My beloved readers, I beg your pardon for any spelling or typing errors that appear in this post. My screen-reader, Microsoft Word’s spellcheck, and WordPress are not cooperating with one another. I was forced to choose between publishing a highly imperfect document or publishing nothing at all, and written worship is important enough that I did not fel I could allow this piece to languish for simple want of the correct technology. I’ll never forget the night last year when I woke myself up praying. Now, that isn’t terribly unusual—it has happened at other times. It was what I was saying to the Lord that surprised me, for there seemed to be almost no way that He would answer my little request. All I know is that I was deeply asleep, but that in the next moment I found myself fully awake and crying out, “2004—Lord, I want it back! I want all of that back, and I need more of Your presence!”
If you haven’t already, I’d suggest that you take a moment and read Parts I and II of this story. If you’ve already done so, you know that I had been at peace in 2004—indeed, from 2002 to 2006—and that nothing really frightened me or threatened to shake that glorious knowledge I had been given of God and His wonderful Word. You’re also aware that 2006 brought with it such fear, anguish, and spiritual turmoil that I continued to suffer from the aftermath of that six-month era long, long after the Lord had set me free from the attack itself. You know that everything from heart pursuits like spiritual warfare and intensive worship to mundane things like multi-tasking and focusing on joyful memories was close to impossible from day to day.
But as I saw it, my prayer to have the peace of 2004 restored was ridiculous and ungrateful. I had been changed by the spiritual trauma I had endured, and that was just the way it was. Was not asking God for more restoration than He had already given me implying that I didn’t find His grace all-sufficient? Deep within me, there lingered a bittersweet memory—of lying in bed each night during the spring of the second year after I had received the Holy Spirit. My prayer life at that time was something like this: “I have thanked You for all that You have provided and all that You will do, for Your Word and Your promises… I have asked that those who need a relationship with You be drawn to Your truth… Is there anything else? No, nothing else, for You are my Provider, and I have no needs—none whatsoever—because Your joy and peace are filling and flooding over me.” Who wouldn’t want that back? The memory was hard to shake—that sweet season of blessing and glory—but I made the effort, relegating that piece of my spiritual history to the back of a proverbial attic. A round self-scolding completed the moment, and I resolved that I would not ask for anything like that again, even in my sleep.
But—don’t you know?—I almost wonder whether the Lord Himself didn’t allow me to pray that prayer, when I was half-asleep and had fewer defenses against desperate, hope-filled supplication. I wonder, in hindsight, whether that prayer wasn’t so very ungrateful after all—whether, perhaps, I would have received deepest restoration much sooner if I had only sought it. “Ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2).
You see, it was answered—not all at once, but so gloriously that words can scarcely describe what He has been doing and what, I trust, He will continue to do. “He Who began a good work in you…” (Philippians 1:6).
It was a few nights later that I had a beautiful dream in the Lord. I wonder, though, if He would have answered so gloriously if I hadn’t asked to be restored. Something to think about… In this dream, I was sitting in the place where I always go to worship, journaling and listening to an allegory by Dennis Jernigan. The allegory/music, by the way, is called DADDY’S SONG, and is heart-rending in the mercy and grace it portrays; I recommend it to anyone seeking a closer relationship with God. Anyway, as this dream continued, the Lord convicted me that I had been much, much too complacent. I had spent my time concerned about surface-level emotional cures for myself, without taking time to pray for the brokenness in others’ lives. I had been self-seeking in material things when I could have sacrificed for His kingdom. I had relied on the wisdom and counsel of man, rather than seeking His will and peace. I had given in to every complaint, every moment of pain, every distressing circumstance without even beginning to seek the Lord. I needed to repent.
Does that surprise you, my beloved readers? Did you expect to read a paragraph beginning, “The Lord gave me a dream of His presence”, and ending with the words or concept, “He has fully restored me and this will never be a problem for me again”? As believers, and especially within Continuationist circles sometimes, that is the outcome we expect. Don’t misconstrue that last statement—I’m right there among the ranks of the Charismatic churches and have always, always cherished the Holy Spirit and all that He is and does in our lives. That’s the only reason I feel that I can even come close to touching this discrepancy and calling some of the churches out on it—I’m Charismatic, and I have been guilty of exactly what I’m trying to get the rest of you to re-perspectify. Anyway, back to this dream, what the Lord showed me, and how we sometimes feel God will work in our lives.
Why didn’t God simply restore me that night? Why did I need to repent first? Because, my beloved readers, that’s where it begins. We see this numerous times throughout Scripture: Gideon was mightily used to defeat an army of Israel’s enemies, but first he was commanded to destroy the idols that he, his family, and his town had been worshiping; Paul was sent throughout the Roman world to proclaim the Gospel, but he could never have done any work at all in God’s service if he had not repented for his past life of sin; Jesus told Peter to feed His lambs, but only after Peter wept over denying Him… If our hearts are hard, cracked, dry clay, then they can’t be molded and shaped into beautiful vessels for the Master’s service. We must soften that clay with tears, or ask God to give us a willing heart.
