I’ve really been struggling with how to begin. This is one of those stories that weighs and pushes and won’t let go and won’t be forgotten until it’s released. So, I am just going to start with right now.
I just did the dishes and made sure teeth got brushed and read ‘Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth’ and gave seven goodnight kisses. I talked with my husband about work and licensing the dog and made chicken salad for his lunch tomorrow with the leftovers from dinner.
My life is all about ordinary things.
This is a Tuesday, so tonight I gathered my Bible, my journal and this laptop and I made my way across the yard to the cabin; the tiny house for company and for quiet.
And, this is where the ordinary stops.
It’s been almost two years since I stood by the woodpile and felt the pleasure of God. One day I woke up with a letter in my mind that I felt compelled to write. As soon as my feet hit the floor I was writing it in my journal and I would write sentences between getting the kids breakfast and finding shoes and feeding the dog. When it was done I typed it up, attached it to an email and then came the moment when I couldn’t bring myself to send it. It took me over two weeks and some encouragement from a friend and mentor before I could bring myself to hit the send button. Insecurity was bubbling over as I thought about my words showing up in email inboxes. I left the computer and stepped outside to get firewood. That is when an unexplainable feeling came over me. There I was doing the ordinary thing of getting wood for the fire, and I suddenly was wrapped in a new sensation that felt like the pleasure of God. It was like he was smiling at my obedience.
I don’t think of myself as charismatic in my worship of God. I like things that are solid and orderly. I like to read and study, to be still and ponder, to hear wise people; to find truth and know it before I feel it. I don’t put a lot of stock in feelings or dreams or impressions. I love Christianity because it is verified by history and great thinkers and you can savor deep, satisfying theology that comes in heavy books and is laid out in letters and words and chapters. I love truth that can be found and sorted out and lined up and applied. Its orderly, it’s trustworthy, it’s solid.
But, God isn’t a theory. He isn’t a philosophy.
He says, “I Am.”
So, that is why I’m here tonight. Because I have another story that is pressing up and in and won’t let me forget it even though I keep trying. I have to remind myself why I’m writing. It isn’t to convince anyone or to teach or to promote myself. It’s to pour out my journey of faith the way it really is regardless of whether or not it sounds sane to others. It’s not to be right but it’s to be honest. It’s peeling back the self-protective skin and exposing the raw reality of my experiences of seeking and being sought. It’s because I believe that ‘He is’ and the pleasure of God is more satisfying than accolades from any other voices. So, this is the story that wants to be shared, and it begins with the same letter I sent two falls ago.
To my precious sisters in Christ,
Since we moved to this hill in the ‘wilderness’, I’ve spent more time with my eyes turned skyward. Our home is open and full of windows facing the west so I find myself pausing often in my work to gaze at the sky. During the day the expanse calms my spirit. The sky is so big and my worries so small. At night when I pause to look up, a billion lights peering back make me gasp for breath. For a moment I feel exposed, finite and vulnerable. There is something about seeing this space between me and the stars that reminds me of our Maker’s power- that even makes me afraid.
And then I remember, “As high as the Heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.”
This God who is so powerful that it makes me tremble to look at his creation, let alone himself, actually loves me with a love as great as the height of the heavens. Just a taste of this love does something to my soul. I hunger for more!
When God created humanity He breathed into us His life; He made us in His image so that we could be vessels that hold and reflect and delight in his glory. Even in this fallen, shamed woman there is something calling out for restoration- that part of me made to delight in God and to be delighted in by him longs to have its purpose fulfilled. And that is the beauty of the love of God… that it is not a passive love. It is a love that reaches down from its holiness and enters into our darkness. That fear when I look into the night sky is the feeling that I deserve to be crushed by the weight of that glory. I am condemned by the way the image of God in me has been broken and turned inward so that it seeks to find and reflect glory in myself instead of in the only worthy God. Jesus, being in the very nature God, let himself be crushed in my place.
How great is the love of Christ to allow that condemnation to fall on Himself so that I can stand and gaze uncondemned. Instead of feeling the shame of exposure I can surrender to his covering. He makes my heart a habitation for his spirit, wraps me in his righteousness and beckons me to draw so near that I am drawn into oneness.
My soul longs for me to abandon myself to this truth and to abide there.
And my confession?
The truth of what he has done should make my knees bow before him and my mouth confess he is Lord. My response needs to be prayer. But I have so neglected the privilege of prayer. “I’ll pray for you,” is too often a polite response instead of an honest promise of action.
Recently, as the leaves have turned, mostly fallen and our first year in the woods turns colder, I’ve had some days of loneliness. I started thinking of activities that could fill my time and connect me to others. I decided I was really lacking vision concerning why God decided to place me here. So, I prayed that he would give me purpose and a vision and that he would show me how to avoid the pitfalls of loneliness and connect to others, especially to my sisters in Christ.
His answer was different than what I expected- it was simply “pray”.
On our property is a little cabin. In the little cabin is a wood stove. What I need to do is to kindle a fire in that stove and to expect God to kindle a fire in my heart.
So, practically, I asked Jon, “Can I go?” He said, “Go.”
So, I’m committing.
Tuesday nights you will know, Lord willing, where to find me. I’m going to kindle a fire in the stove in the cabin and at 7PM I’m going to head out and pray he lets me be an offering on the fire of his Holy Spirit. That He would meet with me and burn his love for others into my heart and that I would offer it back in intercessory prayer.
Will you pray with me? Will you pray for me? I know my little cabin is too far away on a little dirt road in the wilderness to ask with expectation that you would join me physically (though you would be so, so welcome!). But, regardless of that, I so desire to have you a part of my communion with Christ. I want to pray with you in spirit and to pray for you. You are going to be in my heart as I strive to seek his presence more intentionally than I ever have before. Please let me know if you have a burden I can carry into that presence.
