Sunday, January 25, 2009

Help Is Not A Four Letter Word - Part 4

In reflecting on the past events I found myself somewhat mystified. In all my training within the church, I had no theological or doctrinal framework to interpret what was now happening to me. My entire Christian experience was totally lacking in ‘spiritual' experiences. In fact my Christian religion taught me not only to be skeptical of such ‘pseudo-spirituality’ but to avoid it! Believing or faith - accepting the Bible as true, without evidence, was all that was necessary. Our faith never produced any spiritual experiences. God was not to be known in an experiential way! I had been converted to a system of beliefs but not to a living risen Lord! Our faith was all in our heads! Knowing God simply meant knowing 'about' God. We were to "believe in" God but most certainly could not know God - not in a personal intimate way! God was just too grand, too omnipotent, too big to be "known" personally. My faith was summed up by a poster from the 60's which said:

"God is so big - and you are so small
Stay as you are!"

I had always believed in Jesus, although I could not see Him or touch Him or hear His voice, I was taught that believing was all that was necessary! The truth, was that I was religious but not regenerate. I was “saved from hell and my sins” but was not born again! I was a believer but not spiritual, for I had not received the Spirit of Christ!

For so many years I plodded along trying to live the Christian life, in my own strength. Although I attended church, worshiped, studied my bible and tried to live for Him, there was a deadness and a emptiness inside me. I was simply going through the motions – trying to perform in such a way that God would be pleased with me. Yet, despite my efforts - God was distant. I struggled with the thought that perhaps He was just a figment of my imagination! Then, I would be overcome with fear and guilt - fearing His wrath and judgment for having such a thought! Instead of joy I had only sporadic bouts of happiness. Instead of feeling secure I struggled with feelings of unworthiness, doubt and guilt. Instead of feeling accepted, I felt and rejected and unloved!

The harder I tried to be "Christian" the more I grew unhappy and desperate to know ‘if” God was real. I finally became so desperately aware of the emptiness in my life, that one night I lay on the floor in the kitchen and cried out to Him from the depths of my being! As I cried out in my pain I saw my life spread out on the floor before me, as if it were a jigsaw puzzle! I saw myself desperately trying to put it together - but try as I might I could not make the pieces fit. I realized that there was no way I could ever hope to put it together! I was frustrated, angry, grieved and exhausted - and in desperation, I cried unto the Lord! "Help."

“Please God; if you are there then you can have my life. I can't make it work. I'm so empty and unhappy and most of all I want to know that you are real. I don’t just want to believe in you any more - I want to know you! Please come and take my life because if you don’t then I will take it - for it is not worth living! Jesus help me!” I prayed.

God showed up and in an instant something happened! I knew that I was saved! I knew that I was changed and I wept tears of gratitude and joy! How I knew these things I do not know and frankly I do not care. Jesus came and made Himself real to me! I felt truly alive for the first time in my life! I knew that somehow life had come into me and changed me from the inside out!

However, I was little prepared for what happened next. It was as though the entire world lit up. It was like having cataract surgery - all the wold seemed so vibrant and alive! I also sensed another presence with me and in me. It was the Holy Spirit! I could even hear Him speaking to me so clearly it seemed almost audible. It was glorious!

Beginning that day, I sequestered myself away for many months and gave myself to studying the word of God. It was not some academic or theological exercise. It was not my head that I was filling but my heart! Reading God’s word was more like going to a banquet table. It was my spiritual food. Every time I opened “the book” the words came alive and life seemed to come through it into me! My consciousness expanded exponentially. I was led from one passage to another and began to “see” truths that I had read hundreds of times before but had never really comprehended. His words were life giving and I soaked them up like a dry sponge!

Many sleepless nights I would read and be led by Him from the Old to the New Testament - as the Spirit opened my mind to “mysteries” that were previously vexing and hidden from my understanding. So enlivening was His truth that I would close my bible and plead, “Stop Lord! Please stop!? I just can’t take any more!” I literally felt like I was going to explode !! I was so full of the joy and the glory of God that I would dance in my kitchen and sing songs of praise – and I didn't even believe in dancing!

I had discovered the exhilaration of the mountain top. It seemed I had been transported to the top of Mt. Everest. Like the disciples on the mount of transfiguration I wanted to remain in this heavenly place. I never wanted to come down - but the pull of gravity and the natural world is always downward.

The scriptures say that ‘pride and a haughty spirit goes before a fall.' Between pride in my spiritual experiences and revelations, and giving in to various sins and temptations, my descent from the heights of glory was rapid and jarring! The further I descended from the summit the less I felt the presence of the Lord and, the Spirit, who had been my teacher and companion, grew suddenly silent – for many, many long years.

Since that mountain top conversion experience, I had spent almost twenty years in the desert that lay at the foot of Mount Sinai - not aware of how really dead it and I was! Until now, I did not understand why my journey with Jesus seemed so arduous and so joyless! Why my path seemed so hard! I was painfully aware that I failed to make any lasting progress or real growth in truth and holiness - in character or deportment. It seemed like being a christian was a constant battle against the flesh which raged 24/7! I failed to understand why my life seemed so fruitless - so joyless and barren! Neither did I understand why spiritually I was so very dry. For me, this wilderness in which I found myself, could easily be called the valley of dry bones for lo it was exceedingly dry! I remembered a television series from my childhood which best described my journey; It was called "Death Valley Days."

Amazingly in the midst of this wilderness experience, I had finally come to the end of my self and the realization that I could not, in my own strength, live the christian life. The wilderness had worked its magic! Exhausted, parched, lost, and devoid of strength - I once again called out to God for HELP and for the living water! Like the prodigal son living in the pig pen eating with swine, I repented of my selfishness and my heart suddenly turned homeward.

I found myself at once alive unto God and dead to sin! There was a new spring in my step and a new song in my heart. I was refreshed! As I looked out before me, the desert no longer seemed such an inhospitable and hopeless place. I began to sense that soon I would reach the other side - that there was a way out! There was indeed hope! I was filled with a new optimism, a new joy, a sense of expectation and a peace that surpassed all understanding. I knew the way out lay in submission - in listening – in receiving direction - and in learning to relax my grip and totally trust Him! I knew that I could never make it on my own. I no longer looked at my circumstances , my self, or my surroundings but I looked unto Jesus.

The Spirit of the Lord was once again present with me. He began speaking to me, leading me teaching me and guiding me! Hallelujah! I couldn't wait to hear what He had to say next!

Suddenly a verse was brought to mind which gave me great comfort and brought joy to my heart. It said:

“Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left.”

Once again I felt a cool breeze blowing from behind and Spirit said:

"Turn around and see the salvation of the Lord!"

To Be Continued

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