If you didn’t read my LAST POST, this post will prove tricky. This will be the commentary on that, and commentaries aren’t that valuable if one hasn’t read the original.
The end of last post left here: I returned home with my head spinning wildly on its axis, after having God serve up a half-dozen unnervingly personalized points of encounter within the span of a week. To pull out a favourite high school word, I moved forward from March 2012 in a state of severe discombobulation.
Did all of that really happen?
There was no denying it had.
Did I imagine any of that?
There was no chance I had.
So where to, from here?
What follows are just a few points of conclusion at which I arrived in the subsequent months. But you must remember the obvious: The journey toward the following bullet points wasn’t nearly so tidy as it now appears. It involved a steady stream of reflection and prayer and journaling and questioning and mentally replaying and carefully conversing over a span of many months. If anything of value lies here, gratefully plant it into your own life and see what springs forth.
What Was Needed
Looking back, the specific spiritual gift mentioned by Gretchen – the gift of discernment – wasn’t the point of that encounter. What I mean is: I haven’t given it much more thought about whether or not I possess that particular gift. I’ll aim to faithfully use what I have for the rest of my days, and folks can label me however they wish. (On an aside: It seems that “discernment” would be a gift no wise person would claim as their own. Likely best to have it affirmed by others. There, that statement is my word of discernment for the day. :-))
Said another way, that conversation now looks to me like something from “The Matrix”. Remember when Neo was wrestling with whether or not he was really “the one”. He was sent to a mysterious woman known as the Oracle, with the expectation that she would give him a message to make everything clear. But she didn’t. She did give him a message, but we later learn that it wasn’t even true — certainly not as we would define “true”. So why did she say it? My guess: She said exactly what would move him one step down the path. It didn’t need to provide full clarity. It just needed to reveal one inch to that now called forth his next inch of response. That’s no coded attempt to liken myself to Neo (I don’t know Kung Fu) or Gretchen to the Oracle. That’s just my take on what was accomplished through that particular conversation at that particular point in time. It set me off on a path that I may never have been so open to, as I was right then — far greater consideration of the Holy Spirit and the ways that He works in the world and the church. I call that God’s timing, and His sights are well-calibrated.
The gifts of the Spirit, whatever you think of them, are given for the building of Christ’s Body. To speak of them at all is to speak of God’s commitment to equip His people to be what one another needs. The stunning sequence of experiences that week seemed to clarify as I came to imagine God’s explanation:
“Jason, I am delighted that you are delighted by the new sense of power and purity into which you are walking. I’ve always wanted this for you. You are right to thank Me and to celebrate, for it is a wondrous gift. But your chart is skewed. You imagined that these events were creating a climax within your spiritual life. You’d never imagined experiencing a greater touch. Well, here we are, and I needed to catch you in that moment, to stun you when you already stunned, with this truth: What is happening in your life right now is merely the preface of the book I’m writing. You thought you were arriving at ‘happily ever after.’ This is ‘once upon a time,’ My friend. You’ve never even dreamed up the pages that I really want to write. Shall we begin?”
Bigger Than You
“God never works in your life just for your life.”
That is a sentence that slowly formed and then cemented itself into my mind, through the middle months of 2012. I mean, imagine this scenario: God responds to the most personal prayers you’ve ever prayed. He touches the core of your being and addresses the needs or fears or wounds that are there. If that occurred, what do you imagine would be the result? For many of us, the answer is fairly self-centred.
- Perhaps our heart would discover a new sense of peace.
- Perhaps our conscience would be put at ease.
- Perhaps we’d feel a lightness in our spirit and a happiness in our heart.
- Perhaps we’d sleep better or smile broader.
In some way or other, life would just be better.
In short, many of us imagine that God’s touch upon our deepest parts would bring about an effect primarily felt by us. I certainly imagined it that way.
But God has a wide gaze. His perspective is panoramic and His context is cosmic. “He never works in your life just for your life.” That felt like a huge discovery at the time, and it hasn’t stopped feeling huge yet.
Redeeming Requires Wreckage
In an earlier post, I alluded to many months of a “wrecking ball” experience. Hindsight prompts me to look back on that terribly-uncomfortable stretch of time as a vitally necessary step. That year-plus brought me far nearer to the end of myself than I had ever been before. That rattled my confidence and shook my sense of certainty. It loosened my grip and increased my openness. In short, it positioned me perfectly for what was coming up.
