“Talitha Cumi”: His Touch, His Word, His Voice

Please Note: This is the text of a speech that I recently delivered to a Bible class. If you have any further questions, please feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll get back with you.
Beloved readers, my heart would like to ask yours a question. Have you ever felt like you were dying–even after you came to know Jesus? Have you ever felt shriveled up, weighed down by sorrow or pain or fear, like you were going to wither away? Have you ever felt dry and parched spiritually? I know I have–sometimes for weeks or months. All the gory details would fill pages, perhaps volumes, if I wrote them down. But the Lord Jesus has given me an answer so great, so glorious, that it would fill entire libraries–never mind my few pages!
In Mark 5:40-43, we read of a child who had just died: Jesus “took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.”
This child had died physically; have we ever felt so sick at heart, or in soul or spirit, that nothing else mattered and we couldn’t see clearly?
And yet, my beloved readers… Can you see Him? In that desolate room, amid such grief, He took the child by the hand. He does the same for us–He touches us with tenderness, comfort, compassion. Then, He speaks. His message to us has three parts:
“Little girl”… We may not be able to understand the intensity of this because of cultural differences, but He was identifying with who she was in that moment. Perhaps the translation read more like, “My child.” How does He address you? “My son? My daughter? Dearly-beloved? Young man? Chosen vessel? Man of valor”? Or does He call you by name?
“I say to you”… This is so powerful because Jesus’ authority is more than enough for our need, no matter how great it may seem to us. “I say to you,” says our Father, says His Son, says the Holy Spirit. This is the most important part of the message, and it is enough. Oh, do you hear that authority in His voice!?
“Arise.” That simple command follows directly from Jesus’ authority. Because He is all-powerful, we may arise–not in our own strength, but in His.
This is what Jesus says to us. Now, let’s look at what He does for us.
The girl stood and walked. Immediately–there was no protracted recovery, no continually feeling weak, no waiting to see whether she was really healed. No, she stood and walked, and ate. That is the power of God–His power allows us not only to rise, but also makes us whole enough, often immediately, to walk with Him and to feast on the Bread of Life.
And when He does, the result isn’t just revival in our own hearts. Mark says that all who knew of the girl’s healing were amazed. When Jesus touches us, we are able to so radiate His glory and presence that others will see His work in us and glorify God. That goes back to what many of us are learning about ministry–God works in us to comfort others, all for the aim of furthering God’s kingdom.
I hope the answer for you is no, but I’ll ask again. Do you ever feel like you’re dying–though you have tasted His goodness? Call out to Him. Ask, seek, and knock. He says the same thing to all of our hearts. Calling to you tenderly, touching your life, He will command, “I say to you, arise.” And soon, perhaps in the next instant, you will be strengthened. Even those around you will be amazed, and you will go on your way, leaping and singing and feasting… REJOICING!

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“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”

Ordinarily, I make a point of trying not to post two blog entries on the same day. However, the Lord has impressed this on my heart, and I feel I ought to write it.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let me ask you two questions. Answer them with whatever comes first to your mind. It may be helpful to write down your answers.

Does God love you?

Do you love God?

And now, did your answers to those two questions tell you anything about yourself that you didn’t already know?

They certainly did for me. I actually got this exercise from a little book of Christ-centered questions–a combined journal, private Ungame, and compendium of writing prompts. Here’s how I answered:

Does God love me? Well, um, I think so… I mean, the Word says He does… Sometimes, I don’t feel it–don’t feel forgiven, can’t accept His grace. God loves me, because the Bible says so and I trust the Bible–but I don’t know that He always likes me, that He is pleased with me… most of the time.

Do I love God? Yes, yes, yes! Yes! He is my all in all, my everything… He has given me all that I will ever want or need…

Dearly beloved, do you see something grievously, heart-breakingly wrong with this picture?

Besides the fact that I wasn’t accepting God’s grace to begin with, which is horrible enough, what I was initially conveying was that I somehow thought my love was stronger, more emphatic. It isn’t! I was clinging to the Savior, but forgetting that He was still holding me, still loving me like the heavenly Father He is. And whose love is ever greater–the Father’s for His young child, or the child’s? My thinking is both presumptuous and sad if I don’t understand the depth, the riches, of God’s infinite love.

I see this attitude in my daily interactions with others. When I don’t understand the love of my Lord, I tend to wonder if my relationship with Him will be destroyed in one fell swoop. Day by day, I fear that someone or something will separate me from the love of Christ, despite what is written in Romans 8:38-39. It is then that I become almost defiant. On one such occasion, I was asked by a very sincere individual what is important to me. My response: “My faith is most important, and if ANYONE were to take it away from me, I fear I would waste away from grief!” This is what happens when I do not remember that the Lord loves me–and you, beloved brethren–too much to allow that to happen. And, in the light of what Scripture says about God turning no one away, and about no one being able to snatch the sheep from the Good Shepherd’s hand, what I said was really rather silly.

But what happens when I remember His great love? Then, I can answer the question with gentleness: “My faith in Jesus Christ is foremost in my life–I’ve never known such great and infinite love.” I can respond with confidence because I know that our heavenly Father will not forsake one of His children, even if His child sins against Him. It’s a different, beautiful, wholly trusting mindset–and all of us, particularly perfectionists like myself, will find our walk with the Lord much more satisfying if we practice it.

Some Scriptures for your further edification and encouragement: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (I John 3:1). And again, “We love, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). . What is more, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). What wondrous AGAPE!

Or, feast on this: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:15). And this: “”Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Or, for a vivid picture at this endless love of our infinite God, what about this: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. … Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:3-5). Now, would He make those glorious, comforting promises if His love were not far, far beyond what we could ever conceive–great and powerful, filled with grace and mercy?

But really, beloved, what is most important are these words of our Lord Jesus, words that convince us of His love like no others: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. … Truly, I say to you, you will be with Me in paradise. … Woman, behold your son. … Behold your mother. … My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? … I thirst. … Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit. … It is finished.” (Luke 23:34; Luke 23:43; John 19:26, 27; Matthew 27:46; John 19:28; Luke 23:46; John 19:30). I could go into all of these in much greater depth and hope to do so, if the Lord wills, in the weeks leading up to Resurrection Day–particularly “My God, My God” as it applies here–but for the moment, let us just focus on that wondrous, blessed gift. It should have been my sin to bear, but He bore it. What greater love is there than that?

The same questions, new answers:

Does God love me? To the point of cleansing–grace and mercy washing over me. Infinitely, mightily. More than I know, enough to cover a multitude of my sins and errors.

Do I love God? Yes, but falteringly, compared with His HESED. I will grow in love and obedience, but only through Him. He is still my all in all, but His greatness is so much more. Yes, I whisper, I love God.

Addendum: “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”, from the album KING OF LOVE by the Stoneleigh Worship Band.

“I’m So Wonderfully Made”, Part II: The Challenge, and How He Surmounts It

I am an exceptional person.

In my previous post, I explained that this merely meant that I was a person with many idiosyncrasies–some of which have historically driven my friends and family to distraction. I mentioned that, while my detail-oriented personality is often a gift, it can also be a profound challenge.

