Beloved

My life verse is:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 emphasis added)

Abiding denotes a relationship. If you live together, you know each other. I want to know my Savior. It has been my experience that prayer, like nothing else, allows me to know Him. In prayer, I can, by the power of the Spirit (the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead), think and feel what God thinks and feels. Look at these verses to see this amazing promised confirmed in scripture:

1 Corinthians 2:9-16 says:
However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ
.”

I can humbly yet resolutely confirm that God’s mind directs my thoughts and even my feelings. One Sunday quite a few years ago, for example, I was praying during communion when I began to think of my sister-in-law out of the blue. Suddenly, I was completely overcome with grief and sadness. I had a very great burden to pray for her, and my heart ached in my chest as I wept for her unnamed pain. As I drove home with my husband that morning, my eyes continued to ooze tears. In an impassioned plea, I looked over at a confused Jason in the driver’s seat and said, “We need to pray for your sister!” Without revealing too much about a very personal situation, the next day I was to learn why I had felt such grief. My sister-in-law’s long term relationship had ended with painful betrayal the day the Lord asked me to pray for her.

Through this experience, I knew my King because my heart was truly abiding with His for those few moments in church. I discovered with absolute resounding clarity that Jesus is compassionate in ways I had never understood until then. His compassionate heart literally leveled me, and I intuitively knew the feelings I experienced were only glimpses. My weak body could only handle small doses of His infinite oceans of empathy.

Hebrews 4:13-16 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
.”

Christ’s mind moved me, His vessel, to grieve and empathize with my sister-in-law’s pain even when my physical mind had no idea about her situation. Then, because of grace, the Spirit began to make intercession through me, a used vessel, as I begged God to show her how lovely, precious, and beautiful she was even in the face of rejection. The Lord refused to leave my sister-in-law alone in her grief. How deep the Father’s love for us! To know His love changes one forever.

I have a neighbor that I love dearly. For the sake of privacy I will call her Amy, because Amy means beloved. Amy married one of my brother’s best high school friends. For this reason, I began praying for Amy and her husband long before they serendipitously moved across the street. She is a proud atheist and a beautiful, gregarious, generous person. At first, conversations with her were awkward and confrontational. I worked to convince her that Jesus was real. One day, after responding to Amy in another long-winded admittedly argumentative private message on Facebook, I took a walk with my family to depressurize. As my husband and children strolled ahead on a neighborhood bike path, I fell back a bit to speak to God about our “debate”. My mind was twirling and running in the aftermath of the heated discussion. I wondered aloud to the Lord if anything I had written would get through. Suddenly, my rampant thoughts were interrupted with what I can only describe as the heart of God. For a moment, I saw my neighbor as He saw her. My Father was her Father too. She was His creation. Beautiful. Loved. Treasured. Father’s feelings for Amy, His beloved little girl, hit so hard that I could barely continue to walk. Then I heard the Spirit whisper, “I just want you to love her.” At that moment, I was convinced that arguments would not win her heart, only love would.

And so I love Amy. Not with a fake phony love. But with the supernatural love of the Father in heaven who loves His child even as she denies and mocks Him. Remember my life verse? Jesus said “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” All my defending and apologetic arguments for the Christian faith were in my own strength and flesh. God told me as I walked down that little path that all that talking and debating amounted to nothing. However, if I loved Amy with the love He gave me, she would come home.

I have heard Christians say that unbelievers cannot live happy lives without God. I disagree. What my brothers and sisters in Christ fail to realize is that lost folks don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t understand supernatural joy and peace because they have never experienced it. If someone has never heard the Lord’s whispers or felt the Spirit quicken, then how can I explain it? To atheists, my stories probably sound like utter foolishness. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

I can only continue to intercede and ask that God draws those precious lost souls I am burdened for to Himself for Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

Sometimes the burden for the lost literally leaves me breathless. One night as I prepared to go to sleep, I approached the Lord in prayer. I closed my eyes and saw the throne of God. My King sat in light and looked down on me in love. I fell to my knees and cried, “Holy!” Then, after I told Jesus I loved and adored Him, the Spirit began to intercede for the lost though me. I starting calling out for the salvation of my friends, loved ones, and neighbors. After a couple of seconds of speaking names, I knew I would repeat myself or forget important people without some sort of organization.