And, please pray for me to be consistent. One night a week… just a few hours… but I know how hard it is to pray for even ten minutes. ‘My spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ It is a battle. But I am so convinced that this is real… that He is real… that he wants to be with us. His love is what arms us to fight self and the enemies of human souls. His love is what is calling out, “Come… bring your small spark and let me light the fire!” Jesus, please fill us with the faith to call back, “Here I am, Lord, bring your flame!”
Experiencing God, Experiencing Fear
That first Tuesday found me in the cabin, having kindled a fire in the old woodstove. I sat on the bed with my Bible and my grandmother’s hymnal and I began to pray. Not many words came out before I had to stop. I have had times when I’ve felt overwhelmed by God’s holiness or his love or his comfort. I’ve experienced feeling his nearness when going through something challenging or even beautiful times like the births of my children. I’ve been comforted by the knowledge of the presence of God many times. But, this was different.
I was afraid. I was overwhelmed, not with the intellectual belief in the omnipresence of God, but with an almost tangible sensation. There was a presence that was as real as if a friend had walked in and settled himself in one of the chairs. Instead of comforting it was terrifying. My first prayer that night was for this to stop. I didn’t want to offer myself on the fire of the Holy Spirit. This meeting was too much. I felt like I was going to die. But, as I cried out for distance, it felt like my prayer was answered. It felt like the Spirit drew back and I could breathe. I still experienced a more real and powerful sense of his presence with me in that place but it was gentler. I spent the next few hours in prayer and it felt like a conversation with a living, hearing, present Jesus. I poured out my heart the way I would to a trusted friend. My Bible was open and while I never heard an audible voice there were times of quiet when I felt like he was impressing things on my heart.
I left the cabin and I still felt overwhelmed by my experience as I climbed into bed beside my sleeping husband. There was a lingering fear.
Long before these days, shortly after I became a Christian in high school, I had a dream that has always stayed with me and brought me comfort. I can’t say whether it was from my subconscious or from God but it was beautiful and memorable and a gift regardless. In the dream, I stood on a sloping hill next to a large tree with overarching branches that were full of green leaves. I was either praying or singing or both and there was a feeling of complete satisfaction and joy. I was worshiping God and it felt like I was doing what I had been made to do. It was as if I was completely well. I’ve thought that the dream was a little taste of what Heaven will be like. That worshiping God in a pure and complete way will be the most satisfying thing possible.
But, the dream after the first night in the prayer cabin was different.
I was dying. It was hard to breathe. I was lying in a hospital bed with my two oldest sisters talking quietly on either side of me. Somehow I was also the tree from the ‘Heaven dream’ of long ago. But there was a steady, strong wind blowing through the branches. I was dying and simultaneously, the leaves were being blown off the tree.
I woke at 2 AM and was sure that I was going to die. I felt like the presence of God that had been in the cabin was going to take me with it. I was going to be pulled out of this life.
A New Invitation
Our church has a women’s prayer group that exchanges requests by email each week. Several weeks ago, when facing some things that were making me anxious, I asked them to pray for me concerning fear.
And, that is when this story started unexpectedly stirring in my heart and mind.
For a long time, I didn’t understand my experience of fear that first night in the cabin or the dream and so I pushed them to the back of my mind. I thought I had been naïve to ask for such a deep level of intimacy with God in prayer. I wondered if it really *was* God or if it was my imagination or something darker. And, while I like to think I don’t put any stock in dreams, the dream did leave me shaken and I didn’t want to think about it.
I had been reading through the book of Luke and shortly after my friends started praying for me I found myself in the 12th chapter. In it, Jesus has a lot to say to his disciples about fear. He said we don’t have to be anxious about our physical needs being met or about defending ourselves before others or about preserving our lives. He said there is only one thing to be afraid of. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” The only thing to ultimately fear is the judge of our souls.
But the very next sentence Jesus spoke tells us more.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
And again, he tells us, “Fear not, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
The only One to be afraid of is God. According to the words of Jesus and through what he accomplished for us, we don’t have to fear God. He will never forget us, we are of great value to him and he has been pleased to let us call him ‘Father’ and give us the kingdom.
There is nothing left to fear.
I thought I understood this when I wrote the letter to my prayerful sisters in Christ. I didn’t realize that I was expressing the battle of my life. God answered the cry of my heart that night long ago, and gave me the gift of opening my eyes to what holds me back in my relationship with him.
John Piper, in ‘Desiring God’, wrote, “The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.” There is a draw, a longing, to experience God in the way I did in the worshiping dream from long ago. There is something in me calling out in response to his call and wanting to be fully surrendered; to be made whole and complete and to experience the ‘deepest and most enduring happiness.’
But, in order to do that, I need to be like the tree in my second dream. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) Like the wind in my dream, the Holy Spirit will work steadily and powerfully to blow away all of the pride of self, the fear of man and the panicked desire to cling to safety and comfort that is my grasping effort to save my own life.
I am such a fearful person. And, if it was just the discomfort of living with fear that was its affect then maybe it would be easier to just push it to the back of my mind and live with it simmering rather than face it.
But, I am convinced that what is keeping me from a more intimate, sure and faith-filled walk with God is not that he is unwilling to show himself to me. It’s that I am holding back. My fears are keeping me from drinking in the great, lavishing love of God toward his children (1 John 3:1).
Once again, I feel him calling me deeper and calling me to invite you to come along; to face fear and battle against it with truth. I’m praying for the faith to hear him calling out ‘fear not’ and the grace to trust, deny fear, and follow after him.