Take yesterday and today, for instance. Everything was over-stimulating–the tiniest little thing. People cutting food from several feet away sounded like claps of thunder. When Naomi, Jedediah, and Hannah spoke in animated excitement about their days, their moderately-loud voices registered for me as shouting, and all I wanted to do was flee to the quietest environment I could find. I can no longer eat any Campbell’s soup products with any enjoyment because I can taste many of the chemical additives they use. The same goes for certain non-organic brands of chocolate milk. At this very moment, I’m listening to the muffled chatter and dulled instruments of a television that was never turned off, and wishing with all possible fervor that the sound perpetrator would eliminate all that noise. Quite involuntarily, I can smell the chlorine in our drinking water, and this often puts me off from hydrating properly.

All of this is workable–a nuisance, yes, but nothing I haven’t experienced before, and certainly nothing that need impact my spiritual life. But then there are the more profound challenges. The same mind that can pick out a single anointed singer in a congregation of hundreds or thousands also has such literal tendencies that, if I am told that we will be going somewhere in fifteen minutes, I eschew our departure at fourteen-and-a-half minutes. The same heart that cherishes the cold and snow because it brings people closer together trembles so much at the thought of encountering bees or other stinging creatures that I scarcely leave the house during the summer. If you stub your toe, you acknowledge that it hurt, but forget ten minutes later that you ever sustained an injury; for me, the same stubbed toe often hurts for over an hour. The same trait that causes me to associate a lilac-scented air freshener with a magnificent day of freedom has also caused me to refuse any analgesia save Tylenol and Motrin since 2005, due to a traumatic medical experience. The same mind that gets so readily focused on a precious worship song or something I have read in the Word is terrible at multi-tasking; if I’m asked to make coffee, reminded to call to schedule an appointment sometime, and asked requested to describe the armor of God–all things I am more than capable of doing individually–I may pause with a coffee filter in my hand, describe the armor of God in elaborate detail, and relegate the appointment call to the back of my mind, but not without first having to deliberately assign priorities to those things–and never, never would I make coffee WHILE describing the armor of God! I have always had a tendency to sled or ski down slippery slopes, going from Point A to Point K via Point W in a matter of seconds. Change, no matter how insignificant, can be very trying to accept. The same mind that wants to follow hard after the Lord sometimes construes very legalistic ideas in order to keep me on the straight and narrow. I once read a little book by Corrie ten Boom entitled NOT GOOD IF DETACHED, in which she mentioned that she carried all of her earthly possessions in one small duffel bag when she traveled. You, my beloved reader, would probably read that, conclude that it made perfect sense for Corrie’s needs and the places to which she traveled, and move on with your life. I, on the other hand, determined that I, too, must consolidate my luggage, no matter where I might be traveling or for how long I would be gone. Good Christians, I decided, only ever carried duffel bags. Consequently, permitting myself to carry only a few things and owning a Braille Bible that takes up six feet of shelving, I ended up without some of the New Testament and all of the Old during a three-month vacation out-of-state. You never know just how much you need the book of I Chronicles until you’re without it.

We can approach all of this from one of two standpoints–philosophical or psychological. From a philosophical perspective, it’s easiest to simply say that I have a heart of gold–which, again, is not to say that I’m perfect. Gold, you see, is beautiful to gaze upon, used for glorious endeavors, was once employed copiously in making the furnishings of the tabernacle. Yes, gold has its uses–but it isn’t perfect. It is beautiful, but impractical. It is far too malleable to be used in the fashioning of a shelf or door hinge or piece of electronic equipment. It bends too easily for anything heavier than worshipful or decorative purposes. And, if it has imperfections, they are much more visible than, say, the imperfections in aluminum. Aluminum must not be constantly refined if it wishes to be beautiful–indeed, aluminum’s purpose is not to be beautiful but to be used for more practical aims. Hearts of gold are filled with worship and praise, but have a tendency to be altogether too sensitive, too willing to bend under pressure, not quite strong enough by the world’s standards, and even the standards of some churches who want more aluminum and steel-hearted servants in their leadership positions.

Psychologically, I suppose you could say that I am over-analytical. That has always been a part of me. Coupled with post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and occasional depression, however–none of which was I created with–that analytical mindset can get me in trouble.

But do you know what has the potential to draw us all so very, very close to the Lord Jesus? Tempests of various kinds. Certainly, I do not believe that God causes our trials–but I do know that He uses them to glorify Himself, and to help us remain in Him. It’s a matter of choice and of perspective. When we are overworked, overwhelmed, and overwrought, we can flounder about in the storm, trying to steer our own small boat and keep it from capsizing. Or, we can approach the One Who has power over all storms. We can cry out with the disciples, “Save us, Lord, we are perishing!”–although we might then be rebuked for our lack of faith. But to be chastised by the Lord is a joy mixed with the sorrow, for He disciplines those whom He loves. And then, whether we have cried out in terror or simply come to Him with abiding trust, we can watch Him calm that storm in our lives–behold His power, His control over everything that shapes us. And when all becomes calm and that boat of ours is stable, we can fall to our knees and worship Him–because He is God, and because He has been so faithful to us. Do I enjoy the trials I put myself through by considering each situation a hundredfold? No, but I do love the way in which the Lord uses them to draw me to Himself and, in the process, to continue shaping my character.

Many, many times following an in-home infusion procedure, I have felt thoroughly overwhelmed. Perhaps the infusion did not go as well or as quickly as it could have, or perhaps someone in the adjoining room was watching an obnoxious television program. It has been in moments like these that the Lord has so clearly reminded me of my need for Himself. What if I were more resilient? If that obnoxious program did not combine with the medical procedure in the way it does, then I might not have the need to seek the Lord the way I do. As it is, I often find myself in the sanctuary of some quiet room, listening to the local Christian radio station and worshiping the Lord. If I had aluminum at my core, there would be no need–but gold needs reshaping and refining in order to be the best it can be in His service, and those moments spent in worship as a post-Protein C exercise are some of the most fulfilling in my life.

In this state, too, I find that I quite literally need the Lord day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. I am not given to cute little slogans because I feel that theology is almost always more complex than what a five-word thought can construe. However, if I were to plaster a saying on bumper stickers, bracelets, and T-shirts, it would be this: “Everything with Him; nothing without Him.” Back in high-school, I found myself feeling spiritually bereft. I was a young Christian at the time and was finding my faith tested by various circumstances. I think that most people would have left that part of their life in the Lord’s hands for a few weeks in order to concentrate on friends, family, schoolwork, and after-school activities. My response? I went to and from school, but that was about it. I spend the rest of that miniature valley cloistered in my room with the Bible, THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, and what little worship material we had at that time, trying to repair what had gone wrong in my daily following of the Savior. Even schoolwork got just enough attention to please instructors–not the thorough job I was accustomed to doing. I’m not proud of the latter admission, but I discuss this to illustrate the fact that the kind of over-analyzing I do facilitates a need that goes beyond anything in the world. Again, not something He causes or desires in my life, but something that He has used to keep me relying on Him every day, just as the people relied on Him to send manna during their desert wanderings.

And then, there’s the fact that the Lord often uses all of this to refine me, to make me more like Him if I will surrender all those frustrating quirks to Him. If the tiniest injury causes me more pain than the average person, all the more opportunity to sing and pray and give thanks until the throbbing passes. If the sound of animated conversation is filling me with dread and anger, what better opportunity to ask the Lord for patience, and to allow Him to develop in me the fruit of His Holy Spirit? On days when legalistic thoughts about the weight of luggage engulf me, it is then that I must cherish His grace more deeply than ever before, allowing Him to wash away every trace of those self-imposed regulations.

