I went away recently for a couple of days, to be alone with the Lord, to hear from Him and be guided by Him, be guided by His Word, with respect to the treatment options that we were facing. I didn’t know what that would look like — there is no Bible verse that says, “Here is the medical treatment approach you take to defeat advanced pancreatic cancer”. All I did know is that my Father, My King, had called me to be with Him, alone, and had placed upon my heart a deep, deep longing to seek Him, to seek His face, in solitude and silence.
“When you said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek.’” Ps. 27:8.
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Earlier this year the Lord had me camp at John 10:40: ”And He [Jesus] went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” I recall it was the sheer poetry of the verse – the utter restfulness of it all — that first caught my attention. In a book (the Bible) that necessarily condenses its prose and invites the reader to delve deep into the text, led and taught by the Holy Spirit, this verse seemed to meander along quite unconcerned with word count. “And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” In the peaceful pacing of those words, I heard my Abba-Father’s voice, His heart, calling to me, drawing me close. And so I drew near, and stayed with Him there for a period that extended for days, a week, two weeks, and more, during the month of February.
But even after all that time, I had the sense that I was missing something. There was a missing piece, something that I couldn’t quite latch onto. A key piece, it seemed. Sometimes the Lord will do this with me. He will bring me to a verse simply to say “Mark this.” He will make a verse or a passage stand out to me, and I will sit with it and meditate upon it — sometimes for a day, sometimes even for weeks — before I understand that now is not the time for His full revelation to me. The point is, He is saying to me “Mark this. One day I’m going to bring you right back to this verse to speak to you, but now is not the time. Right now, I’m just saying ‘Mark this, remember this day, this moment, these words, because when the time comes for Me to speak to you more fully in this verse, I want you to know – to know, in an especial way – that it’s Me.’”
* * * * * *
I vividly remember watching the sun rise one morning with my God and King at Brandywine Falls — a small, rather out-of-the-way waterfall near my home. The Lord had invited me to do that with Him — propelled me to do that with Him (but that’s another story ☺) — one fall morning years ago. That morning was a particularly intimate morning for us, and I’m sure it is written on my heart for all of eternity. But for now I want to share just one small thing that happened that morning. It was something I didn’t quite “get” — a “mark this” moment. I saw a single leaf falling from a tree. It variously lilted and tumbled and turned as it meandered its way from oak to stream. Then another. A single leaf, twirling quickly, its descent a bit more rapid before it settled abruptly upon the grass below. Then another, its dance and its resting place altogether different. And another, then another. On and on, amidst the quiet of stream and breeze. So restful. So peaceful. And I remember wondering “Lord, what are You saying here? What do you have for me here?” But there was nothing more. It was a “mark this” moment.
Several months later I was sitting by the fireplace before dawn, after a fresh snowfall of four, maybe five, inches. A peaceful Saturday was promised ahead as I warmed my hands against the soft glow of orange coals, certain the rising sun would soon unveil trees and shrubs gently wrapped, branch and twig, in delicate white. My family slept soundly, safely upstairs. For me, there was
solitude and silence.
God and me.
Alone, together . . .
He waiting to unwrap for me His gift of an untouched snowscape, and me excited to cherish that gift, that morning, with Him. I set aside my journal and reached for some split cherry to keep the fire apace, wondering what Scripture to open, asking Him for guidance. I had been longing for quite some time to meditate upon His voice, as described by the Psalmist, but I always got the sense that the timing wasn’t right. From time to time I would move in that direction, but each time I sensed a soft, unspoken resistance of sorts, and so I would set it aside to wait for Him.
That morning, our wait was over. For as I sat with the Lord, staring into the fire, seeking His guidance, I was surprised (and pleased!) when I sensed Him encouraging me to explore His voice. I hadn’t asked, but it was time.
I had forgotten which Psalm it was, but recalled that I scrawled “HIS VOICE” in big letters on that page of my Bible so I would be able to find it when the time came. I leafed through the Bible and found those block letters aside Psalm 29, settled in close to the fire, and began meditating upon His voice as revealed through David’s poetic heart.
3The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders;
The Lord is over many waters.
4The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
6He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.
8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
9The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth,
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”
(Psalm 29:3-9). For a time much of the Psalm was hidden from me. I struggled. I saw the sheer power and majesty of the Lord, but not much more.
