Intimacy and EternityTowards Eternity
Part Three, Chapter Sixteen
God is the greatest lover of all.
Being chosen for a direct experience of this overwhelming love can be intoxicating.
Teresa of Avila once wrote that she had been ‘going around as if drunk’ . . .
Part One: The River of Delights
The Pace of Life
Towards a Life of Reflection
The Trysting Place
Part Two: The Ascent of Toil
The Dark Night of the Soul
The Principle of Suffer-Reign
The Grace of Yielding
Trials of faith are never easy to bear, but the more willing we are to believe that God is with us, the less pain we will experience. Paul teaches us an unexpected truth: What you sow does not come to life unless it dies (1 Corinthians 15:36).
HOW WONDERFULLY THE LORD had met us on our Lakeland walk! We came back feeling physically and spiritually uplifted – and it has helped us in this book to explore many aspects of intimacy with God. We have considered how to enter more deeply into the life of reflection, pondered puzzling dry times and sought to overcome those crippling enemies of intimacy: condemnation and striving. We have also shown the importance of making times of silence, listening and burden-bearing a natural part of our walk with Him. Now, at the close of this book, I would like to return to the ‘River of Delight’ and share with you an episode from early in my Christian life. It happened in the mid 1970s when I was working near Paris. I returned home to my lodgings one evening from a midweek Bible study feeling unusually deflated. For reasons I can no longer recall, my contributions had not been well received. I flopped down onto my knees the moment I reached my room and poured out my heart in repentance to God.
Suddenly, I found myself praying an outrageous prayer: that I might be allowed to go to heaven that night. Such a request must be mere presumption if the Holy Spirit Himself is not inspiring the prayer. It was not so much that I went to heaven as that heaven came to me. My prayer was abundantly answered, for unexpectedly, gloriously, the presence of the Lord filled my room. I became aware of the love of the Lord surrounding, accepting and knowing me in a deeper way than I had ever experienced before.
All around were the inexpressibly beautiful sounds of heavenly worship, exquisite melodies embellished with soaring harmonies of a subtlety quite beyond my ability to describe. Even though I could see no shape or form, I was overwhelmed by the certainty that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was right there with me in the room. He told me that this time together had been accorded by the Father, and that I was free to ask Him questions.
With something of the dazed incredulity Peter must have felt on the Mount of Transfiguration I could only ask whether it was possible for Him to be appearing to people on the other side of the world at the same time as He was to me! When He said that He could, the impact of this revelation left me feeling still more awed, as all who experience the presence of the Lord in such ways have always been.
When we are wrapped in the presence of the Lord we can hear hard truths without flinching. Gently but clearly the Lord told me that He did not want me to marry the woman I was engaged to at that time. I had been sensing for several months that the relationship was not His perfect will, but for various reasons had been unwilling to face up to the consequences of doing anything about it. In the presence of the Lord of Love, I knew that my will must be to do His will.
He who sees the end from the beginning knows exactly what is best for us, and He delayed marriage for me until I met Rosalind some years later.
He also mentioned that it was not His will for me to become a vicar. How strategic and wise He is. His clarity on this point helped me to fend off many well-intentioned suggestions from people who wondered why I did not ‘do it properly’ and get ordained.
Time sped by. It was now half past two in the morning, and I was completely caught up in the Lord’s presence. We communed together for what turned out to be a further three hours – though never have hours passed so quickly or so sweetly before.
When I asked Him how I could be sure in the future that I had not imagined this face-to-face encounter, the Lord instructed me to read a passage from Deuteronomy. One verse in particular summed up what had happened to me on that momentous evening: Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him (Deuteronomy 5:24).
The Lord also left me with a specific gift. I had for some time been coming into contact with people who claimed to have the gift of tongues. I had begun attending a midweek gathering of about four hundred Spirit-filled Christians. I had gone along somewhat sceptically, armed with the warnings of well-meaning friends about the emotional excesses of the charismatic movement. I realized immediately, however, that these people enjoyed a degree of intimacy in their worship that far surpassed my own experience. I longed to know the Lord as they did.
As a linguist, it had always intrigued me to know how a human being could speak another language without the benefit of a Linguaphone course. I was impatient to receive this gift, but the Lord was more concerned that I should benefit to the full from this precious time with Himself.
When the Lord Jesus finally said that our time together must come to an end, and that I would not meet Him again in quite this way until He called me home, I felt an overwhelming grief at the thought of being separated from such perfect love. Jesus promised, however, that He would send me the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. In an outpouring of love and worship I received the gift of a heavenly language – something which has been a consistent blessing ever since.
I was utterly, joyously overawed. My workload in those far-off days was light, and this wonderful awareness of the Lord’s presence continued unabated for several weeks. Heaven is not far away, it is just another dimension.
Three times over the Lord Jesus had asked me whether I was prepared to serve Him. In the presence of such perfect peace, the thought of refusing Him never entered my head. There and then the Lord called me to be His witness wherever I went. Initially, being a witness meant just that: telling people about the Lord Jesus. Already an evangelist at heart, I became for a season an officially appointed one. More recently, as the Lord has led us deeper in the ways of worship and intercession, it has come to mean observing what God is doing in the heavenly places and discerning those topics He is calling us to pray about. As I have shown throughout this book, the love of God can overwhelm us, and the power of God direct us at the most unlikely times and in the most improbable places.
The inward stirring and touching of God
makes us hungry and yearning;
for the Spirit of God hunts our spirit,
and the more it touches it,
the greater our hunger and craving.
This is the life of love in its highest working,
above reason and above understanding.
(Jan van Ruysbroeck)1
My prayer for everyone who reads these words is that we may be constant in our desire to love and serve the Lord. We may not necessarily be granted spectacular experiences of eternity, because face to face encounters can only be granted by the Lord as He chooses. If we are willing to keep seeking Him, He will gladly meet our needs, and inspire others towards a life of greater intimacy with Himself that is lived in the awareness of eternity.
Our home is heaven. On earth, we are like travellers staying at a hotel.
When one is away, one is always thinking of going home.
Life is given to us that we may learn to die well, and we never think of it!
To die well we must live well.
If an artist is proud of his handiwork, should not the Lord be even more pleased with what He is doing in the hearts of His people? Who knows – we may be the ones who will witness the return of the Lord! Certainly, we shall soon be passing on the baton to a generation who must fight harder in order to fare better than we have done. Therefore we must invest heavily in them. Our prayers span the years, and will enable many to go on receiving the Lord’s blessings long after we ourselves have been called home.
It will not be long before we see Him face to face. In the meantime, it is His passionate desire to make His light shine through us. We are stars shining in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation. In the day when He makes up His treasured possession, we will sparkle like jewels in a crown. He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.2
Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure – And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming – And when Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
(1 John 3:3; 2:28; Colossians 3:4)
The Lord is making us beautiful, not because of anything special in us, but because His love lights up our life, even as the hills and mountains come alive when the sunlight shines on them.
I would like to end by praying now for each one of you who has had the love and the stamina to make it to the end of this publication:
Lord Jesus, I bless You for what You are doing in the lives of each reader. May You expand their hearts to be able to receive more of Your love. Make them like sparks which cause dry souls to catch fire again for You. Deliver them from the temptation to hold back or to turn aside, and fill them with the joy of knowing that they belong to You for ever. May they be given grace to overcome every obstacle that they face. In Jesus’ name and for the glory of His eternal Kingdom, Amen.
1. Quoted in The Wisdom of the Saints, Jill Haak Adels, (O.U.P.).
2. Philippians 2:15; 1:6; Malachi 3:17; Zechariah 9:16.