My Story: Part 3
I’m disappointed with my Faith as it currently stands. I’m disappointed with myself. I don’t see the transformation in me that I would imagine is possible if God were real. I’ve had a few ‘mountain-top’ experiences with God, which is when you feel like Heaven and Earth are literally merging into one. But these experiences are few and far between and my norm has been everyday drudgery; full of mundane tasks; trying to keep myself motivated to stick with Jesus to the end.
I must be on my ninth read-through of the Bible. I made a conscious decision a few years ago that I would attempt to read part of the Bible every day until my dying day. I don’t hold to this legalistically. If I miss a day every now and then, I don’t beat myself up about it. I just get back into the swing of it as soon as I can after the blip. I notice the days when I have missed my personal time with Jesus. My old sinful habits come to the forefront: I compare myself with others; I get jealous, anxious and fearful; I’m full of worry, depression and low-mood; also apathetic and outright malicious. However, when I’ve spent time with God, my perspective is reset and it enables me to cope with the day’s issues in a new light. I remember those who have gone before me, particularly those who had a worse hand than I have been dealt, and it helps me walk a little bit lighter, with my head a little bit higher, with more compassion for those around me.
When I focus on myself and forget about Jesus for the day, I become much more self-absorbed and individualistic – striving for my own good and preoccupied with worldly matters. This makes God sound like a psychological crutch rather than an objective reality. But if you really knew me, really could get inside my head and see my actual thoughts, you would conclude that the days when I am peaceful, kind, joyful and loving needs an explanation because that is not at all what I am like in my natural state. This is some evidence that transformation is occurring in my life from a power that is not my own. Albeit not as much transformation as I would like to see which I hold myself responsible for.
The Church is described as the “body of Christ” and Christians are all members of it. One part has no right to turn to another part and say they aren’t needed. No more than an eye can boast that it has no need of the legs. The community of God’s people is a comforting reality to me living in the individualistic West. “I am not my own, I was bought for a price” by Jesus who redeemed me and calls me to take my place in His body, alongside my fallen brothers and sisters, who are also being transformed at different rates. Obviously this is a messy affair and the Church on many occasions has made a right pig’s ear of it. But Jesus patiently calls us back to Himself again and again. He picks us up, dusts us off and calls us further and deeper towards the final Creation where we will co-exist with Him forever. The great news is that I don’t have to do everything myself…
I am an introvert. I love deep thinking. I love my own space and home comforts. I will probably never be the sort of person who can give up everything, move to a different country to preach to others about Jesus and live in poverty alongside them. But I’m so thankful for the Heidi Bakers and Jackie Pullingers of the world that can do this. I can cheer them on for their contributions to God’s Kingdom because their success is mine and vice versa. If one part of the body is honoured, then the whole body benefits. The Bible teaches that we are “to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice”. I struggled to do this when I falsely believed that I was solely responsible for my salvation and that it was ‘every man for themselves’ before God. I was jealous when others succeeded and I didn’t. I didn’t want to rejoice with them – I wanted to lick my wounds. I was under the illusion that I had to earn my way into God’s presence and I concluded that another’s success meant I was pushed a bit further out into the cold. The goal of Eternal Life had turned into a rat-race philosophy.
I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” with my own unique idiosyncrasies and the “body of Christ” needs me to do what only I can do. Likewise, I need the rest of the Church to fulfil their God-designed roles and then we will all be made new. I don’t have to feel insecure and mediocre, as I am a part of them and they are a part of me and Jesus unites us altogether. Jesus prayed that we would be one as He and His Father are one.
I can now stand in awe (rather than competition) of those humans who ran their race well. St. Teresa of Avila in her book, Interior Castle, outlined a vision she had that depicted different stages in a relationship with God. There are outer levels where many souls spend the whole of their Earthly lives. They are afraid to venture closer to the interior of the Castle where the finest treasures are stored. That is because in each new inner sanctum there are fierce monsters to be challenged, blocking the entrance to the deeper depths of the Castle. I feel low when I accept that I reside in one of the outer levels. I am wealthy and healthy, living in ease and comfort. I’m not persecuted, harassed, or abused. And I daren’t give up any of this to follow Christ fully in case it destroys my family and I. Most of us have as much of God as we want. If we paddle at the shoreline, afraid to plumb the depths, then our Faith will stay in that shallow zone forever stifled. Just because I haven’t seen much transformation in my life, that doesn’t mean God isn’t real. I see this transformation in others and that spurs me on and shows me it’s possible to enter the inner sanctuaries.
