Last fall was one of the strangest periods of my life. About halfway through a three month sabbatical our church in Denver (Bloom) had provided us over the summer, we discerned the Lord calling us to lay down that ministry, which we had lovingly and painstakingly built over seven years, in preparation for whatever was next. Getting to that point took an astronomical amount of spiritual and emotional effort. Lots and lots of wrestling with the Lord. LOTS.
When we finally got there, I assumed the natural and obvious thing to do was to rush out and write a letter of resignation, tell our leaders, make a big announcement, and “get the ball rolling.” We took it to a community of trusted counselors we had assembled around us for this period of discernment, and to a person they each said, “Great. Now wait. Don’t do anything. Let the Lord confirm his path. If this intuition is from him, he will show it in his time.”
That thought was almost completely foreign to me. Up to that time, most of the big decisions of my life (heck, most of the small ones too) had operated on a more or less “intuition–>action” principle. This new thing, “intuition–>wait, wait, wait…” was a genuine novelty. I didn’t really know what to do with it.
So we finished out the sabbatical, and I went back to work. I said nothing about what Mandi and I were sensing in our hearts. We just held it… and waited… and watched…
And the weirdest and most beautiful thing happened. I found myself drawn into what was for me a new place of genuine, exclusive responsiveness to the Lord. I almost want to call it “passivity” (which the great mystics have always extolled the virtues of), except that I fear that might be misleading. To the extent that it was “passive”, it was a sort of “active passivity”–waiting and watching, watching and waiting, hanging on his words, his activity, ready to “go” whenever he said and no sooner.
The experience, quite frankly, threw me into an altogether unknown place of fresh intimacy with the Lord. The beloved in the Song of Songs says, “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely” (6:16). I began to experience that. Hanging on his words, his activity, it both focused and relaxed me. My prayer life changed. I would wake up and head to my study for prayer, and instead of trying to crack open the mind of God to figure out what he was doing so that I could rush out and accomplish something great for him, I would instead sit in my “prayer chair”, coffee in hand, welcoming the Holy Spirit, and then just watch… entering into that place of responsiveness to his will, his word, my attention transfixed by his countenance.
It was crazy. As I did that, I would watch old anxieties melt away. Old angers and fears dissipate. The fires of ungodly ambition quenched with pure Love. “…and the things of the earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace” the old song goes. It was something like that.
One morning late in the fall, I was on a retreat with our Bloom team up in the mountains, and went for a walk to pray, holding the “waiting space” in my heart. The Lord gave me an image for that moment, which I’m sharing with you, hopefully for your benefit and encouragement. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I’ve left that space. Maybe he doesn’t want me–or any of us–to. Maybe at the end it’s always supposed to be like this–a place of focused relaxation as we hang on his words, his activity. I hope it blesses you.
(By the way, I should add how grateful Mandi and I are in retrospect for the counsel of those around us who told us to wait. As excruciating as it was at times, it allowed us to walk through the transition with the Bloom team, our congregation, and with our family in a way that honored everyone, and preserved relationship. There is sweetness everywhere because of it.)
(From November 20, 2016)
Yesterday the Lord came to me as I walked down the gravel road by myself in the morning. A glorious November morning in the altitude. 10,000 feet of joy. I walked and talked and worshiped him. Prayer and adoration poured out.
Suddenly I saw myself in a boat with Jesus. It was a little wooden rowboat. You could hear the “clap, clap” of the waves on the side of the boat, feel the gentle rocking, and hear the creakiness of the wood as it bent and flexed.
Darkness was all around. I could not see anything outside of the boat; only inside. Mostly my attention was taken up with Jesus. My sense was that we were in a vast expanse. No shore for miles, although I couldn’t be sure. Honestly, the shore could have been a dozen yards away and I wouldn’t have known it. It didn’t matter. I was with Jesus, and I was enjoying it.
I couldn’t exactly make out a rhyme or a reason to what he was doing. Here and there he would cast a line out one side and just sit. Other times he would grab the oars (he expressly forbade me from touching them) and row to some location that apparently was important for us to be, in what was all a dark void to my eyes. At other times he would futz around with little odds and ends in the boat. And still, I would sit and watch him, enjoying the rocking, the slight creaking, and the “clap, clap.” Here and there he would break off what he was doing and just look at me with a knowing smile. My heart would fill up with peace and a profound contentment. Those eyes… that face…
At times, I would start wondering about things. So I would ask, “What about my family? Where are we going? What are you doing?” He would reply, “Are you enjoying this?” “Yes,” I would answer. “Good. And do you trust me?” “Of course,” I would say. “Wonderful. Then you may continue to do so.” Instantly I would settle back in, lovingly watching his odd and incomprehensible activity, full-hearted.
And that was the strange thing about the image. There was no sense of movement per se–like, I didn’t sense a “destination” in it. There was no narrative for me to cling to. It was just him. Us. Together. And he–very much in charge. We were being blown along gently to God-knows-where and he was doing God-knows-what. And it was fine. I was happy.
I still am. The rocking. The creaking. The “clap, clap.” And that face. Those eyes. I just keep watching him… There is literally nothing else.