And you, my beloved reader? Chances are, you neither associate all types of furniture with moments in your spiritual life nor read people’s time-related approximations in literal terms. Quite probably, you are not guilty of slapping sincerity onto a conversation that merely required social small talk, nor do you find multi-tasking a grave impossibility. But you, too, have personality quirks–traits that are both a gift and a challenge. Mr. Businessman, you who are reading this while working on your fourth PowerPoint presentation this week, the assertive leadership qualities you have can be used to conduct a successful meeting, but can also be used to less of an advantage when your nine-year-old son accidentally throws a ball through the kitchen window. Devoted mother of three, the gentleness with which you shape your children’s lives is a gift almost exclusively, but take care that your soft-spoken ways don’t keep you from sharing vital information with someone in the church, if necessary. Highly-sensitive college student, empathy is one of God’s best gifts to us, so long as that empathy doesn’t lead to naiveté in whom you trust, what you are willing or able to give.

My point? We all have personality traits–whether conventional or not–that the Lord will use for His glory. Jesus proclaimed that He is the vine, and that we are all branches that must remain in His Word, in His grace and mercy, in order to accomplish anything for His kingdom (see John 15). Aside from direct gifts of the Holy Spirit, everything He gives us–from talents and skills to personality traits–can be used as a tool for His glory, or turned inward to be used for our own self-centered purposes. But with His help and by His grace, we can allow Him to refine those traits that are still rough around the edges–redirecting all that analyzing for the use of studying the Scriptures, for example, until there is none left over for legalism or literalism. As He gives the grace, I will continue to use even those things that create tempests in my life to get closer to Him, to glorify Him in all I can. We are fearfully and wonderfully made–a gift of our loving Creator, Who will use what He has given us to glorify Himself, if we let Him..

“Your Grace Is Sufficient for Me”: An Allegory

My name is Ready-Writer, and I am a scribe in the service of the King. I have been employed at this work for many years, ever since I discovered the most beautiful Manuscript in the world. That Book has become breath and life to me, and my work for the Author is the most wondrous possible way of spending my life.

All the King’s scribes wear the same clothes. We wear beautiful, soft garments that are durable enough to withstand some ink stains and that may be washed when our day’s work is done–washed so very, very white that they reflect some of the King’s own beauty and always bring me to tears when I put on my robe each morning. Each of our garments is emblazoned with the royal insignia–a helmet, a shield, and a sword, and beneath these the words “truth, peace, righteousness”.

From morning to evening, I copy this Book onto sheets of parchment, using a feather quill pen and a well of ink. When I need supplies, the King provides them freely, for it is His will that I make all His words known to the people. Every jot, every tittle, every curve and swoop of the pen as recorded in the original Manuscript–must be copied with precision and accuracy.

Recently, however, I haven’t been copying anything perfectly. Instead, inkblots dot each section of my work, and sometimes my writing becomes so shaky that I doubt anyone can read it. A few times, I’ve spilled ink from the inkwell directly onto the parchment. And how can I forget the time when, through an act of carelessness, I tore one corner of a page that I’ve always treasured so? I mourn for the loss of every graceful penstroke, knowing that the Author of this beautiful manuscript will be grieved when He sees my feeble attempts. I will never lose my place as scribe–I do not fear that. But knowing that He, and His beloved Book, radiate perfection–and knowing that I and my wretched copy do not–fills me with sorrow.

Sometimes, I want to give up. One day, I would love to go to my workbench and stare at my parchment all day. If I leave my pen and ink undisturbed, I will not create one more stain upon that already-spotted paper. The Manuscript itself prevents me from doing this. Words about being faithful in small things, about lamps and bushels and salt, compel me to lift my pen anyway, dip it in ink, and continue my task. Five minutes later, I make the first error of the day and again want to step aside and tell the King that I cannot continue on, that His words are imperfect through my hand and pen. But the words I see on the Manuscript before me stir my heart, and again I hoist my pen in trembling fingers and begin again, with all my might.

Perhaps today will be better. Perhaps today I will please the King, Who has commissioned this new copy of His most precious manuscript. Perhaps…

The first letter I pen is marred, an almost unrecognizable scribble on the parchment. Not for the first time, I wonder whether I have really been given the correct tools. Might a better pen, or clearer ink, or less fragile paper, make a difference? But all the King’s scribes use these tools, and none of them seems to have this difficulty. From what I have seen of their manuscript copies, every character is made with calligraphic beauty. No, I must not ask for different tools. The only remaining possibility is that I am inattentive, a poor scribe who does not deserve her position.

I begin to count my errors. Two and three, four and five. From dawn till dusk, I write–a perfect paragraph, and then one so blemished it is scarcely legible. I find more parchment, rewrite those precious words, try to get them right. By the end of the day, I think I may have accomplished something. I have one good page, written in a hand that might be called rigid–not polished and beautiful, but at least I have fewer flaws that I began with.

It is evening now, and I am very tired. My cramped hands and aching back beg for food and rest. I begin to put away my supplies, saving my manuscript for last. As I reach to put the pen away, my elbow knocks over the inkstand. I try to pull the parchment away, but it is too late. The parchment rips from my rough handling, and dark, permanent ink sloshes out, pouring itself over all that I had accomplished today. Every word, every character, every hard-won loop and line and dot–are plunged beneath a puddle of smearing, spreading ink.

It is too much. I cannot look at my ruined pages, cannot clean up the ink that is staining the table, soaking my pen, saturating the left sleeve of the garment all the King’s scribes wear. Without looking, I know that the ink is trickling down across my robe, and I fear for that beautiful royal insignia. But what if I no longer deserve peace or righteousness? What if? . I put my head in my hands and allow tears to cascade over all that my carelessness has destroyed. Yet, deep in my heart, I know that no amount of weeping will wash that ink away. An evening’s worth of mourning will never be enough to replace my ink, or restore to me something that I can joyfully present to the Author of this Book.

Oh, that I had a clean parchment again!–that I had done nothing with it… Would that not be better than what I have made of the day’s work? Tonight, before I lose both my strength and my courage, I will go to Him. I will tell the King that I am unworthy to work in His service and entreat Him to give me some other work to do in His service. I will tell the Author…

I hear a sound behind me. Turning, I see Him approaching. The Author… And there is no place to hide my blemished work. Shame floods through me as I realize that I cannot hide. There is no place to run, and I and my work are both so stained that He must certainly associate them. But perhaps I can use this moment to show Him what a miserable scribe I am. Perhaps when He sees the damage I do in His service, He will send me to do other work. I will ask, when He is near enough.

Slowly, He approaches. As He draws near, I begin to see Him more clearly. Love in His eyes. Purity. More love. Grace. A river of love. Kindness. More love, and then more and more… More than I have ever known. And then I remember why I love the beloved Book I copy–why I love the Author of that Book, and why I even began to work for this great King.

And then, He is beside me. From a shelf above me, He takes a stack of pages–everything I have worked on over the past years. One by one, He examines them. I know He is seeing every wrinkle, every tear, every blot and blemish, every imperfectly-formed letter and everything I have carelessly left out. I want to tell Him that I am sorry, to promise to do better, to ask for different work… But every last syllable I had planned to speak has been muted in the light of the One standing by me. Finally, He puts the reams of parchment on their shelf and looks down at my table with its splattered work.

For many, many moments we stand there. Will He see past the stains? Will He see the tears as well? Does He know why the paper is torn, know that I did not mean to do this? Have I disappointed Him?

