Monday, July 29, 2013

From Hearsay to First-Hand

"Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace."
Psalm 37:37

When I was a little girl, I "marked" those I thought were spiritually-perfect.
I beheld those who lived upright lives and admired them...deeply.
They were role models,
people whose character I wanted to emulate through life.
I especially held deep admiration for certain men and women of the Bible,
but, there were also a select few,
those I knew on a personal basis,
who I deemed worthy of receiving such a "mark".
No one more so, than my sweet, gentle teacher, Sis. Rose.
I wrote about her here.

The word "perfect" in this verse means,
"complete, blameless, guiltless, and peaceful".

Interesting, huh?

It doesn't mean a person who is above making mistakes.
For as long as we live in this body of flesh, we will be human.
We will err.

It means, perfect.. in a spiritual sense.
It means one who lives holy before God,
whose sins are forgiven, who walks blameless in His sight,
who remains at peace with Him...and with others...
covered by His grace.

I listened to the holy ones tell of God's love...
of the peace that follows complete surrender to Him....
of the sweetness of His presence in the soul.
How He would come down and fill their hearts with such glory.
How He would commune with them...on a personal, individualized basis.
I longed for what they had....with all my heart.
I determined early on that this is the way I wanted to live life.

But, how to find it?
Hearing about it is one thing.
Living it...breathing quite another.

I struggled for so long.
I still do.
Will I ever completely reach the spiritual stature
of my childhood spiritual super-heroes?

Their kind spirit.
Their peace-filled demeanor.
Their unshakable faith.
Their resolute determination to follow God to the end of their days...
regardless of personal cost.
Their utter selflessness.
The love of God that flows so sweetly and automatically from them
and touches every, single thing they do in this life.

Today, someone called who needed my help,
and because of circumstances, Kevin and Zach were unable to go along.
It was a long drive, and being alone, it was so quiet in the car.
I was tempted to turn on some bluegrass to harmonize with and to provide some company.

But, just as my hand reached toward the knob,
my heart reached toward Heaven.

Something about being alone in that car tugged on the strings of my heart.
 The value of the opportunity dawned upon my spirit like an illuminating light.
The door was wide the throne of grace,
and this alone time could and would be best spent...
alone with God.
It was like a bonus round...
to add to the time I had already spent with Him earlier in the day.

My heart reached out to Him...from the depths of my being.
I longed for Him....
more than I longed to hear my favorite music....
more than I longed to sing along....
more than I longed to quietly think....
more than anything else in the world.

I told Him so, 
as I quoted words...from His Word...
"As the hart panteth after the water brooks,
  so panteth my soul after thee, O God."
Psalm 42:1

I meant the words...every bit as much as David did, when they sprang from his inspired heart, so long ago.

Another Scripture came to mind...
"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you",
words from Jesus' brother, James...(James 4:8).

What glory!
As soon as I began to draw near to God and pour out my heart to Him, He fulfilled His part.
Soon, it felt as if Jesus was sitting in the empty front seat beside me....literally.
I felt like I could almost reach over and touch sweet was His presence.

"Lord, please talk to me.
Please, Lord, I want to know what is in Your heart.
I need to hear Your voice."

What followed was enough to fill several blog posts....
enough to light the fires of a few sermons....
enough to fuel at least a few devotionals!
If I could adequately capture His words and record them here,
your heart, too, would be filled to overflowing.
Because His words are profound...every one of them.
They are life to the hungriest spirit.
They are quickening to the deadest soul.

I wish I could express His words...more proficiently.
I fall so short of being able to convey their depths.

Who could ever say there is no God?
Only one who has never experienced His reality!
Only one who has never heard Him speak!
For one who has tasted of the sweetness of His presence...
on the level of which I partook today,
could never doubt again.

"O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him."
Psalm 34:8

I was on a back, country absolute favorite kind.

There were hills...and valleys....and curves.
Everything was green...and blue....and fluffy, white clouds floated overhead.
I praised Him for the gift of being able to see and take it all in.
Crepe myrtles bloomed often along the way in the front yards
of manicured and well-kept houses.
The freshly-paved road on which I traveled was smooth, and driving was easy.
There wasn't an ounce of traffic.
No interference.
No distractions.
Just me....and Him.

I came to a stop sign and reached over into my purse to dig for paper and a pen.
As I began to move along, I wrote His words....sloppily....
since I didn't want to take my eyes off the road.
I was afraid of not remembering what He was telling me.
It was way too valuable to forget...or let go of.

I can barely read what I wrote now, but it is decipherable...
if you look close enough.
And what I can read is enough to jog sweet memories of our conversation.

I listened with every fiber of my being as His still, small voice whispered to my heart.
I would never have heard any of it....had I been listening to music full-blast.
I would have missed it.
It would have been a tragedy.

The communion was precious....priceless to me.
His approval fell upon my soul in waves of glory.
There was not one thing standing between my heart and His holiness.

My mind went back to years ago when I used to crave the spiritual experience
of the ones I had "marked" as being perfect role models.
It occurred to me that somewhere in between then and now,
I have gone from hearing them say how wonderful it is
to first-hand experience of knowing what it means.

