A young, healthy 22-year-old, inwardly energized, I desired to tell others the good news: that God has a master plan for us.
Mind you, not just any master plan, itís the master plan: a love plan. Yes, a plan thatís beyond oneís wildest imagination. God, who loved humanity so much, sent his only son to suffer and die for us, as this was the only acceptable atonement for sin upon which he would redeem us back to himself. And thus if we accept his redemption and surrender to his Lordship, we can abide with him for all eternity. Such incomprehensible love I now understood and believed.
However, I was ignorant of the ways of God. I needed to learn more about him. So I devoured the Bible cover to cover, having never read it before except for a few feeble attempts with a closed heart. But now my heart was open, having heard and received access to the path of life, and now able to learn precept upon precept.
Salvation of my soul was the best gift I had ever received. And I desired to tell others. So I did. I told family, fellow employees, friends - though I pretty much drove them away with the telling. I was still a social misfit, unsure of myself, lacking in communication skills, beating them over the head with the truth of the Gospel.
Then, at the age of 24, I prayed earnestly for something specific. I wanted to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. While on staff at the Christian Center, the other staff members and those who congregated there for Bible study had experienced this phenomenon, while I had not. Some had laid hands on me praying for me to receive it, but it didnít take place. Perhaps I was too proud to fully surrender. I donít really know. But I do know, I wanted what they had.
Discouraged, I sought after it regularly while alone in prayer. But this particular day I was even more determined to hear from God. After all, this baptism is mentioned several times in the New Testament. So this promise had to be for me.
I didnít hear from God while driving home that day from the Center. But that evening Ė in fact it was in the middle of the night Ė I awoke to the loud cries of my 18-month old nephew who lived with us. A bit irritated about my disturbed sleep, I could hear my sister getting his bottle ready downstairs. And soon after his feeding, all was quiet again. But I couldnít fall back to sleep. So in my bedroom, in the dark with my eyes closed, I started to sing softly the words to a Debbie Boone song. She had written it a number of years prior to ďYou Light Up My Life,Ē the song she would later became famous for, at least in Christian circles. I started to sing,
Father, God, why have you forsaken me.
Can you really see me here?
Do you even care?
Iím not sure of the title, but the lyrics conveyed what I was feeling. As I continued to sing more verses, my eyes still closed, to my amazement I could see off in the distance three words, equally spaced, in identical type-set. I couldnít read the words, but I knew they were words - like what you might see during an eye exam, although in that case you would see letters. These three words were slowly making their way toward me. Then, the moment I could ascertain one of the words, as soon as I could mentally utter it Ė ďprophesyĒ - Godís power went through me like lightening, commencing at the top of my head and progressing downward through my toes. I felt lit up like a light bulb. Then all vanished.
I spent the rest of the night praising God for what I thought was the baptism in the Holy Spirit, yet questioning why I still couldnít speak in tongues. After all, werenít tongues the sign that you had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit? I do know, though, that from that day forward, when I would pray and seek the Lord, the Holy Spiritís presence would lift my head. I could feel His presence upon me.
Overjoyed, I told this experience to others at the Christian Center. But when I answered, no, to whether or not I spoke in tongues, they dismissed my experience.
Years rolled by. My life didnít pan out the way I expected. Although I thought I was fully committed to hearing and obeying my Lord, I made relationship decisions that caused me untold heartache and frustration. While pregnant, my husband left me for another woman. Then I remarried and found my health deteriorating. An autoimmune disease followed. Thinking I was Christ-centered, I realized later I was actually self-centered in many ways. Although I wasnít responsible for the sins of others, my Lord held me accountable for my own actions regardless of what others chose to do.
I entered my 40s. One day I went into Bombay, a retail store now defunct. I had purchased a table that proved to be defective and was returning it for another. As soon as I entered, I could feel a strong presence of the Holy Spirit surrounding me as well as a sensation of light. It startled me. This had never happened before. As I spoke to the saleslady behind the counter, I couldnít help but notice that she had a long scar starting just under her chin and disappearing below the top of her sweater. She appeared to be in her late 50s. As she was attempting to refund and bill me for the replacement table, the computer kept malfunctioning and she continued to try different options to get the transaction through. In the meantime the few people in the store had left, so there was only her and I. I was continuously being nudged by the Holy Spirit to speak to her. But I was terrified. What should I say? Should I mention her scar and start with that? Ask if I could pray for her? Was it a salvation message I was to convey? Reasoning now took over. Does God really want me to do this? What if this lady thinks Iím nuts to bring up such a subject in the middle of a transaction. Who am I to be telling this lady anything? I donít even have my own life in order. My home life still seems to be chaotic. Iím always exhausted.