Some Chinese Christians train for two years in intense discipleship before they buy a one-way ticket to the Middle East. They aim to preach to Muslims whilst fully anticipating arrests, torture and death. Brother Andrew smuggled Bibles into the Soviet Union at great personal cost to Himself. Corrie Ten Boom hid Jews in her home in Amsterdam during World War II and ended up in a Nazi concentration camp as a result. She used to thank God for the flea infestation in a particular building because it meant the guards would give that location a wide berth so she could teach the other inmates about Jesus in there. Sabina Wurmbrand was a Romanian Christian Jew who lost her entire family to Nazi concentration camps. After the war, Sabina helped Nazi soldiers who were stranded in Romania. They would have been slaughtered by the encroaching Red Army, but she hid them in an outhouse and fed them from her own measly rations. She even emptied their latrine buckets every day. One guard admitted that he wouldn’t do the same for her if the roles were reversed.
I am nowhere near that level of transformation, but it shows me it is possible. It is more evidence that the God of Love exists and resides within us to aid our transformation when we open our hearts to Him. I have a long walk ahead of me. Some days I fail. Some days I shine for Jesus a little brighter. I have to hold on and keep trusting that what Jesus has begun in me “He will carry on to completion”. I miss the ‘mountain-top’ experiences of my youth. When you are new to Faith, God often answers prayers spectacularly and regularly. It’s an amazing time (see part one and two of ‘My Story’). But when you’ve walked with Jesus a number of years you find that He often pulls back. I’m in this well-documented phase right now.
Elisabeth Elliot had a dream where she saw Jesus walking amongst a group of His followers who were kneeling and praying. Some of them Jesus got close to, placed His hand on their heads and whispered encouragement in their ears. Some He walked past as if they weren’t there – He appeared to ignore them. When Elisabeth woke up, she felt that those Jesus walked past were in the 'maturation' phase. In the early days of your conversion, your Faith often needs nurturing and solidifying, which God readily provides through “signs and wonders”. Then comes the maturation phase, which can be extremely painful. When God draws back, you wonder if He’s there at all. St. John of the Cross wrote about his experiences of this in ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’. Mother Teresa said that she lived in this stage for an extended period of her life. Before this phase, she attested to many sweet moments of union with Christ in prayer, but for thirty years she felt like He had disappeared from her life entirely.
It’s been years since I’ve felt or seen powerful proof of God through the Holy Spirit. Now I feel like He speaks to me in the smallest, subtlest hints and nudges. There might be a particular Bible verse that shows up in different places throughout the day (on the radio, in my devotional, during a conversation, etc.) and I conclude that God may be trying to say something to me. But it’s fuzzy and unclear. There are times when I want to go back to the ‘mountain-top’ and get a straight answer from Him.
I think, however, that this season I am in right now may well be for the long haul. I’m being trained for something that currently is a mystery. Some days it is so painful to carry on that I want to quit. But then I remember that Jesus asked His disciples to pick up their cross and follow Him (i.e. come and die). John the Baptist said “I must become less and Jesus must become greater”. St. Paul said “I die daily”. I feel like I’m in that place. I have to die to myself every day and become a “new creation” in the process. It’s not a one-off transformation – I need Him every hour. It’s so hard. Some days I don’t want to do it anymore and I fall away, and then the next day Jesus woos me back very gently. Like Elijah on the mountain experiencing an earthquake, mighty wind and fire, yet realising that God spoke to Him through a gentle whisper. If I’m honest, I want the mighty wind experience, but what I get is barely a murmur. I miss Him. All I can do is hold fast to my earlier memories and the testimonies of those who have gone before me to comfort my soul. I’ve got to grip on for dear life and await that day when I will see Him face to face alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Life is not a bed of roses when you accept Jesus. It’s like C.S. Lewis said in Narnia, when Lucy asks if Aslan the Lion is safe: “Safe?! Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you”. Those who make it to the innermost sanctuary of the 'Interior Castle' in their walk with Jesus show us what real transformative power God offers. Those ‘heroes of the Faith’ who suffered greatly on Earth but exhibited joy in their darkest hour can spur us onwards. They knew to whom they belonged and where they were ultimately headed. Do you?
References  1 Cor 12:27-31  1 Cor 12:12-31  1 Cor 6:20  1 Cor 12:26  Romans 12:15  Psalm 139  John 17:21  https://fingerofgod2.com/  God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew  The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom  The Pastor’s Wife by Sabina Wurmbrand  Phil 1:6  A Path Through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot  Acts 2:22. In Luke 15, God the Father throws a party for the Prodigal Son’s return.  Matt 16:24-26  John 3:30  1 Cor 15:31  2 Cor 5:17  1 Kings 19  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis