The story is over, right? The previous chapter was even conveniently rounded it off with a few remainders of what had happened in earlier chapters. If you think you have figured it out, you know as little as I did.|
It certainly seemed the end of the book Ė not just the end of exciting things to tell you about, but the end of any hope of this book ever being written. Someone had been playing hanky-panky with my mind. I was resolute in my determination to keep as hidden as a guilty secret anything to do with that. Since being floored by the mother of anticlimaxes, however, epiphanies and surprises have kept crashing into me.
Several times in the story so far I had thought I would no longer see that evil beast who wanted to be my master but he kept turning up. So since Chebon tore my soul to shreds I never thought epiphanies and the unexpected would keep happening but it has. Being sure that that Chebon bedroom invasion had squashed that wild roller-coaster ride of excitement and shocks, I could not believe or even imagine how many stunners were ahead.
Unless you skipped the prologue to the book, you will know that after finding myself back in my bedroom, nine months dragged by before I finally began writing this account.
As you might expect, by many measures, those months have been exceedingly mundane. By other measures, however, they have been more startling and profound than all of my exotic experiences combined. Likewise you, might be lulled into thinking this is the chapter is the dullest in the book, when something unexpected sneaks up on you and suddenly turns it into the most exciting chapter of all.
They might have come from left field but every undreamed-of development has been so revolutionary that I am itching to say each twist turned my whole world upside down. No matter how expressive, however, part of me is too much of literalist to let me get away with that sloppy wording. Everyone knows that once something is turned upside down a second time it is returned to its original state. I, on the other hand, am certain that after not one of these surprises will I never be the same again.
What for month after dreary month seemed mind-numbingly dull proved to actually be mind-bogglingly important and thrilling. I was not smart enough to expect the staggering reversals, but I am finally learning to be less surprised when it turns out God is good and right after all and crushing blows somehow transmute into jaw-dropping blessings.
In the following weeks, as my mind kept incessantly reviewing all my bizarre experiences, I found myself repeatedly struck by all those times away from earth I had been needlessly on edge or even afraid. In the early days of revisiting those indelible memories, I was riled by the realization that the Lord could so easily have reduced my terror by providing just a teeny bit of information. Regardless of what was really happening, it was bone-chillingly real to me at the time. God might have known I would be fine, I did not know and he kept me in the dark about it.
He could by any of a number of means have told me beforehand, for instance, that that enormous spider was harmless. In fact, he could have let me know that everything in that world was safe. What a relief it would have been! On and on I could rave about how easily God could have spared me so much nerve-racking stress and fear without even the slightest change to the events. I guess it made things more exciting but it seemed a cruel trick Ė perhaps even a dirty trick.
To be honest with myself, I was ticked off not merely because of those experiences but because they highlighted what seemed typical of how God seems to have treated me for a long as I have known him. Not only could an omnipotent Lord have made life and faith easier for me, I keep hearing glowing testimonies from people saying how God has done it for them. There are even highly successful godless people for whom everything seems to fall effortlessly into their laps Ė at least when compared with my life experiences.
Itís hard to know oneís own heart but I do not think it is that I am such a wimp that I recoil from a challenge and a little hardship. Itís not even that I am so mean spirited that I begrudge anyone being blessed. What sends me reeling like a sinking blow to the stomach, however, is the thought that God sees me as less lovable or worthy or special than some other people. I am certainly too wrapped up in myself and for purely self-obsessive reasons it is a big deal for me. Maybe I am so blinded by self-centeredness that I am just fooling myself but it seems to me that what bothers me about this even more than what Godís attitude says about me is what it says about God.
If the holy Lord is moved by fickle feelings and plays favorites, it niggles a worry about Godís integrity. Our planet is crammed with people who let self-centered things like emotions, physical attraction and vested interests move them to play favorites. Is God just as fickle? Does he have no loftier morals? Even if it were me who got all the breaks and blessings, it would still leave me with unsettling aftertaste. It would gnaw away at me, undermining some of my enthusiasm for God and some of the excitement I would feel about devoting my life to serving someone who in every way is perfect.
We cannot possibly reach our highest potential if what we hold highest in life is inferior. Ideally, we should adore and be head-over-heels in love with not just an all-powerful and super-intelligent being but one who is morally flawless and in every way perfect. We need as our inspiration someone who is infinitely superior to us in every admirable way.
My annoyance not God doing enough to stop me from being needlessly afraid in what seemed to be alien worlds was slowly displaced by thankfulness, as I began discovering something astonishing. I am freer from fear than ever before! I am not entirely sure why, but I sense my new-found peace is somehow interconnected with the fears I experienced.
Psychology talks of exposure therapy, but I suspect more than that was involved. I have somehow learned to relax and trust God more. Itís wonderful!
I used to think of inner peace as miraculous and effortless. Although, more than ever, I see such peace as a precious gift from God, I also see it as a thrilling achievement; the fruit of a victory that comes through courageously cooperating with God in facing fears and building faith. God is in it from start to finish and yet he lovingly gives us the privilege of playing a role such that, as dependent as we are upon his grace, he kindly allows us to be worthy of a ďWell done, good and faithful servant.Ē
I note all the times in the Bible that God and angels told people not to be afraid. Instead of flooding them with peace, sending them into La-La Land, like some supernatural dose of tranquilizers, he left it up to them. Would they choose to believe what they had just been told, or would they let doubt continue to feed their fear? It is not God being lazy, much less that he is hard-hearted, but giving us dignity by letting us play a role. In fact, though he has every right to hog all the glory, it allows us to share in his glory.
Put entirely differently: the view when standing on oneís fears is exhilarating. The benefits go way beyond any fears my dream Ė or whatever it was Ė directly reduced. Having been granted a taste of victory, I am beginning almost to relish prayerfully hunting down fears and squishing them under my feet. I cannot pretend to have arrived but I am closer than I ever dared imagine.
I think Chebonís fearsome appearance and sledgehammer bluntness had prejudiced me against him, blinding me to who he truly is. As awful as that time with him was, I sensed he was actually motivated by compassion. He was delivering home truths so that heaven might be my home forever. Not that I have come even close to regarding any of these formidable beings as a friend, but ďFaithful are the wounds of a friend,Ē bounces around in my mind. Iíve actually come to welcome uncomfortable truths and to see doing so as the height of wisdom.
I guess I always thought we could have spiritual escapades of the highest order without visiting exotic worlds. Proving it, however, was peculiarly satisfying. It seemed some sort of compensation for being earthbound.
My roller-coaster ride over my supposed return to the mundane has shown me something critical that too few of us grasp: a huge part of our on-going adventure is repeatedly discovering we are wrong. Not only does spiritual life begin by realizing we have been appallingly wrong, it is what keeps firing us higher and higher in God.
We rightly fear falling from truth but we need to equally fear falling short of the full truth. The problem with half-truths is that they are half lies. If truth sets us free, lies enslave us.
If at one point in time we had a miraculous or moving experience, surely it is God urging us to continue our pursuit of more of God and his truth, not his signal to slacken off.
When life is rough, we are tempted to display biblical ignorance by questioning God, saying, ďDonít you love me?Ē In reality, when life is bliss we have more reason for concern, asking, ďDonít you trust me? Do you think Iíll let you down unless you pamper and baby me?Ē Pause to ponder that. That change of perspective will revolutionize your life.
So hereís just one example of spiritual advance hinging on finding oneís error: the person who discovers he is mistaken in believing that life should be easy for Christians, is the person whose spiritual journey suddenly moves to warp drive.
The more I grappled with all of this, the more it seemed to me that these bizarre experiences have nudged me in the right direction in several areas of life. But it is a mixed blessing. To whom more is given, more is required. With each nudge comes the responsibility to keep pushing forward. Unless I keep putting in the effort, I will begin rolling backward and lose not only every bit of progress but could end up further behind than ever.
