I have this clear memory of when I was young sitting in a Sunday school classroom filled with soft, morning sunlight. More distinctly and more importantly, I knew Jesus was in that room with me. I felt His presence, and it was sweet.
Several years went by, and I eventually made a public profession of my faith in Him. I’ve lived for Him ever since. Strangely though, I always felt like something was missing in my walk with Him. Something vital.
*Snap*…I figured it out! I needed to do whatever I had to do to prove that I was His to others and to prove to Him that I loved Him. I prayed really great prayers. I became very involved in my church youth group. I tried to only hang out with Christians. I read the Bible as much as I could. Of course, there were lapses in all these attempts to please Him. I made puh-lenty of mistakes. Cure for the guilt I felt? Do more. Pray harder. Get more involved with church. Only hang out with good Christians. Read the Bible even more. All were great ideas that manufactured a veneer so holy looking, that I confused the look of sanctification with the actual process in my heart. My concept of how to draw nearer to Him was flawed because it lacked the most important component: I never asked Jesus what He really wanted.
There’s nothing new under the sun, and the Word of God is held up like a mirror for us to see our spiritual condition in hi-def clarity…if we have ears to hear and eyes enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Here’s a passage in Matthew 17 that has made what I was doing glaringly obvious to me:
Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
It must have thrilled Peter to have Jesus motion for him, along with James and John, to join Him in His regular practice of getting away from the crowds to be with His Father. The honor of being handpicked to accompany the Master may have helped propel him up that tall mountain, over the jagged rocks and prickly brush. At some point of the ascent though, what the three disciples see surpasses any of the miracles and signs they had seen during their time with Him. Jesus becomes literally radiant with the glory of God! To add to the shock of seeing the Master they have walked with, talked with, and eaten with shining bright as the sun, Moses and Elijah, two of the most revered men in Jewish history, appear before their eyes. Peter is absolutely starstruck! Feeling the need to speak at this auspicious occasion, he rattles off a hastily devised plan involving his efforts to commemorate this event properly. Oh yeah, and Jesus, could you sign off on this work order so we can get started with construction a.s.a.p.? “What a great plan! Thanks, man!” was what I’m sure Peter was expecting to hear.
If God the Father were from the South, He may have said, “Bless your heart, Peter” while shaking His head. Instead, He interrupts Peter’s PowerPoint presentation with a clear declaration of who this Person standing before them is. He does what the Father does so well…He glorifies His Son.
But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.”
What tender affection and honor! This event wipes away any doubt the disciples may have harbored as to who Jesus really is. He is the One that they would give their lives for…completely. He is the only One worthy of that kind of sacrifice. The Father establishes a memorial in their hearts that would outlast any pile of bricks and sticks Peter or anyone else could build. He follows up with a command that is the only reasonable response to this revelation: “Listen to Him.”
For a good portion of my Christian life (nearly 30 years), I did not want to listen to Him. Sure, I wanted to serve Him because I knew the alternative was not pleasant. I also enjoyed all the promises in the Bible that give comfort in a mighty uncomfortable world. However, I shrank away from the torn veil of the temple. I did not want to enter in and listen to Him because that would mean I would be accountable to do anything He told me to do. I gave a lot of time and effort to “honoring” Him who saved my soul by doing a lot of stuff. That seemed like the right thing to do. I wanted the privileges of being “obedient” in doing those things as His child, but I didn’t want the responsibilities that I knew came with a closer relationship with Him. Boy, what a bill of goods I allowed the enemy to sell me! What I traded to have a safer relationship with Him was the tender intimacy that comes with leaning on His chest listening to His heart beat. Until the Holy Spirit revealed it to me, I was unable to see that the fear of complete surrender was quite literally choking the life out of me. He made me understand the precious time we spend together cultivating an intimate relationship is the place where I find the joy, grace, and mercy to do anything for Him. He desires to wrap me up in that holy cloud of His presence again and again to assure me of who Jesus is and to remind me to lean in to Him to hear what He has to say to me. Watch as this scene wraps up.
The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.
Jesus walks over to them, while their eyes are squeezed shut and their bodies are pressed into the mountain, and tells them, “Get up. Do not be afraid.” The Father has just instructed them to listen to Him, and the very first thing He tells them to do is to stand up and to not be scared. They raise themselves up at His bidding and look around to find…just Jesus. The only One they need. The One sent to reveal the Father’s heart to them, to us.
Entering into His pure and clean presence had frightened me too. But looking up into the eyes of Jesus made me fall hopelessly and madly in love with the Lover of my soul. Being desperately in love enables you to do crazy, impossible things…including laying down your life. That kind of love, that passion, is not sustained by casual conversations or occasional Twitter mentions. It comes from time spent at His feet, in His word, listening to Him.
Looking back, I realize I would never be satisfied with anything less than what I experienced as a little child in that Sunday school room. I was ruined in the most beautiful way. Nothing less than being with Him would do. And because He’s the One who does exceedingly abundantly more than anything I could ask or imagine, He wasn’t content with just being with me. He has made it crystal clear that He dwells in me, inhabits my innermost being. That reality messes with my mind, but it’s true and I won’t declare that it’s any less than that.
So, what does this mean to us? Well, if you’re like me and many people I’ve spoken to recently who have felt that resistance to yielding to His voice because you’re afraid of what will be required of you, let me encourage you. The unmatched joy of hearing His voice, of being close to His heart, helps to drive away the ruthless deception of our enemy. Obedience becomes glorious and not a burden. It will ruin you for anything less than His glory in your life. That’s because our Father knows what the enemy also knows: If you actually do listen to Him, what you hear will transform your life forever. For your good and His glory. That, my friends, is worth shouting from the rooftops!