So, I looked up at God’s face hidden in light and asked Him for something to write on. If I could symbolically write each person’s name down, the process would help me keep track of who I had prayed for and who I still needed to bring to the Lord’s attention. To my surprise, God did not hand me paper, but a rectangular piece of wood about 3 feet wide and six inches long. So instead of writing, I began to carve the names of those I loved into the wood Christ gave me. When I had finished carving the first a name, I sat the piece of wood to the side, and asked for another piece of wood. I continued like this for a long time. I cried and carved and stacked pieces of wood. Eventually I was completely overwhelmed at the enormity of the stack of wood I had built. “There are so many, Lord!” I cried. Finally, when the burden lifted, I fell into an exhausted sleep. I dreamed that night and woke up to the sound of my own voice singing to the Lord.

The next day, I drove to work as usual. My kiddos were quietly reading in the back seat, so it gave me time to think about last night’s prayer time. As I reflected on these events in the light of day, it all seemed so strange! So, I said, “Lord Jesus, I need a sign that it was You directing my thoughts and actions last night. I would love a confirming sign showing me You heard me.” I didn’t know how God would answer my prayer- it was so specific- but I knew He could.

I walked into work and sat down at my desk in the front office of a school office. About five minutes later, I was engrossed in a task when I heard my boss, the principal, say, “Have you seen this, Julie?” I looked up and saw him holding this:

gracepaddle

Apparently the “grace board” had showed up on campus over the weekend, and it was strangely leaning against the building during car line drop off. My boss decided to bring it inside and didn’t quite know what to do with such a strange object.

This was a goose bumps moment. I smiled and shook my head. Astounded. Yep, that was the word. I was astounded. God had obviously heard my cries. The Lord of the universe had heard my prayer, and the Spirit was there guiding me the whole time! But how could I explain this? Would anyone understand?

As I continued to reflect on what the Lord was trying to communicate, I was stunned. The above picture is obviously of a paddle- typically a tool used for punishment. However, because grace is carved into the wood, I knew God was pointing to this:

kingofthejews

The day God’s Son hung from a tree, a sign was posted above Him. Although it was an attempt at mockery, every word written was true. Carved in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, were the words: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”.

It should have been my name carved in the wood. I should have died on that tree. All those that I had prayed for that night- they too deserved punishment because they have denied their Creator in unbelief or aloofness. They were among those in the crowd who mocked and laughed at God’s Son that dark day.

However, Jesus, King of the Jews, is unlike any other king in history. Even while He suffered and died at the hands of hateful men, He prayed, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!” As His blood was spilled to ransom the world, a tool of punishment became the ultimate tool of grace.

We are not on this earth to live moral lives.
We are not here to seek our own happiness.
We are not here to survive and endure.

We are here to abide with Jesus as it was in the beginning before the fall.
We are here to declare the work of the cross so that others might also experience the free gift of grace.
We are here to love as He first loved us.

Beloved, it is my prayer that you would know Him. From my soul I cry out to you and for you. He is Lord! One day soon, His Bride, His beloved, His Amy, will cry out in victory as she sees Jesus coming back for her:

“Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming, Climbing on the mountains, Leaping on the hills!” (Song of Solomon 2:8)

Fire

My move towards Jesus didn’t happen over night. Surrender was a slow progression over many months. God called out to me through songs, His people, and in a quiet but ever present pull. Eventually, as I began to read His word at first sporadically and then night after night, the Truth became too bright to ignore. After a small uneventful confession of both my sins and Jesus’s Lordship one day (and to be truthful, I don’t even remember a specific day that I prayed that fateful prayer of faith), I really began to seek out God’s will for my life.