I love what Stormie Omartian says on the subject. In her books STORMIE and LORD, I WANT TO BE WHOLE, she describes horrible, unspeakable abuse that she suffered during her early childhood. Shortly after coming to Christ, she decided to see a counselor from her church. This woman listened to Stormie’s story for a mere thirty minutes, which some of my readers will doubtless feel is unique from a purely psychological perspective, before telling Stormie what to do. Before praying for restoration, and before even praying to forgive her abusers, Stormie was asked to make a list of every sin she herself had ever committed. She was to write all of this down and ask the Lord to forgive every transgression as soon as it came to mind. The result? During the next joyous counseling session, Stormie Omartian was filled with peace in His presence—set free in a much deeper way than confronting the abuse first would have done. Eventually, she and her counselor did discuss forgiving the people who had caused Stormie such heartache, and those traumas were healed—but first and foremost, we need to look at ourselves. If we’re relating this to the agony I suffered in 2006, we can say that, while brothers and sisters may have said and done hurtful things during that time, I didn’t have to let it go on so long, nor did I have to allow the bitterness to build long after the Lord had removed the catalysts from my path. That was on me—hence, the Lord calling me to repent.
Did I? You want to know. Well, not at first. At first, I was so stunned that I tried to dismiss the whole thing, asking the Lord whether that moment was really from Him. I knew better—we as Christians know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and a stranger’s voice we will not follow. Nevertheless, I edged around my need for repentance by asking the Lord how I could be sure He had given this to me, by saying that I didn’t know what to do or how to do it, etc. Do you know what the truth was, my beloved readers? I was terrified. Somehow, I felt that repentance and surrender would lead to God asking me to do something that I felt unable to do—that as soon as I gave Him back control of my life, He would take from me everything that mattered in the flesh, or something equally scary. Oh, my beloved readers, don’t do what I did. Don’t question God for three days before getting on your knees. Don’t ask and plead and verify, don’t seek another answer, don’t fear what God might require of you, because whatever it is, it will be for your good and out of love and not fury. Don’t do what I did. Listen, and obey.
When I finally decided to do just that, I had no idea what I was doing. It was a simple, faltering prayer. “Lord, I do not know how to follow You better, but I will obey, I will serve You, I will read Your Word. And please forgive me for all of my complacent, self-centered ways.” And after that prayer—after it? Did floods of restoration come then? Not yet, my beloved reader. Instead, there were baby steps toward holiness—reclaiming some of the ways I had served God in the past, but often stumbling as I attempted to move forward.
First, of course, the victories. I sang more, read more, loved more. I began thanking Him for His glory and holiness, for Who God is, and not merely for the earthly blessings He provides. I began trying to honor Him in small things like what I ate and how I spent my time—less enrichment reading, more spiritual. I devoted one day a week to Him as a day of rest. Although it still broke my heart to have other Christians disagreeing with me, I tried not to enter the fray, but to bring peace. Occasionally, I even managed not to become entirely crushed when people disliked my actions. Once or twice, I found myself saying, “I know you don’t like what I did, and I do ask your forgiveness—but I know that our Lord still loves me.” I hadn’t been able to do that before. And when I did stumble, which happened more often than I would have liked, I was much more remorseful about my sins. Then, too, the Lord began to demonstrate His sustaining, strengthening power in the midst of my own weakness. Prior to this call to holiness, I would become reduced to a shrunken mound of misery whenever I experienced conflict. Now, instead of retreating into complete solitude without the joy or hope afforded in prayer, I found myself running to Him, flinging myself at His feet in some sanctuary somewhere, turning on the local praise and worship radio station and pleading for rest and peace and consolation. Not the most faith-filled reaction, but at least I was running to the right Source.
Certain things remained unchanged, though. I still had difficulty multi-tasking, trusting others, and remaining calm during crises. I had repented and turned from my sin inasmuch as I felt was humanly possible, but I had no idea where to go from there. In fact, by March, I began to feel again that my spiritual life had come to a standstill—increasing frustration, decreasing faith and trust; increasing pain from past traumas, rapidly-diminishing hope that the pieces of my broken heart would ever be put back together.
Now, you must understand something, my dear readers. My heart-cry of last year and the dream that the Lord gave me were not related in my mind. I did not imagine that He was beginning to answer my prayer to have “2004”–translation, the peace and joy of a by-gone era of worship–in worship—restored to me. I simply thought that this was a call to better service in Him—God is God, He had told me to repent, and I must obey. Nothing more to it. And so, my beloved readers, you can’t begin to imagine what happened next. It was glorious, and entirely unexpected. If the Lord wills, you’ll hear all about it in Part IV.
Addendum: The title for this post is based on Don Moen’s worship ballad, “More of You”. It appears in English on the album “Let Your Glory Fall” and in Spanish on “En Tu Presencia” and “Mas de Te”. It is heartbreakingly, on-your-knees beautiful in its simplicity: “More of You, / And less of Me. / Lord, I pray that there might be / More of You and less of me.” Oh, that is the cry of my heart!