Then, He takes my hand and begins to lead me gently away. Away, to a new room with a new table and fresh tools. Turning me toward Himself, He hands me a new garment. A scribe’s garment. One without an ink-stained sleeve. Beautiful insignia. A shield and a sword and a strong, perfect helmet, and below these the words I have come to love so much. Am I then not to be turned away? But if I put on this new garment, what if I stain it again? No amount of kindness will change my nature.

I cannot defy the King. Tears still falling, I put on the new garment. And now what?

The Author, the Kin I love, takes some parchment off the shelf. I’ve never seen this kind before. It is strong and durable, the kind that cannot tear. It is pure, pure white. How can I write on something so pure? How can He expect me to even lift a pen tonight, when I have done so much wrong? Next, He takes a pen–a beautiful pen–and dips it into red ink. In the next moment, He has placed the pen in my hand and wrapped His own strong, perfect fingers around my small, trembling ones. The transfer is so seamless that I can only marvel at the kindness and might in that righteous right hand. And then, He begins to write.

My hand is in His, but He is guiding that pen. And He is writing perfectly, quite unlike my faltering scrawl. Every character is calligraphic yet strong, every word formed with the right amount of ink, with an emphasis I could never muster when I copied. This looks like the writing some of the other scribes produce–beautiful and polished. Only, with His hand guiding mine, it’s even more perfect–exquisite beyond words.

And as He writes, the very Author of that treasured Book speaks aloud every word in a voice filled with majesty, so awesome and powerful that it would bring me to my knees were it not for His steadying hand upon me. And yet, His is the still, small voice I have heard in earlier days, with such gentleness and love that His grace begins to flow over my heart with the ease of the ink on the pure white He is using. . “He will call upon me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. … I will arise on behalf of the needy… and set him in the safety for which he yearns. … My grace is sufficient for thee. … Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. … I desire mercy and not sacrifice. … Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace. … I will never leave you or forsake you. … Lo, I am with you always. … Draw nigh unto God, and He will draw nigh unto you. … I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know Me. … Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God. … He Himself bore our sins. … I have come to seek and to save that which was lost. … He who comes to Me I will in no wise cast out. … Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. … Weeping may tarry for a night, but joy comes in the morning. …”

Long into the evening He writes, my hand following His every move. Every promise, every word of comfort, every exhortation to hope and believe and remain strong… It is so wondrous that I can scarcely comprehend it. Why, these are the words I myself have been trying to copy from the Best of Books over the past week. And He Himself is showing me how to write them, how to pen them in such a way that their very beauty is displayed for all the world to see.

He takes the pen from me, binds those magnificent pages with scarlet thread, and hands them to me. It is then that I understand that I am to keep this most blessed gift, to read it and study it and behold the perfection of every part–the radiant writing, the promises themselves, and all the love they bespeak. I am to take these mercy-drenched words on that pure parchment everywhere I go, as though the words were engraved upon my heart. And then, only then, will I be able to serve as a scribe as I really ought. Now I realize, with much joy and sorrow, that I had been working toward perfection without remembering the true perfection of the King Himself. I had been shaping letters with stanch angles without transcribing the love. I had been filled with fear of blemishes, forgetting that the King alone is able to write without fault–forgetting, too, that my service is rendered to the King of all love, as well as to a Just Judge.

I stand renewed. I will not write with the grace and glory of the manuscript I hold in my hands and heart. But, now that I have remembered the great joy of serving the King, I can continue to make each letter in peace rather than condemnation and pain. Over time, I will forsake my frustrated points and angles and my writing will be filled with calligraphic swirls, just like that of the other scribes.
* * * * *

BACKGROUND:

I began this piece yesterday evening, when I truly felt that I had covered my days with sins great and small for several weeks. Admittedly, I was feeling extremely discouraged. Like Ready-Writer in the allegory, I felt that I had simply poured too much transgression over my heart to proclaim the Gospel to others. Then, the Lord put this little story in my heart. He showed me again how He renews us, and how He fills and sanctifies us. And then, He reminded me of His promises. I, too, have been renewed. I am not perfect, and this may not change my life overnight, but now I know with absolute certainty that I am still His, and that He is gracious and compassionate. Once again, the truth of Christ’s sacrifice has become evident to me, and I stand before Him in the knowledge of His precious love. I cannot give up, but must put on the armor of God, and the garment of praise–Ready-Writer, you know, had both pieces bundled into one. That’s what the royal insignia was all about… And if His Word is in my heart, then I will not be following Him from legalism or fear, but loving Him “because He first loved us”.

I trust that most of my readers will understand most of the allegorical elements I employ here. However, I do want to clear up any confusion about a few things. Like Ready-Writer, we are all scribes who copy down words from the Best of Books–that is, all Christians show the love, life, words, and teachings of Christ Jesus to everyone we encounter. When we sin, and we will, we blemish our parchments, and our message is obscured. If we really fall from grace, then perhaps we spill an entire inkwell over our parchments, saturating our lives with guilt and pain. BUT… Praise be to God that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins! When the hand of the King closes over that of Ready-Writer, this is to symbolize that we own our sin, but that the Lord Jesus paid for our sin… and that He is the only One Who is able to cleanse us from it, and that He alone, by His Holy Spirit, has the power to lead us in the paths of righteousness. There is not one righteous, and we can only live a life of holiness through Him.

I hope this clarifies any difficult points. Not even John Bunyan wrote impeccable allegories; I am sure that my second-ever allegory is far from flawless and may not convey the truth of the Gospel as effectively as it is etched in my heart. So, then, if you have any questions at all or feel that I could improve this story in any way, please feel free to leave a comment. God bless!

“Thy Word”

This is a brief thought, which I will try to keep short. Just a bit of advice for fellow Christians especially, but all people–really!–who feel spiritually dry or discouraged. I didn’t plan to write this post today, but it seemed right.

Yesterday evening, someone happened to mention lentils. Lentils, as in a type of legume–not to be confused with lintels, which refer to the top of a doorframe… Anyway, this casual reference put me in mind of the bread Ezekiel was commanded to make; apparently, lentils were among the main ingredients. This, in turn, led me to conclude that we–the entire family–needed Ezekiel. All of us. But especially me.

Accordingly, I ran and brought the Bible. Without really warning anyone that we were about to plunge into intense and perhaps even incomprehensible territory, I opened Ezekiel to the first chapter and began to read–first, of the date on which the hand of the Lord was upon Ezekiel, all the while recalling that the prophet’s methods of record-keeping were what inspired me to remember the dates of precious moments in the Lord. From there, it was just natural to read of the four living creatures Ezekiel saw–majestic beings, like angels, with four wings and four faces, and high and awesome wheels. I still don’t understand all the profound symbolism that lies in those descriptions of the wheels… Suggestions, anyone? I could have continued all night–reading next about the glorious One Who sat upon the throne above the firmament that was above the four living creatures’ heads. I could have read of those living creatures, turned to Revelation, and examined how John’s vision and Ezekiel’s confirm one another, in that they saw different facets of the same four living creatures. I could have ventured further into Ezekiel and read of a scroll that God caused the prophet to consume, that he might prophesy to many kings and nations of the judgment of God. And then, I could have turned to Revelation XIII to read a similar account–similar, but differing enough to assure all readers that John was not simply copying Ezekiel. I could have read for hours of God’s glory and holiness, of Ezekiel’s reaction when he saw the glory of the Lord, and of John’s similar reaction; of God’s condemnation of sin; and of His promises to Israel and to those who trust in Him; of God’s great redemption in Ezekiel XVI and of His marvelous mercy in all of Revelation; and of the perfect, God-ordained dimensions of the temple in Ezekiel, and of the river of life symbolized in Ezekiel and clearly discussed in Revelation; “The Lord is there”–“Hallelujah! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Ezekiel, Revelation”).