After months of prayerful attempts to come to terms with whatever I should call my experiences, I am still puzzled but less exasperated and more thankful. I find a slither of solace in the great apostle Paulís confusion over whether his experience was ďin the body or out of the bodyĒ (2 Corinthians 12:3). I cannot say that every trace of disappointment has vaporized but it has largely given way to gratitude for having been granted whatever they were Ė even if, as Chebon insisted, people spared such experiences this side of eternity are even more privileged.
More importantly, I have gained an increased capacity to tolerate being mystified. In fact, I have almost come to enjoy it.
Do I actually want to understand everything so fully that nothing fills me with wonder? Do I want everything to drain of excitement by there being nothing beyond my understanding and nothing new to discover? Do I want to sink into being so foolishly blinded by arrogance as to think I know everything in the infinite mind of God?
Iíve found a new contentment in being human and a new delight in God being infinitely bigger and smarter and more wonderful than me.
Something I fashioned years ago means more to me now than when I first wrote it. Here it is:
Basking in Infinite Love
Embraced by divine love, your life will be tinged with mystery but aglow with glory.
Tucked in the heart of Scripture sleeps a tiny psalm of precious truth (Psalm 131). The singer confessed that as a mother denies her baby access to her milk when itís time for her darling to be weaned, so God sometimes denies us things we crave. Yet as a weaned infant lies warm and secure in its motherís bosom, our soul can nestle into God, not knowing why we have been denied that which we have clamored for, but content to draw love and comfort from the Fatherís heart.
As the heavens soar far above us, high and unreachable, so is Godís wisdom (Isaiah 55:8-9; Psalm 139:6; 147:5; Romans 11:33-34; Job 11:7-9). Our tiny minds may understand the Fatherís ways no more than a babe understands its mother, yet still we can rest in him, bathed in the certainty that when the omnipotent, omniscient Lord lets the inexplicable touch a child of his, it is a manifestation of unfathomable love. In the hands of the One who wouldnít so much as break a damaged reed or snuff a smoking wick, you are safe (Matthew 12:20).
Inner pain had been such a constant companion that for a while I feared not having it. I worried that without it continually prodding me I would become spiritually lazy or fall into pride or some other unforeseeable disaster would before me. So far, I have seen no evidence of that. In fact, I seem more empowered. I sense, however, that my previous hang-ups had served a purpose, but I no longer need them. I think of it as like someone with a broken leg needs crutches for a while but then reaches the point where he is better off without them.
Had God given up on me by returning me to earth without entrusting me with rare diamonds of spiritual revelation? Or is the highest revelation what is available to all who seek God through his Word? In fact, does great spiritual achievement look even remotely like what we expect? Is it to rule galaxies from a celestial throne or is it to win eternal honor by transforming the mundane into an opportunity from which to glorify God? Is the Almighty impressed by our giftedness? Are not our gifts not ours but Godís? In the eyes of the one who knows our darkest secrets, the greatest of all is the servant of all.
Have I been banished to earth or have you and I been entrusted with a challenge of divine proportions? Is this my opportunity to spurn the sludge of ease, lethargy and mediocrity and rise to levels of faithfulness that will delight my King? Are we called to follow the path of glory carved by Christ who languished in obscurity, cut off from technology and even from political power?
In this a book is spiritual gold mixed with dross. Accurately discerning between the two is humanly impossible. You certainly cannot trust me to do it. You can trust God, however, provided you remain passionately committed to seeking his heart.
A key goal of this book is to shatter preconceptions so as to challenge you to settle for nothing less than your own divine revelation. The method God chooses to reveal this to you will probably seem more ordinary than visions or visitations but please keep asking him to open your eyes to whatever startling, ego-crushing truths you need to know in order to maximize your astounding potential in God. The result will bring both you and your King eternal glory.
For you, the adventure is just about to commence.
Your most fallible servant,
This copy is for personal use only. Not to be placed on the Internet, nor sold.
This copy is for personal use only. Not to be placed on the Internet, nor sold.