the Lord heard us and answered. As the years passed, however, I came to view prayer differently. First, I had to distinguish myself from a movement teaching that all prayers were answered–including those for financial prosperity. I have always believed that there exists a difference between a financial desire and a need, so of course, I couldn’t pray for anything that seemed inappropriate, selfish, or frivolous. “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your desires” (James 4:3).

So, there was that. Then, there was the fact that, for reasons known to our heavenly Father, prayers are not always answered in the affirmative, or are answered only in God’s time. And then, I reasoned, how did we really know exactly what God’s will might be from day to day? How many “desires of our hearts” could we request? So many times, I read that beloved passage which states: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). At one time, I had taken that passage at face value: if we delight ourselves in the Lord, our thoughts will align with His will, and we’ll find yourself praying that someone be filled with joy rather than, say, that they stay in an unhealthy relationship. However, as 2006 faded into 2007, I began to revise my understanding. If I delighted myself in the Lord, would He not become the desire of my heart? And, therefore, was not praying for anything else–anything at all–failing to delight myself wholly in the Lord, because some of those prayers addressed carnal concerns?

I really need to think on grace sometimes, to read the Scriptures without guile and without excessive analysis, as a child with a fervent prayer life rather than a timorous adult who fears drawing near to the throne of grace. Little wonder that I sometimes failed to find grace in my time of need!

All of this changed about a month ago. It was a small incident, really–and yet, so very important. For months, my family and I had become over-burdened and incredibly weary. Health concerns had piled on top of us, making us all stressed and irritable. All I wanted was to flee–a new start on good days, a downright escape on bad ones. Everywhere I looked, I saw despair. And so, with little recourse and even less strength, I finally begged the Lord for help as simply as I had that long-ago day in 2004. First, I asked Him to fill us with the joy and peace of His Holy Spirit. Then, I did an uncharacteristic thing. I asked for very specific, concrete aid: “Lord, please send someone to us who can help us, provide us with good counsel, and show us what to do and how to live for You”.

Three days later, the Lord answered. A very precious sister in Christ, I was told, would be passing through–and could she stay with us for a week or so? We were delighted. Over the course of that week, I learned more than I had in years about God’s enormous faithfulness. I saw how this sister kept praying and trusting the Lord in the midst of trials and resolved to emulate the grace of God I saw in her. I heard her gentle, lilting voice as she read II Peter and resolved to keep that in my heart–to always rejoice in the Scriptures as much as she does. Together we discussed angels, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the promises of God, the Psalms… Oh, it was glorious!

And then, there were the quiet moments spent all alone with the Lord. Each evening, after proper good-nights and farewells had been said, I retired to worship and read, to sing and pray. Yes, PRAY. For it had been revealed to me in those moments with my sister in Christ that the Lord does desire to hear our petitions, no matter how small or concrete or apparently earthly. Time and again I feasted on those beautiful Scriptures, now viewed in an entirely new light: “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). And again, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:19). And again, “will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily” (Luke 18:7-8).

Words cannot express how deeply this has impacted my prayer life. Now, be it a desperately-ill person for whom healing from God is the only hope or a lost set of keys that I’d like to find before I next have to go out, I find it easy–no, essential–to bring any and everything to the Lord in prayer Day by day, the same passages float in a continuous cycle through my heart: first, “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17); then, “be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).

From that time to this, I’ve experienced faith that takes me by surprise–pure, indescribable trust such as I had not known since 8 November 2006. Each time I bring a concern or request to the lord now, I feel almost as though I had already received the answer–the very instant the “amen” is spoken. Because, I know my Lord. I know that I, in and of myself, am “imperfect” if you’re being politically-correct, a fallen sinner if you’re not. But the Lord is so gracious, and He has said that He is our heavenly FATHER. And as one of His children, how can I help but approach the throne of grace with a heart wide open, with hands not grasping yet outstretched, because the Lord gives good gifts to those He loves?

Will this lesson on prayer stay in my heart? It has thus far–even in the midst of opposition. Last week, I felt so spiritually assaulted by emotional crises that prayer did not come naturally–not because of anger or a refusal to accept grace, but because pain prevented either song or supplication. The sorrow lasted for three terrible days, and finally I began to wonder–half to myself, half to God, what I should do.

