“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” ~Paul of Tarsus
Sitting at the crowded food court, my family and I were exchanging humorous banter. By “humorous” I mean the everyday discussions that ensue between three siblings, aged 5 through 8. It was a nice change of pace. I was rather worn, and made sure to avoid eye contact with others. I wanted to be left alone. I was basking in the joy and healing that comes through my own family. Father uses them to water my soul when it’s dry and hot.
In the midst of the carefree and frenzied dialogue, my middle son, Daniel, suddenly grew quiet. His eyes had locked onto an approaching passerby. Looking over, I too, begrudgingly I must confess, felt the stranger’s heart, as well as a portion of my son’s.
“Daddy. That man needs us to pray for him. Daddy, look. Daddy, that man over there….”
I stared at the man walking away, and allowed the Lord to open up to me a piece of his story. Interactions, faces and pains swirled about my heart. Daniel’s words, however, were sounding like far away echos. My mind was drifting elsewhere.
My son was pleading with me now, but I was already beginning to tear up from another site and another memory. A memory of long ago. One I wish I could forget and yet am ever grateful I never will. One that grew in intensity as I allowed the Holy Spirit to bring it back into full vision. Perhaps just this one… last… time.
I had sold my small landscaping business and moved into the personal training profession while still single and in my late twenties.
I had been seeking Father about my desire to be more like Him. The problem was, I was still a mess in many ways. I knew I was unfit for marriage, let alone children. I wanted to teach and demonstrate His love and power. I wanted to be a good dad. One that would raise and instruct children the way Jesus did. I knew I needed more, though. So much more…of Him.
It was several weeks now that I waited upon Him. Waited for some response that would change the mettle of my thinking. An encounter with His heart that would forever mark a part of my being. I waited for… something. I needed a breakthrough.
All day I strained hard to focus with my clients while I pondered on the kingdom. I felt something was coming. Anticipation was building in my spirit. It was as palpable as a coming thunderstorm just after all of creation grows quiet. Today was the day.
Yep. It came. Though it arrived in a manner I was not anticipating, and in the end, through a most easily overlooked vehicle. A simple act of obedience.
It had been a tiring day. Not so much physically, even though I had been up since 4 am. Rather, it was my soul that was weary. It was past midday when I finally pulled into my driveway after a rather taxing session with a client, and I was eager to get back into some intense prayer and fasting. It was then that I noticed my elderly neighbor across the road who had just begun trimming the hedges that extended the entire length of his corner-site property. We were in the teeth of a July heat wave and I estimated it would take my neighbor several hours to finish the task. I felt a tinge of compassion for the man… only a tinge. He was a rather miserable fellow. Sentiment was soon replaced with the relief that I was no longer gainfully employed by such undesirables, and I turned away.
Anticipation of deep communion grew, and I closed my car door. As it shut, I heard the Lord speak to me.
“David. I want you to go to your mom and dad’s house, get your landscaping equipment, trim his hedges and cut his lawn.”
“What?! Lord, he will criticize the work I do, tell me he could have done a much better job, and be thankless.”
The Lord continued, “After you have finished, his wife will come outside and invite you to eat dinner with them. You will accept. After dinner, she will offer you coffee and dessert. Then you will share with them the gospel and he and his wife will accept me as their Savior.”
I turned and stared. My view toggled from the long, uninterrupted hedge row, to the man… and then back to the hedges. I looked up at the horizon and noted the time until sunset. The back of my neck tightened under the heat, and I could already feel the itch of arduous work giving me a rash. What’s more, I had to go grab my pickup and equipment that was almoooosst a full 5 minutes away. In fact, I was so disinclined with the entire conversation I failed to even recognize it was the most clear and concise word of knowledge I had ever received up to that point in my life.
“Nah… I need that breakthrough, Lord. OK?”