I have always trusted my mind a great deal. I consider myself a careful thinker who values that which is solid and sound. I came to imagine the Father developing his “March 2012” plan for me something like this:
“Jason, you highly value your ability to process. You are measured and cautious, and these are good qualities. But you trust your processor too much. In fact, you trust it more than you trust Me. I’ve allowed you to live like that for a time, but that time is up. I know that you will not eagerly relinquish this version of control, so I will lovingly rip it from your hands. How will I do that? I will take your cherished processor, and I will fry it by subjecting it to a flow of thoughts and feelings and experiences that you will be unable to dismiss and incapable of handling. When you smell the smoke of your precious processor and feel the unnerving burn inside yourself, then I will pull it out and we will begin constructing a new one from the ground up. I need you to walk with Me in some new ways, and this will require a renewed mind. You didn’t ask for this, and I didn’t ask permission. Let’s get at it.”
Shortening Your Arms
Closely connected to the previous point, I began to realize something about myself. My primary method of interacting with my world is to hold things at arm’s length. If we were sitting at a coffee shop, I would enact this by picking up an item from the table and holding it out in front of me, at the end of my fully extended limb. Then I would turn the item with my hand, rotating it so that my eyes could perceive all its angles. I think God has designed me this way, and some of the things I’m good at are linked to this tendency. One example: Someone will occasionally remark after a sermon that they can’t figure out how I ever discovered some insight from Scripture that was just shared. They felt like that passage was so familiar, yet it had just come alive to them in a profound new way. Much of that is God’s revelation or great resources. But often, there is another answer: I sat with that for a long time rolling it around in my hand and looking at its angles over and again until the time and the thought, the prayer and the poking seemed to lead me somewhere I’d never been before. In a sentence, I’m grateful to be designed this way. I hardly had a choice in the matter anyway, so I’d best strive to use it well.
The problem is: The most important things in life are not to be handled at arm’s length. It doesn’t make marriage thrive. And it’s not a good approach to parenting. And good luck if you think God will allow you to maintain a “safe distance” while you probe and examine Him like some form of science experiment about which to record observations and draw conclusions. After He fries your processor, He will then break your arm so that you have no option but to get up close and personal. For a good chunk of my life, I have treated God as a subject. To be sure, He was a most glorious subject, one with endless depths and complexity. But He was now eager to put my arm in a sling and just come on in. I’ve tried to let Him.
In short, the months that followed March 2012 were a period of unsettling sweetness. I lived out of a rootedness I had never known before, as if my spiritual feet had found new ground upon which to stand. Sometimes I smile and confess: It felt like a conversion experience. To many folks’ chagrin, it wouldn’t summarize neatly onto a pamphlet that one might be baptized at age 15, then spend the next 15 years either studying for ministry or working in ministry roles, before stumbling into a more real conversion experience that I never felt before.
But that was how it felt.
Let me close by revisiting my last post. Thanks to those who cared enough to read all 3000-plus words. You deserve a reward! A further word of thanks to all who took time to send a response. I’ve loved hearing from you — such treasured sharing!
I’ve known for years that someday I would type up that post, but it caused me stress last week as the time was actually drawing near. The night before I composed it, I awoke at 3:30 AM in a state of uneasiness:
- How am I to tell this story?
- What needs to be said?
- How does it need to be said?
A couple lines of reply seemed to come. I credit them to God.
“Testimonies should not be mumbled. If your goal is to glorify Me, then speak it out. You can do this blandly and safely if you choose, but that will only minimize the glory I receive and the power that your story might wield.”
For sixty minutes, I laid in bed, trying to be prayerful. As my spirit settled into a place of peace, I planted my feet on this prayer: “I’ll meet you wherever You want.” Somehow that felt like my prayer, in that night-time moment. Somehow it still does.
I express that sentiment to people all the time.
A friend wants to meet for lunch.
“I’ll meet you wherever you want.”
A colleague calls to visit over coffee.
“I’ll meet you wherever you want.”
Most of the time, my meaning is mundane: “I’m not that picky. You choose the venue, and I will be there.”
But as a prayer, the line carries weight, and I’ve already found myself repeating it several times this week. Lots of meaning fits in those few words:
“I’m not so courageous as a wish to be, Father. I don’t love risk, and I value my reputation more than I should. I can be over-governed by self-consciousness, and I don’t often leave enough room for mystery. But with all these issues and many more unmentioned, I still want You enough to say: I will meet you wherever you want.”
If you need new prayer line, feel free to borrow that one.
Perhaps we’ll meet up in the same place!