Sadly, there wasn’t time for such an in-depth study–not nearly enough hours in the evening to read both books for myself, much less share them with my loved ones. Someday, perhaps, if the Lord leads me to do so, I will explore those beautiful portions of Scripture here on this blog. But not at the moment–there isn’t time, and I have a slightly different point to convey today.

We all have our “First Love” books–those things we read when we first came to believe in the Savior. Yours are probably Matthew or Psalms or Luke or Ephesians or Isaiah. My father’s is Hebrews. My sister was always deeply moved by Jeremiah. And, impossible as it may seem to some of you, mine have always been Revelation, Ezekiel, John, and Daniel. Well–John probably isn’t that difficult to believe, but Revelation? Daniel? Ezekiel? Yes, Revelation. What I need more of in my life–ever, always, constantly–is a sense of the holiness of God. A sense of His sanctity, His magnificence and splendor and Shekinah glory, His power, and yet His comfort and love, all bundled into three or four chapters–or, in some cases, four or five verses–and tucked into my heart, there to produce such unbounded joy that I have to pause periodically just to sing His praises. Revelation and Ezekiel accomplish this. Such unspeakable joy always floods me in every aspect of those books that I simply must share them with someone, even if I really don’t understand all that is being said. Sometimes, we understand more in the Holy Spirit’s wisdom than what we can comprehend or explain with our mind and mouth.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because my First Love books have always been used of the Lord to set me free–whether the anguish was small or great. Case in point: I was contemplating yesterday the various reasons why I had evidently done nothing truly spiritually fulfilling with the whole household. True, we had read various devotionals and sung many a worship song, but that was usually as a dyad. When I took the Word into the living room and proceeded to read it, it was as though I was dispensing water to very dry soil–in my own heart, at least. I don’t know about the hearts of others, but I needed this with the urgency that plants require sunlight. It was as though my whole being were getting cleansed, washed, purified from all the lingering frustrations of the day.

How often I have found this to be the case! When surrendering to Jesus in 2003, or asking for His direction in 2010, or learning how to follow Him anew in that same year, or fighting false doctrine with the sword of the Spirit in 2009, or attempting to reclaim my joy and vanquish despair in early 2013, I have always found these books helpful and freeing. Of course, I have to actually pick them up and read… Part of the problem usually occurs when I deem myself unworthy of reading certain passages of Scripture, or waiting “until I feel more intense in the Lord”. Not effective… But every time I’ve read certain passages ofScripture, God has used them to shore up my heart an d bring breakthroughs when I felt unfruitful.

What is my point? Whether it’s Mark or I Corinthians, Proverbs or Job, I Peter or I John, you, too, have First Love books–books that the Lord used to touch your heart when you first came to know Him. Certain verses in those books stand out to you and have been instrumental in keeping you in the paths of righteousness, or leading you back to the Good Shepherd should you ever stray. Read them again. Whatever passage of Scripture speaks most clearly to you, take time to read it again. Remember how you first felt about it, or how you felt about it when you most recently read it. Have your thoughts changed? Is the Lord using that passage, or that book, to speak to your heart anew, or about something specific in your life? How can you expound on the context, like I did with both Ezekiel and Revelation? What do the reference notes in your Bible say? If you’re using the NIV, what might the NKJV or te Living Bible or the RSV or even the Authorized Version have to say? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you should wait “until you’re more righteous” to read certain Scriptures–all our righteousness are as filthy rags to Him, and it is His grace that is sufficient. Just open your Bible and read, as you did when you first dedicated your life to Jesus Christ, and see if it doesn’t fill you anew, cleanse your heart, and obliterate any pain or worry that had lingered in the dark, unswept corners of your mind.

I’m writing this because there’s quite a bit of despondency in the lives of certain my my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ–sadness that I cannot lift, or pray about to see it be carried away, or read about until the comfort of those holy words breaks through the cloak of unhappiness that these people are feeling. In other words, I can do little about the suffering I see. Perhaps you, or someone you know, are experiencing silent tears. I was, too–and have many times before. And, even though it doesn’t always set me completely free evry time, I have now found and remembered something that helps.

If you are feeling joyful–but especially if you are feeling sorrow, or to the loved-one(s) in your life who are, I say: Read your First Love books. Pour over those passages that you know have reflected Christ’s love back to you the most over the months or years, and let Him minister to you. Know, just know, that Jesus loves you so much, and that He cares for you. Cast your cares upon Him, and let His all-redeeming love surround you.

“Arise, My Soul, Arise”

Have you ever been to a hymn-sing? Neither had I, until 2010. At that time, local churches, with the help of a wonderfully-gifted song leader, began to host evening hymn-sings about once every three months. If you’ve never been to one, these times of worship feature congregations being invited to sing through entire hymns, in traditional fashion, in order to grasp fully the significance of each word and theological concept. Occasionally, the church and song leaders will have invited special performers–an organist, a harpist, a noted singer who has been filled with peace following a difficult time. And then, there is the request period. Sometimes, we congregants have a tendency to keep the organist and pianist on their toes–requesting everything from “In the Garden” and “Nearer, My God, to Thee” to “Sunshine in My Soul” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”–in April, mind you!

I recently had the pleasure of experiencing one of these precious events. Traditionally, I’ve attended hymn-sings with my sister in Christ, Pianist. However, Pianist was unavailable, so I thought I’d review it for her. Pianist, I don’t think you’ll ever want to miss another hymn-sing for the rest of your life!

Setting: My heart. It is a gloomy place, filled with decidedly unpoetic rainclouds–not the rain of happy tears, but the angry, overcast clouds of unrest and pain. Yes, unrest. I have had little peace and less rest in the Lord, and it shows. On this particular evening, I am scheduled to attend a beautiful hymn-sing where, it is hoped, I can seek the Father’s face once again, and maybe find His presence flooding my life once more. However, both my rides have canceled–Pianist, because she had another event she needed to attend, and another sister in Christ, because she was not feeling well. What am I going to do? Does the Lord not want me to seek His presence? Why, for the past three weeks, have I been so unable to find any time to worship Him? And why now do I have no transportation to the only event I’ve really wanted to attend since July, 2012?

Aloud: “Why, Lord? I do not understand your ways!”

Obviously, I have spoken the prayer more loudly than I had intended to, because Jedediah approaches me and offers to serve as my transportation. Jedediah: literally, “Beloved of the Lord”. Jedediah is my brother in Christ and a strong, solid man of God. He is also far fonder of contemporary worship than of congregational and even choral hymns. I will go with him, but how will he feel about the experience? Will he be blessed by it, or slightly bored? Can I communicate to him how much this means, or even get him to enjoy it with me? Tucking those questions into the back of my mind, and my guide-dog’s identification into my purse, I get hastily into the car and set off with Jedediah, hoping we won’t be too late.