It has been a beautiful transition.
I'd rather be actually seeing things from this angle
than trying to imagine the experience and view from where they stood.
I'd rather be hearing His voice than hearing them talk about how sweet it is.
This is so much more convincing.
This is me.

This is what it means.
This is how they felt.
When I would admire them and wish for what they had....
during those childhood moments,
as I watched my heroes.

Grace is something we grow into.
"But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
 2 Peter 3:18

It doesn't happen overnight.
It takes time.
And experience.
And, oftentimes, fire.
To reach spiritual maturity.

I have so far to go.
I see so many discrepancies that need improvement.
I fall so short of His glory...time after time after time.
But, I am gaining ground.
And that is what gives me hope.
It keeps me searching...diligently.
Keeps me going back to Him again and again.
To fill my soul.
To quench my spiritual thirst.
To feed my spiritual hunger.

When I admired Sis. Rose and others,
I suppose it never occurred to me to wonder how
they had attained the spiritual level they had reached.
They seemed to have it all together.
They made it look so easy.

But, what had they suffered to get there?
How could I have imagined the kind of fire they had walked through,
the many ways the sincerity of their faith been tested,
the immeasurable losses they had incurred along the way,
and the depths of trial they had endured and outlasted?

I was young...full of hope for the future....
blissfully ignorant and naive.
I suppose I never will know what they went through to attain the relationship with God
they enjoyed....and I longed for.
I can only testify of what God has done for me...on a personal level.
I can only vouch that His promises have come to my life.
Not because I have heard them preached about.
Not because I have witnessed their fruition in the lives of others.
But, because I have lived long enough to see God fulfill them...for me.

It is good to be sitting here.
Years of living behind me.
No longer a wishful by-stander hearing others tell of the wonders of a life spent in His service,
but now, an active participant...a partaker of it all.

How about you, my friend?
What is your testimony?
Has God proven Himself real to you?

Where are you on life's journey?
Is it all about hearsay?
Or are you experiencing the God of Heaven firsthand?

You can, you know.
God is no respecter of persons.
He doesn't show partiality.
It matters not where you've been,
how long you've been there,
what road took you there,
or who is there with you.

Maybe you do not feel Him.... at all.
Wherever you are, I want to remind you that
you are special to God.
He loves you....with an unconditional, undying love.
He wants a relationship with you.
He wants to share life with you.
To talk with you daily.
To reach a level of intimacy and communion...with you....uniquely.

He wants to take you to a whole new spiritual level.
Maybe you've long ago progressed from hearsay to firsthand.
Perhaps you've walked in relationship with Jesus for years.

Even so, there are higher heights and deeper depths than any of us have ever experienced.
We will never exhaust the levels God has prepared for us.
His plans far exceed anything we can ask or think.
There will never be a point that we are so close to Him that we are unable to move any closer....
not until we reach Heaven, and we find ourselves in His very presence.

What a day that will be!
Only when we see Him face-to-face, will there be no possible way of drawing closer to Him.
While we are in this life, 
there will always be room to grow.

Maybe this finds you in a far, distant place...separated from God.
Possibly, you can remember a day when you enjoyed the fellowship of His presence...
a lot more than you experience it now.

Let me tell you, I wasn't always here either.
I remember days void of the light of His presence.
Days spent drifting....listlessly....farther and farther from the shore.

I love taking pictures.
We've taken thousands of them through our time of courtship
and our 25 years of marriage.
Several of them are scattered throughout our home,
on the walls,
on shelves and other spots.

I keep one particular picture on the dresser in our room....
for a very specific purpose.

It is there to remind me...every time I look at it.

If you ever visit our home, and I take you on a tour,
and we end up standing before this picture,
you won't be able to notice anything unusual.
You will see Kevin...and me...side by side...smiling, like always.
Looking at my wide smile, you would never guess.
But, I remember.
Only I knew.
The people around us...the people we were with....never suspected a thing.
But, deep inside, a tug-of-war was raging.
I spent that night in a lot of inward turmoil.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
Every time I look at the picture, I am transported back....
feeling the same feelings,
cringing under the same condemnation....
even though I am not there now.

We were surrounded by an atmosphere unfamiliar,
loud, worldly, charged with a lot of unGodly activity.
My heart was heavy.
I felt 1,000 miles from God.
Horror gripped my soul....literally.

And even though we didn't actually participate in the things that were happening around us,
I felt contaminated....saturated by the evil...
as we walked that Hollywood, FL beach.
I should not have been there.
I knew better.
Knew what would happen.
Knew God was not pleased.

It was a very low spiritual point for me.
By far, it isn't the only time I have drifted,
but I keep that picture where I can see if often.
I need to be reminded...
that it is up to me to stay close to God.
To keep my experience with Him first-hand....not merely hearsay.
And though I love every minute I am by Kevin's side,
that is one night I would not want to re-live.

I was in a dark place.
There was severe static between God and me.
I don't ever want to go back to a place of hearsay again.

I know what I need to do to stay here....close to Him....
under the shadow of the Almighty...
in the secret place.

Believe me, it is worth everything He requires...
 to stay right here.

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