And so it goes, that, oft times the most consequential decisions we make, the ones that leave the most lasting and indelible marks on our soul, are decided with the least amount of contemplation. It had taken me longer to choose what shirt I was going to wear that morning.
I changed, showered, grabbed my bible and water and entered into several hours of prayer with Father-God. It was wonderful. He shared with me areas that were blocking greater intimacy and Holy Spirit illuminated scriptures. I enjoyed the reality of His love for several more hours until I fell asleep, fully confident He would continue speaking to my heart during the night watch.
I dreamed of fire and torment. I saw a place of agony and felt a disconsolate futility emanating from those who died having rejected the gift of reconciliation. I saw things I shall never care to describe. Underneath it all, mingled with the wretchedness of what I was experiencing, was Father’s heart. Though I could not see Him, I understood in this dream that Jesus was weeping. My Lord was crying. He was crying over His lost children. Perhaps, most unusual to me, though, was that woven in the background, throughout the entire experience, the distant shrill of some sort of sirens could be heard. Very, very odd.
I awoke, not at all refreshed. A heaviness filled all my being and a nausea tugged at my stomach as I prepared to leave for work once again long before sunrise.
I opened my apartment door and walked right into the upstairs tenant who was now staring across the street. Several ambulance and police cars lined both sides of the road.
“Mr Johnson had a heart attack late last night. He’s gone. Didn’t you hear all the noise?”
Without replying, I stepped back inside. My knees gave way and I fell prostrate, sobbing, inconsolable and destitute. I experienced a sense of loss that I am now certain was a much more diluted emotion than what my Savior felt. I cancelled all my appointments for the rest of the week.
Ah, but some of you may have recalled I mentioned a “breakthrough” resulting from an act of obedience, not rebellion, right? I’ll explain.
I could share what the following hours, days and weeks were like for me, but it really is outside the scope of this story. However, when His loving hand of discipline relented, I at long last, felt some relief.
Jesus lifted up my countenance one morning. I felt His sovereign Hand grab all the shame and guilt and condemnation that was wrapped around my head and heart. The barrenness was torn away. I felt the glow of His embrace. The reality of His love and unconditional acceptance pierced through all the darkness that had almost engulfed me.
And then He spoke.
“David, I can only share with you what you are willing to steward. Turn your regret into resolve. Never look back unless it is with the eyes of resolve. You must always turn regret into resolve. You are forgiven. Now… resolve to never do this again.”
And so I did. I made two decisions. One. I would allow the desires of His heart to rule above whatever may be out of alignment in my own. Two. That any time I mess this all up, I will use it to push me deeper into Him. No condenmnation. No Shame. Only resolve.
I felt something click inside my soul as the hammer of His heart beat my forehead into iron. The tears flowed more. Hot streaks that burned at cheeks and stung my nose from within. They flowed alright. But from a different source now. One that came from His throne-room. His mind. His heart.
My breakthrough had finally come…
Daddy…? He is walking away. Daddy..??
“What do you feel, Daniel? What is Jesus speaking to your heart?” I asked, trying to re-engage the present.
“He is sad, Daddy. We need to go pray for him.”
How I long for my children to walk the road less traveled; to grasp for themselves the truths I learned only by fire and anvil, and by hammer and hand.
Wiping my eyes, I took Daniel’s chin between my thumb and index finger. My beloved son. My Daniel…
“Let’s roll, buddy.”
For many of us, the worries, personal agendas and fears of this life choke the love of God that has been shed abroad in our heart. We refrain. We distract ourselves. We hide beneath the very things He longs to set us free from. Then we self destruct on our regrets and failures. To top it off, we carry the burden of our accuser’s allegations, thinking it is “our cross” to bear.
Turn your regrets into resolve, my family. There is no incrimination that stands against us when we are covered in His robe of righteousness. He asks only that we allow Him to come through the door of our innermost being. Let Him deliver us from the things that keep us from experiencing the reality of His fierce love.
Then, such as you have….
Resolve to give.
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”’