Pray. Just ask.

Only, ever, and always the voice of the Good Shepherd, resounding in my heart and eradicating all doubt, all fear, all anguish. And now, I remember I asked during that emotional crisis for the strength to accept His love, and He provided. I begged Him for an understanding of Who He is to guide me through those tumultuous storms, and He gave me Job 38 and Psalm 95. I asked Him to bless a particularly difficult day by introducing me to another Christian at my typically-oppressive workplace, and three hours later one of my clients was proclaiming his love of Jesus Christ with such emphasis that it was all I could do to continue with the project at hand rather than launching into a theological discussion with him. I asked, sought, and knocked; He provided, He answered, and slowly but surely, I realized that the door of mercy and joy had been opened to me all the time, and here I was furiously pounding for entrance on the doorframe! He had never left me, even when I wondered whether all He had taught me about prayer was only for a very brief season.

And so I continue–in faith, in hope, in love, knowing that “Jesus doeth all things well…” And as I do, my heart is filled with a new song, a hymn of praise, but something I’ve been singing since that day of restoration in 2004: “I waited for the Lord on high. / I waited, and he heard my cry. / He pulled me out of my despair and showed me to walk: / From fear into security, from quicksand into the Rock…” And a modified verse: “I’ll sing to let the people know that I have been restored. / And [we] will kneel and understand, to return and trust in the Lord.” Yes and

AMEN.

“There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today”

Friday, 12 April. I attend a hymn-sing with little hope in my heart, entirely disillusioned with the vast majority of all churchgoing Christians who, until recently, have been wary of allowing me into their ranks. Never mind that this is an introverted city with little sense of community anywhere; I have begun to feel personally slighted. And so, each time some well-meaning friend or family member remarks that it will be “such a blessing!” to attend this hymn-sing, I find myself battling the inner response, “No, I don’t think it is.”

Then, suddenly, the hymn-sing is upon me. This year, it is held at an Assemblies of God church–which is unusual in and of itself–and so overflowing with joy that I suddenly know what the Azusa Street revivals must have been like. Sitting in a modest folding chair, my heart falls to its knees as voice intertwines with voice. Together we sing–first, “Take Your Burden to the Cross and Leave It There”, then “Some Through the Waters”.

By this time, I have lost all inclination or ability to sing and simply allow my whole being to fill with awe in His holy presence, adoration for this King I worship.

And then, the miracle.

I grew up in and out of various congregations, being the granddaughter of a Baptist minister who later left hat denomination and became ordained as a Methodist, who believes in the active working of the Holy Spirit and has associated with many Charismatic churches over his lifetime, and being the daughter of parents who have been tremendously blessed by both the Church of God and various Calvary Chapels. The bottom line: I worship with those who love Jesus. However, that background does not lend itself to familiarization with any particular denomination’s hymnal. On top of all that, my mother grew up singing so many hymns–and hearing so many more rendered by an incoherent choir–that she seldom taught them to my sister and I.

That said, I am entirely, holistically unprepared for “There Is Sunshine in My Soul”. I have never heard the hymn before and aching crevices of my heart that I have forgotten to fill for years respond to that glorious melody with a fervor that breaks down every defense I have ever harbored. For a long time, I listen to the congregation singing–singing to the Lord, singing at me as I worship in mute wonder, singing with all their hearts:

“There is music in my soul today,
A carol to my King,
And Jesus, listening, can hear
The songs I cannot sing.”

Yes, yes… the song I can by that time not have sung even had I heard the words from infancy. My heart soars on those words, rejoicing in every nuance and every note. I thought that “Some Through the Waters” had given me a brilliant idea of true revival, but here I am experiencing something even deeper. As the congregation continues to sing of “springtime in my soul”, the glory of the Lord Jesus so fills the entire church that, like those Azusa Street worshipers in 1906–or, perhaps more appropriately, like the priests ministering at Solomon’s temple–I want to rejoice in that Shekinah for hours or days, as long as the Holy Spirit continues giving us this wondrous gift. Everything that Tommy Tenney ever wrote in The God Chasers makes sense in that moment–the desire to dance for joy, yet to kneel in deepest reverence, culminating in waves of worship that cannot be explained, let alone penned.