Oh, how lovely! We’re only five minutes late. We’ve probably only missed the prelude–which my parents used to pronounce “pray-lued”, and which I believed was intended as a time for silent prayer until long after I had learned to read! Despite the fact that we are nearly on time, we have to rush into the building, not even properly working with my guide-dog. Once inside, we discover that there is space only in the balcony. Last time Pianist and I were in the balcony, we were cramped in the very last row with people who wanted to talk through the service, and we could scarcely hear either the congregation or the choir. Again, my heart begins to doubt: “Lord, how can I be so close to this time of worship, but not really with Your people? How can we really worship when we’re in the balcony and can’t hear?” I know the answer–not everything in life can be attached to our spiritual lives and, even if this could, what right do I have to question Almighty God? Still a work in progress…

But when we reach the balcony, I make an interesting discovery. First, we are not in the farthest seats; I can hear everything. In fact, I have programmed my recorder for a high-sensitivity setting, so it picks up more than I have ever been able to preserve in the past. With or without the recorder, I can hear the congregation and choir almost as well as if I were sitting in a regular pew. Then, too, we are two of the few people in the balcony and sitting alone, for all intents and purposes. Unlike our last balcony experience, my guide-dog is not cramped, and I can stand to worship if I wish. No one is nearby enough to chat through the service… It’s perfect!

We have, in fact, missed the pray-lude. We are halfway through the first hymn when we finally find our seats. No matter–this is not one I’m terribly familiar with, and I feel we can afford to have missed it. Not so with “No, Not One”. Honestly! To think that I’ve been a Christian since the age of four, yet I’ve never before heard this hymn! The Calvary Chapel worship teams aren’t doing their job… Well, they are, but they don’t have five hours in which to lead the congregation in worship each Sunday–sadly. In any event, the rest of the congregation is obviously acquainted with this hymn, because when the song leader assigns parts, they immediately fall into rhythm with the song. I, on the other hand, am in awe and only catch on to the words “no, not one! no, not one!” halfway through the second verse. And then, there’s that awesome chorus–and I reserve the word “awesome” only to describe the things of God. “Jesus knows all about our struggles; / He will guide till the day is done. / There’s not a Friend like the lowly Jesus, / No, not one! No, not one!” And here I had been feeling all alone… Here, I had forgotten that He would never forsake me. Had abandoned in my heart the notion that I should come to Him for all my rest, my joy and hope and peace… By the time us congregants are asked to sing the chorus one more time, a cappella, I realize that we have a little problem on our hands. When I was packing my guide-dog’s ID, I really should have remembered to stash some Kleenex in that purse of mine.

Next, the song leader introduces a fifteen-year-old organist. He has only been learning the instrument for a short time, but already he is eager to share the gift God has given him with the congregation. As he begins “Come, Thou Almighty King”, something in his playing reminds me of Jedediah. Jedediah, by the way, has been as immersed in the worship service as I am. He is following along in the hymnal, singing his heart out with the rest of us, and not quite seeming to care that this bears no resemblance to Jars of Clay or Hillsong or Michael W. Smith or Chris Tomlin-type worship. Now, the young organist is playing exactly as Jedediah would if he were fifteen and just beginning to learn a musical instrument–I just know it. He would play in this unpolished but joyful fashion, with spiraling little notes in the music, but with the sort of solid strength that Keith Green communicated in his piano playing, and a not-quite-fully-formed yet fervent love to match. It’s just so… Jedediah. Later, I try to tell him so, but can’t communicate it right. So, Jedediah, if you’re ever reading this, know that I saw your heart for Jesus when we attended that hymn-sing.

And now, for the crux of the entire service–the turning-point, the crucial element, the moment without which the hymn-sing would have been like any other church event. Beloved readers, turn off that television, the iPod playing in the background, your cell phone, and that glaring light that keeps shining in your eyes but which you’ve been too lazy to turn off. You should probably even turn off any humidifiers you have on, and your coffee maker, lest you be distracted by the scent of brewing Maxwell House. Now, close the door of your computer room, get your “reading hat” on, and LISTEN.

Quickly, the song leader makes an announcement about the next performers. They will be singing a hymn called “Arise, My Soul, Arise”. Judging from the title, this will likely be ah hymn reflecting the majestic sovereignty of God the Father–rather like “O Worship the King” or “How Great Thou Art”. As the musicians rise to sing, however, and the pianist prepares to accompany them, I find myself introduced to an entirely different hymn from anything I have heard before. The last six syllables of each of the five verses are especially moving–so much so that, for days afterword, I can scarcely wrap my mind around them. The singers weave in and out of lines of music, placing emphasis on the words and on my heart in all the right places. Perhaps it would help if I attempted–be it ever so feebly–to replicate my experience, complete with capitalization where the song’s emphasis struck closest. My screen-reader has never been friendly toward WordPress’ bolding or italic functions, so capitalization will have to do.

Arise, my soul, arise; SHAKE OFF THY GUILTY FEARS;
The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my Surety stands,
Before the throne my Surety stands,
MY NAME IS WRITTEN ON HIS HANDS.

Quite obviously, I need to read Hebrews more deeply, more thoroughly. Of course, our name is written on His hands–but how quickly I forget! And that part about shaking off my fearful condemnation! Each word, indeed, each syllable, is spoken with such conviction that I find the need for Kleenex anew. Beautiful!

He ever lives above, FOR ME TO INTERCEDE;
His all-redeeming love, His precious blood to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
His blood atoned for all our race,
AND SPRINKLES NOW THE THRONE OF GRACE.

At once, the knowledge of Jesus as our Great High Priest, and of the mercy seat, and the throne of God, are all in my heart–there as though they had never left. By this time, words cannot express what the hymn is doing for me, how it is making me feel as cleansed as I did when I first dedicated my life to Jesus, when I first took Communion on my fourth Christmas Eve…

Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; THEY STRONGLY PLEAD FOR ME.
“Forgive him! O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

At this point, two of the singers have ceased their song, and only one member of the trio is left to uphold this verse. It is extremely unpolished, with the worshiper’s voice fading in and out. He begins to sing a second after his piano cue and trails off at times, but–oh!–he understands those words! You can hear it in his voice, the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the joy of knowing His redemption. This singer is saved, and he is confident of that fact. By this time, we have gone far beyond the need for Kleenex. It’s time for big, thick handkerchiefs–which, by the way, I have also forgotten to pack.

The Father hears Him pray, HIS DEAR ANOINTED ONE;
HE CANNOT TURN AWAY THE PRESENCE OF HIS SON.
His Spirit answers to the blood,
His Spirit answers to the blood,
AND TELLS ME I AM BORN OF GOD.

Yes… I knew that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah–even that these three terms are synonymous in English, Greek, and Hebrew, respectively. Yet, hearing it set to music–to these particular notes and with that much trust and faith in the singers’ voices–wraps the concept around my soul in a way that I know I can never forget. And let us not ignore the fact that, all during this presentation of glorious worship, the Lord is laying layer upon layer of peace upon my heart, like plastering walls of security and protection and peace that had once been crumbling fixtures incapable of withstanding the rain that continually fell on them.

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
HE OWNS ME FOR HIS CHILD; I CAN NO LONGER FEAR.
WITH CONFIDENCE, I NOW DRAW NIGH,
WITH CONFIDENCE, I NOW DRAW NIGH,
And “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.

“I can no longer fear”… And in that instant, all my fears of the previous few weeks are swept away, to be remembered no more, carried along to the sea of forgetfulness on those singers’ voices. It is in the stillness that follows that I realize that He has found me, His terrified sheep, and has carried me closer to Himself, to those green pastures that I had longed for. I can again rest in Him, beside those still waters that He has Himself prepared. Absolutely glorious!