I was given so much opportunity that hour to obey God. But I wouldnít. I thanked her and left the store. In turmoil I went home knowing I had failed to do Godís will. Of course I repented. I felt sick about the whole episode. And I asked God to give me another chance. Within the week I revisited the store. She wasnít there. I continued to visit periodically for the next month. She never appeared. I would never see that lady again and wondered often if she had died. Was someone else able to tell her about Jesus, or would the responsibility for her lack of salvation be placed squarely on my shoulders?
A few years later I was headed for the Bahamas with my husband and daughter. I still suffered from extreme exhaustion. The next morning as the three of us walked on the beach, my husband up ahead of me, my daughter even further up, already getting her hair braided, I passed the diving instructor who was taking divers out on a boat later that afternoon. My daughter had expressed interest in diving and had pointed him out earlier. As I passed him, I experienced another first-time phenomenon: I felt a force-field surround the two of us, just he and I. I couldnít see it. I felt it. I had heard of force fields but didnít know much about them. But I knew instinctively that this was what this was; only it was spiritual in nature.
In those few minutes as I stood there observing this man who was not looking my way, I started arguing again with God. ďYou canít possibly want me to speak to him about you? What would I say to him? You havenít placed any words in my mouth. I donít know anything about him except that he scuba dives. What will my husband think?Ē I continued to observe him. People started coming up to him and talking to him about skin-diving issues. And once again I rationalized. I thought about my own life and how unfit I was to be used when I still didnít have my life in order and didnít know how to make it so. Finally, in fear and frustration, I left to catch up with my husband. I did see this man a few more times, but the force-field phenomenon was gone. My opportunity was lost. Again guilt. Again repentance.
I never had any more episodes like that. Fear held me bound. The Lord wanted to use me, but couldnít. He had to look for another. That was a number of years ago. Oh how I lived to regret my disobedience. I cared more about what others thought of me than of what God asked of me.
Today, while cooking supper, I listened to a speaker on WCRF. He said something very interesting: ďWhen you take care of whatís on Godís heart, He takes care of whatís on yours.Ē I wish I could have heard this a few years earlier. Then I wouldnít have been looking at the mess my life was in Ė at least not in the God-moments Ė and instead, like Rahab, would have acted on the prompting of the Holy Spirit. But then again, maybe not.
Iíve learned the hard way. God canít use you to do what is on his heart if you donít possess the character needed to do the job. And without character, such as humility and risk, you wonít make use of the opportunity. And without maturity when conversing with non-believers, all you are is a clanging sound, a loud cymbal Ė an irritant to the beholder. You canít be trusted to do the job. So He no longer gives you more instruction.
Character matters. The higher the calling, the greater the character required to fulfill it. God canít build our character for us. Instead, He gives us opportunities and situations that require character. So it is up to us to step up to the plate. But to do so requires humility and risk with no guarantee of the outcome.
God is not through with me yet. I still have years left in me to be obedient to the Lord and Savior I profess to love with all my heart, my soul and my being. But I believe he had to break and remold me on the potterís wheel in order for me to be of further use to him, for he knows I so want to be used of him. I love him.
He has used me in other ways other than the types of experiences I have expressed in this article that I find deeply fulfilling. And although I have yet to speak in tongues or learn what the other two words are, hopefully I am coming into that mindset where I now fear him more than I fear man.
I have lived a Jacobís life - although my basic flaw is fearfulness, not deceit and showing favoritism. When I read about Jacobís life, what I find most interesting is his transformation. After all, thatís really what our lives are to be about, isnít it? We all have basic character flaws, donít we? When Jacob had to leave home because of his deception, he met his match in the man he needed to work for. And when he came back home twenty years later, he no longer used deception as a means to get ahead. But Jacobís troubles didnít end once he arrived home. Some of his grown sons also caused him enormous grief. And some (although certainly not all) of their actions were rooted in bitterness over Jacob playing favorites, provoking them. Yet Jacob also lived by faith, holding on to Godís promise and will always be remembered throughout all generations as a descendant of the promised Messiah. For our God is frequently referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
It takes courage to serve the Lord. It takes courage to face the giants in the land. It takes courage to know when God is asking something of you and to take action, believing in faith that you are doing his will. It takes courage in this day and hour to do what is right that the culture now considers wrong, trusting God with the outcome. And it takes wisdom to do all of it in love.
Someday soon we will give an account when we face our Lord, and how we will wish we had done so much more. Paul knew he had fought the good fight. How many of us know that.