When I read Scripture in those early days around my twenty-third year, the pages seemed to be alive. I would weep with deep gratitude at God’s love. I would shout with happiness at His forgiveness. I imagined myself walking in sandals next to Jesus listening to the Master speak as I poured over the red words. One night after reading the book of James for the first time, I was so convicted that I wouldn’t touch those chapters again for months. Gratitude poured out of me like an overflowing cup. One summer evening in the back yard I danced for Christ in the darkness, and Jesus sent shooting stars to light up the sky to say, “I love you too, Julie”! Oh there was so much joy in the spring season of my walk.

I discovered that the #Bible was not a dusty old book. His Word was ALIVE! I also found that I had developed some false thinking and misconceptions in my many years going to Sunday school. The thing that stuck out the most was that the God described in Scripture was powerful and that the church I knew looked nothing like the early days in Acts. I was so in awe of God’s might that praying was difficult, not because I was fearful of sounding silly, but because I knew I was speaking to the awesome omnipotent Creator of everything. When I approached the throne, I knew I was speaking to Jesus: Victor, Champion, Healer, Restorer, Author of Life, The One True God! I trembled at His authority.

But even while I trembled, I ached to experience Jesus in all His fullness. So, although I was only a little child, I began to take tiny baby steps in faith. Many days movement forward looked like this: “Oh, Jesus, I love you. Show me how You love me today.” I quickly discovered that my prayers were answered. Often times the answers left my mouth on the floor.

One morning I began reading the Book of Acts and about the Upper Room:

Acts 2:2-4 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

As I read those words, I thought, “I need the Spirit too, and Jesus promised that He would send The Helper!” (John 14:16) Later that day, I was in the shower again thinking about these verses. As I lathered my hair with shampoo, I prayed (I pray a lot in the shower!), “Lord, please give me the gift of the Holy Spirit like You did for Your followers in the Upper Room.” I paused a beat as the water poured down, waiting for something mysterious or miraculous to happen. Nothing did. So, I just accepted that God had heard my simple prayer of faith and answered because my request was according to the promises in His Word.

Something miraculous would happen a couple weeks later.

I was dead asleep one night when suddenly my “spirit” became aware of a Presence in my bedroom. Although my physical body was unconscious, my inner man was awoken. I wish I could describe the experience better, but words fail. One moment I was lying on my tummy sleeping, and then suddenly I was awake. More awake than I had ever been in my life. I felt two hands rest softly on my back. When they did, I felt a surge of energy and heat burst out from my middle to my extremities. I tingled with electricity everywhere. I obviously wanted to see who was in the room, so I rolled over and looked up. What I saw was the single most amazing, indescribable, life changing sight I have ever seen. A Being hovered above me, near the ceiling. Again, there are no words. The Spirit looked like an Angel on FIRE. The eyes were absolutely holy, and absolutely terrifying. I knew I was in the presence of power. As soon as my spiritual eyes saw the Spirit, I instantly jerked to fully physically conscious. I was still lying on my stomach. However, the energy that had been imparted was still coursing through me. I lay panting, but very still. I was too scared to move a muscle for many minutes.

Finally I got enough courage to look over at my husband sleeping beside me. Had he noticed anything? Nope… he was still sleeping soundly. “How could he not have noticed!?” I thought. After a long time, I bravely turned over to my back to sheepishly gaze up at the ceiling where I had seen the fiery Being. Of course I could not see Him with my physical eyes. I knew He was there, though, living inside me. The Spirit had been given as a down payment on my soul. I would never be alone again (2 Corinthians 1:22).

I am retelling this event more than a decade later, but the image is still burned into my memory. I was a life forever changed. My walk with Jesus took on new power after that night. I was filled with faith. I also believe that God gave me spiritual gifts that day- one of which would be the gift of discernment (1 Corinthians 14:1). Occasionally the Lord has pulled back the curtain allowing me to see into the spirit realm in dreams as He did that first day.

Father God is so generous, holding nothing back from His children (Luke 11:11-13). He wants to hear from us! We should pray simply, with faith and always within His will (Matthew 7:7). We have not because we ask not (James 4:3).

I would challenge you, beloved, to approach the throne of Grace boldly, and to ask for His Spirit to fill and lead you this and every day (Hebrews 4:16). Amen.