Before I tell you who the performers are, let it be firmly and decisively stated that they are three of the most beautiful, salvation-conscious people I have ever heard. Despite my love of British worship music, Stuart Townend has almost never held a candle to these musicians. Each word is sung in such a way that I could immediately tell how close the concepts are to their hearts–that they mean every syllable.

The singers are eight, six, and four years old.

This is no “cute little song”, and certainly not a “nice little performance”. When the hymn ends, the audience applauds–politely, it seems–but I can scarcely catch my breath long enough to whisper to Jedediah, “That is the most beautiful hymn I have ever hard, and in the most beautiful way possible”. Later, when I convert the recording of this performance to MP3, I find an interesting phenomenon. I never do hear three voices raised in worship, but somewhere between thirty and fifty. Tell me all you want that the microphones interacted with my recorder in a unique way, but my sister and I have formed other conclusions…

Since that day, my life has been constructed in iambic tetrameter. You see, I have always imagined the first three lines of each verse broken in half, so that there are not three lines but six, with six syllables per line. In that case, each line is written in iambic tetrameter. And now, so is everything I think about the Lord, or about His wondrous works. What’s more, neither the hymn’s theology nor the hymn itself have been far from my thoughts. Whether on the bus or at work or drifting from room to room at home, I’m either humming or singing: “Arise, my soul, arise … My name is written on His hands. … I can no longer fear. … Dear Anointed One…”

You, too, can have something like this experience. Sovereign Grace Music sells a beautifully live rendering of this hymn, and YouTube features another live version from Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle. Since Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle does not offer its music for sale, but seems to put it out as a free ministry to the public, anyone is free to listen to it without engaging in any inner ethical conflict.

The rest of the hymn-sing is blurry, at best. A few highlights that I do and must remember, for it was to my heart that the Lord was speaking; Somewhere during the middle of the requests, I was still feeling frustrated toward someone whom I ought to have forgiven earlier. At one point, the Lord flooded me with peace and let me know that I could come to Him, and that He would allow me to forgive; I would not have to force forgiveness through my own waning strength. And then–oh, how magnificent!–the Lord gave me a new mission. For days, I had been attempt[ting to DO everything perfectly. Without sleep and without rest, I had been trying to remember every minute detail of my guide-dog’s needs, perform work responsibilities flawlessly, and still have enough energy to maintain a cheerful demeanor when around friends and family. Now, any oak tree can take being climbed, carved upon, and leaned against–but a flower can’t. Certainly, Bethesda Lily couldn’t. So I was feeling utterly depleted. Somewhere between “In the Garden” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, He impressed upon me that my mission is not to prove how much I can and will do in this world, but to show others how to love Him more. So simple, yet such a blessing. Will running about the house tidying up show others how to love Jesus? No… But will kneeling to pray with a hurting sister in Christ, then offering to take some of the responsibilities off her shoulders and make some difficult phone calls for her, help? Perhaps. Will “much serving” be of service to the Lord? But will “sitting at His feet”?

At one time, I believed quite fervently that the hymn-sing featuring “Sunshine in My Soul” was among the most marvelous church events I have ever attended. Now, I see otherwise. Life in iambic tetrameter is awesome–simply awesome.

“He Knows My Name”

Everyone, at least once in his or her lifetime, needs to embark on a period of spiritual restoration. I shan’t refer to it as a retreat because a pastor gifted in semantics once pointed out, quite logically, that we are not called to retreat from anything–from the love of God, from the call to love our neighbors, or even from the spiritual battle in which we all engage (Ephesians 6:10-17)–but to stay the course in all of the above. So, everyone ought to spend some intensive time worshiping the Lord, preferably in a place that invites Bible study and prayer and, at least to some extent, remains free of some of the temporal stresses that tend to entangle even the best of us. Now, if possible, this place should be beautiful–an historic castle, or a well-appointed conference center owned by a Christian organization whose sole mission is to proclaim the Gospel in whatever they can. Or both. What if said Christian organization bought an elaborate, old series of buildings and transformed them into that conference center!? Then, everyone would need to stay there for a period of several days. And while there: everyone, at least once in his lifetime, needs to experience an hour of the most glorious worship music while sitting in a deep, cushioned wicker chair outside a renovated barn that now serves as the bookstore and front desk; to observe the beautiful waterfalls and traverse the myriad stairs leading to and from certain buildings on the grounds while singing “Arise, My Soul, Arise”; to stay in a room whose ornate furnishings all “become strangely dim” in the light of what he is reading in God’s Holy Word; to take Communion and engage in an achingly magnificent foot-washing service with dear friends in the Lord; to marvel at the One Who, in His awesome power, created every delicate flower, every majestic tree, and each imposing stone and boulder; to know that he can approach anyone on the grounds, be they volunteers, staff members, or fellow guests, and begin a conversation; to experience people offering to pray whether the request be simple or complex; indeed, to enter the dining room at each meal and be utterly awed by the sound of men in particular quietly thanking God for food, for certain conferences being held on the premises, for His great mercy–and, even though none of the words are discernible, to hear the Holy Spirit in those praying men’s voices; to have others make his acquaintance not by asking and answering questions about his career, family, or unique characteristics (i.e., a guide dog that may happen to accompany the party of overnight guests), but by how much s/he loves Jesus; to read the red letters, the words of Christ, and focus only on these for the richest possible Bible study; to read a devotional by one Lois Tverberg and have his faith transformed… Yes, everyone needs this! Note: Everyone, at least once in his or her lifetime, does NOT need to experience a sentence as long as mine was. So, we won’t show it to everyone–now will we? Just to those precious readers who have already stumbled upon this post, and to anyone you know who is thoroughly fascinated by protracted T-units. Or, considering that our time of refreshment was punctuated by several cups of peppermint and Earl Grey tea–in a hand-sculpted cup engraved with a Scripture, of course–should I say “Tea-units”?

Everyone, I say, should experience this. I did. So why was I still so disconcerted?

For over two months, I had been planning this time of refreshment with a beloved sister in Christ. For purposes of this post, let’s refer to her as Naomi. It was to be a time of such joy and peace that all the mishaps that had hitherto been dominating our lives–health concerns on every side, computer troubles, spiritual heartaches–could be healed, restored, redeemed, and otherwise set to rights. On the surface, that was exactly what was happening: we were reading the Word, singing numerous hymns, being thoroughly blessed by Don Moen’s song “You Make Me Lie Down in Green Pastures”, devotionalizing our hearts… See above paragraph. And while all of this outward rejoicing was taking place, I was being deeply, miserably attacked. My opponent, of course, was the enemy–we live in a spiritual realm, and sometimes we need to stand stronger in prayer, applying the armor of God to our hearts, during times of intense worship or seeking the things of God. During our three-day “prayer meeting”, Fear and Depression were warring against me, trying to attach themselves to my heart and rendering true prayer very difficult. Have you ever stood in church when everyone around you was raising his or her voice in triumph, victory, and praise when you had a heavy heart and could only half-heartedly whisper about singing of His love forever–not really knowing whether you really could sing of His love for the next twenty seconds, wondering how you could get past that moment so you could focus more truly on Him, knowing it would be better in eternity but almost unable to imagine it? Magnify that feeling tenfold, and you might understand what I was experiencing.