I have no idea whether anyone else feels as I do at that moment. Do they, too, feel the need to cease their song and break into spontaneous prayer and praise–or is their joy so great that they feel that upholding the song is the only way to express it? Or is this just another hymn-sing for most of them, this gift being a healing in my own heart that isn’t necessarily meant for everyone to share? Does anyone–the song leader, the friend who has accompanied me here, or any of the congregation–know just how deeply the Lord is blessing me, them, us, His people?

That is the miracle, Part I. Part II emerges gradually. For years, I have believed that no worship music was so beautiful as that of voices in unison. Congregational or choral music, I felt, was one way of putting into practice Jesus’ exhortation that “where two or more are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them”. Now, as I remain seated in that folding chair in order to keep my service dog under control, with all the congregation standing to sing, I hear how very true that is. Voices in harmony, voices flawed but so beautiful to the One Who created them, voices of men and women and innocent youngsters, sopranos and altos, tenors and the occasional base, instruments lending their own voices to this chorus of majesty, voices of soothing peace and cracked weariness, people hungry for more of the Bread of Life… And suddenly, I can see them all through His eyes again–no longer a nameless, faceless mass of “good churchgoers” who will not let me into their ranks, but each individual a person whom our Lord Jesus loves and whom, through His grace, I too can learn to love. This is the Body of Christ behaving as it should, the family of God loving the Lord and loving each other as I haven’t seen in a long, long time.

Later, much later, I unpack from my purse a small voice recorder and attach it to my computer, open Audacity, and proceed to turn the entire experience into an album for personal use. Yes, I record church services. But that’s our secret, my beloved reader–our joyful secret, which I’ll attempt to explain in a separate post. Suffice it to say for the present that the intricacies of congregational worship are too beautiful not to be preserved if such preservation is possible; that the recordings are generally of such poor quality as to appeal only to those who were actually at the event; and that they are for my use only. From Audacity to iTunes to my iPod… A miracle preserved, and a constant reminder of the sunshine that lingers constantly in my soul!

* * *

The above was something I really should have written about four months ago, as the events were taking place. What kept me? First, my sister’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis–but that should never have put an end to my writing, and certainly not for so long. What? Is there “Sunshine in My soul” when I’m attending a hymn-sing, but only sorrow when I face trials? And yet, the Word proclaims, “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul”. And, too, “shall we accept good from the Lord and not difficulty”? Yes, I should have continued to write–about all the “flowers of grace [that] appear” even during hardships, and the glory that will linger in my soul as long as I am on this earth, the more radiant glory I will experience after that time… Yes, there was much to write about.

Why am I writing this now? Because, quite frankly, the Lord is giving me grace to do so. For weeks, I had been praying for the ability to put pen to paper again, but always felt lacking in some area–either in words to express His holiness, or in content, or in perceived audience. I have long been under the notion that writing that is not read by at least one other person is not worth producing. Not true! Writers: If no one sees what you write except our heavenly Father, it is more–so much more–than enough. Anyway, I had always felt lacking in these areas–as though I had been told to build a house (to write), but did not have any materials (words) or building site (readers) or floor plan (content).

And then, today, I assembled my two closest friends and asked them if we could pray together about this problem. Again, “where two or three are gathered together in My name”… As we prayed, I felt immediately at peace about my writing-less situation. This evening, I thought that perhaps I could simply sketch an outline of what has been taking place since 12 April. As I began, though, the Lord planted in me enough joy to reconstruct the day of “Sunshine in My Soul”, which I had resolved to write months ago but had never accomplished. If He wills and by His grace, I would love to continue from there. I have so many dates to enumerate–3 June and 7 June and 19 June, 1 and 2 July, 22 and 25 July, and mayhap 4 August–so many moments in which the Lord revealed His faithfulness and mercy. Lord, may I continue this project, only and always to glorify You and to pour out the fragrant oil from my alabaster box.

Hallelujah.