I was not really the official leader, but I felt I had to lead. To feed. To allow God to use me to fill others, and especially to show Naomi God’s love for her. Dear readers, please don’t do this. Putting that much pressure on yourselves in never healthy–and it borders on quenching the Holy Spirit in that it assumes that we are fine in our own strength. I’m not, and–pardon my saying this–but neither are you! But I realized none of this at the time. So, my life was an enormous question mark when it should have been filled with ellipses and double dashes. In case some of you aren’t grammatically-oriented, particularly as our language pertains to the faith, ellipses and double dashes are the punctuation marks of worship and praise, respectively… Question marks are not. So why was this desperate monologue floating through my every waking thought: “What if I don’t make this retreat spiritual enough? What if, when we go home and it’s all said and done, we have really had no quality time in the Lord? What if I err in some way–doctrinally? theologically? in my fervor, or lack of it, in worship? What if we don’t read enough Scripture? Why am I feeling so bereft, so depleted of joy or peace or the anointing of the Holy Spirit? Where are You, Lord?” And the pain. Somehow, I could not seem to relinquish all that had happened in the past. Instead, I was remembering every mistake I had ever made including the sins I had already repented of, every traumatic moment I had ever experienced, every unkind word ever said to me… This was condemnation, not conviction–there is a difference. Conviction would have led to godly sorrow and a closer walk with Him, but this was only leading to a deep internalization of my utter wrongness, unworthiness, and general state of “Bad Christian Syndrome”. Not of God. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!” But did I listen to that solid Scriptural exhortation? Not exactly. It was all an attack, and I knew it, but still…

Paradoxically, when I was not being oppressed and feeling downhearted, I knew deep in my heart that I was exactly where the Lord wanted me. In the part of my being that no fear can ever penetrate, I knew how much our Lord loves me, and that I was doing things to please Him. Far more than my own works, I knew that He had already atoned for all of the sins I was so mired in thinking about. What was more, I knew that I should forget those things which were behind and press on, living my life in holiness before Him as perfectly as mere dust can (see Genesis II, Psalm CIII).

I knew what I needed–what would either diminish or completely demolish all of this fear. First, I needed to express, and to have others know, that I was deeply confident in my love for the Lord. I needed to cast aside the fear and despair that were disrupting my heart, and focus on proclaiming confidently what the Lord had done for me. Personal worship would help with this, too. I had another need, but it was far too intricate and personal to be written here.

All of this, to say that I was feeling listless during some of our lovely, prolonged, Spirit-led, glory-filled “prayer meeting”. I had done everything in my own strength, and I was weak and worn out.

Suddenly, Naomi called across the room to me. “Do you know what I’ve realized about you?” she asked. She then proceeded to tell me, in vivid detail, how much I loved Jesus, and that she knew I was exactly where the Lord wanted me to be. She spoke of my joy in worshiping Him, and added that I am filled with joy in His Holy Spirit. I had just had a bit of personal worship time, so she didn’t mention that. However, she did tell me of my other needs, both spiritual and emotional–those things which, as I’ve said, seem too private to post.

“Perhaps,” you say, “she saw it on your face. Perhaps she and you know one another so well that this sort of realization is second-nature to her. Perhaps you yourself said something to her that you don’t remember. Perhaps…”

But how do you explain, my beloved reader, that she was repeating only what I had said before the Lord in my prayer closet? How do you explain the gentle, holy peace that encompassed me and drove away all doubt as soon as she had stopped speaking? How do you explain away the fact that, in the silence that followed, the Lord Himself confirmed to my heart all that Naomi had said? And, how do you explain the fact that Naomi had said, word for word, sentence structure for sentence structure, semantics for semantics, exactly what I would have written in my prayer journal that night–personal pronouns being the only exception? That she left nothing out, and that she expressed the needs of my heart in the precise sequence in which I myself would have expressed them had I dared communicate what she had just said?

Later, when I asked Naomi if she knew she was speaking to me from the Lord, she said that she had had no idea. If she only knew…

It took a few hours for all of this to sink in. When it did, I realized a few things: First and foremost, the Lord had set me free the moment she spoke those words. I had a renewed, radiant outlook on life, particularly my life in Him. Then, too, Naomi and I were instantly closer than we had been ten minutes before.

At the same time, a desperate question that had lingered in my heart for years was resolved. In mid-2003, I was attending an unfamiliar church when a man in the congregation proclaimed that he had something to tell me from the Lord. What he said next was filled with condemnation and fear, and did not reflect my spiritual life in the least. However, I was relatively young in the Lord at the time and, because I consider prophecy a very holy gift of the Spirit, to be used with all reverence, I believed everyone else did, too. So, naturally, I believed this man–absorbing every word he spoke like a sponge, or a piece of linen cloth that I could never wring out completely. I was “damp” for months, pondering those words and questioning my very salvation at every turn. The worst part was that I was much too ashamed and terrified to share this with anyone else, for fear that they would only tell me it was true. If I was going to struggle with this, I at least wanted to do it alone without a hundred other people telling me that this man was possibly right. I forgive him, and it is a daily process, but it has impacted me greatly over the years; it is difficult to write about, and it has caused me to question/fear/avoid most people who claim to have the gift of prophecy. “What will they see in my heart?” I wonder. “Is it true? Will the Lord reveal to them sin in my life that I had not known existed? Will I feel as though I’m pleasing Him, and then suddenly be rebuked by someone who says he is speaking in the Lord?” Time and again, brothers and sisters in Christ have tried to offer support with this, telling me that the Lord doesn’t work that way, that He will chastise me Himself if there be any wicked way in me, and that He will only allow others to see into my heart in that way if I don’t listen to His Holy Spirit, and furthermore, that most people who are permitted to prophesy over one another speak words of encouragement… Still, I feared. When Naomi told me what was in my heart, from the Lord–though she didn’t know that!–I began to see that this was how true encouragement from God worked. I saw that people can be given this gift for good, to be used to encourage the brethren, and that I had nothing to fear from actual believers who might be given something for me from the Lord. Will I resolve henceforth never to worry about being near other Spirit-filled Christians, for fear of what happened in 2003? Well, I’m still working on it… But now, for the first time, part of that wall I had erected is gone–chipped away, to let the light of His glorious presence in. By His grace and with His aid, I will allow other Christians to speak to me in the Lord if they have something to say.

And in the stillness of those post-freedom hours, I heard in my heart over and over again, “O LORD, Thou hast searched me and known me! Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; Thou discernest my thoughts from afar. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, Thou knowest it altogether” (Psalm CXXXIX, RSV, pronoun capitalization added). And to my heart, the Holy Spirit was saying, “My child, I know your heart.”

If I had had any doubt of this, it was obliterated late that evening, as I was preparing for private Communion. Before I ever take a step in that direction, I try to engage in a time of worship. Quite by accident, without my looking for it or even knowing it existed, I stumbled on a profound song by Michael Card. (I often forget or find myself unaware that I own a certain song, because I have a habit of buying worship music and then failing to listen to it for months or even years.) What, you ask, was Michael Card setting to music? Psalm CXXXIX. Psalm 139. The selfsame psalm that begins, “Lord, You have searched me and known me…”

Everyone, at least once in his or her lifetime, needs a Psalm 139 experience. You don’t necessarily need it in an elaborate historic setting–in fact, it might be better in ordinary surroundings, “when all is stripped away and [you] simply come”… Just you, in worship, knowing that He knows your heart, alone with your Savior, your Teacher, your Rabbi, Jesus, your Messiah, the Holy and Anointed One…

Hallel!