“What do you have for me here, Lord? Teach me, I pray.”
I meandered my way through the Psalm again. Glory, thunder, power, majesty, breaks, splinters. . . . As I came to verse 9 I pictured the Lord’s thundering voice just absolutely blasting a forest bare, in an instant. BOOM! Done!!
But in that moment my heart replayed a solitary, lilting leaf balleting its way, restfully, gracefully, toward the ground, quietly nestling into its place beside a gently flowing stream born of Brandywine Falls. . . . My Father unfolding for me the meaning of that long ago “mark this” moment:
“That is how My voice strips a forest bare.”
I thought back to Brandywine Falls — and suddenly I saw the quiet beauty, the sheer romance of it all. There was no rush. . . . It was not frantic and hurried. . . .
It was slow –
– so slow that I didn’t even realize, as I sat by the falls, that He was stripping an entire forest bare, right in front of me, all around me, in those very moments.
By His power, by His might, He was accomplishing much(!) — transforming an entire forest(!!!) — but His voice, His heart in that, was subtle . . . it was thoughtful . . . and gentle . . . and creative . . . and romantic . . . and soft . . . and enthralling. . . .
And with that the Lord began to unfold His Psalm (Ps. 32:8; Ps. 94:12; Is. 45:3). As I delved into the original Hebrew text the Word spoke to me of my King (v 3-6) and my Father (v 7-9). A King who is almighty, full of majesty, in control. And yet a King who is my Father, who searches out and speaks to my deepest heart with love and compassion and understanding.
And then, in those pre-dawn moments, “glory”, “thunder”, “power”, “majesty”, “breaks”, “splinters” somehow became not so much words or concepts, but poetry that my Lord laid upon my heart. And even as my heart – my heart – knew Him as Omnipotent King in those moments, my heart likewise knew that those gently falling leaves expressed the voice of Someone in love. That, yes, this King – the King — was so very much in love even with me. My heart knew, felt, without words:
My heart broke within me. I quietly, tearfully, moved down from my rocking chair, onto my knees — and before the warmth of the small fire, my heart trembling with love, gave myself, all of me, over to my God, my Father, my Love.
* * * * * *
May 2, the day we received the initial cancer diagnosis, seems like a long time ago. And yet, in some ways, it was yesterday. I remember we — Diane and I — returned from the Cleveland Clinic and stood together in the kitchen, talking. During our conversation I recall there was a pause, a lull. Silence. For a moment, neither of us had anything to say. . . .
And amidst that quiet my Father silently spoke to me: “And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.”
My mind, in seconds, recalled and replayed the context of the verse that I had bathed in for most of February. Jesus had just been thrown out of Jerusalem, run out of the city He loved, by the people He loved. Though He had tried for months to romance them – healing, forgiving, teaching, ministering, loving – they wanted Him dead. He would not go back to Jerusalem until He returned for Passover, for His crucifixion, three months later.
In John 10:40, Jesus’ world was listing all around Him, and He knew He was three months from His death.
And in those very moments 2,000 years ago, the Father asked Jesus to come be with Him in a particularly intimate place – the place where Jesus was baptized. The very place where, three years earlier, the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ even as His Father openly declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” For Jesus, a place of emotion and assurance and heart, where scent and sight and sound resonated, deep, with memory and meaning. And it was a remote place, a restful place, of solitude and silence. A place to detach from the world, and sink into the Father. A place of refreshment, focus, fulfillment, and call clarification. A place to breathe deep, with eyes and heart and ears and hands heavenward.
“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.”
As my Abba-Father spoke those restful, poetic words to me on May 2, I understood, I knew. They shared not only His heart toward Jesus, His call to Jesus when Jesus’ world was listing and death drew near, but they likewise expressed His heart toward me, His call to me, as my world listed, as death (so I was told) drew so very near. I realized, then, that the missing piece, in February, the part of the text I couldn’t “get”, was me. The Lord brought me to that verse in February because He knew May 2 was coming. That a day was coming when I would need to know – oh how very, very much I would need to know – that He was there. With me. For me. Holding me, calling unto me. In love with me. Yes, He knew how much I would need Him.
Oh how much – how much! — I need Him.
And so He took the time, over the course of several weeks in February, to take me, His beloved, deep into that verse and, ultimately, to say to me, “Mark this. One day I’m going to bring you right back to this verse to speak to you, but now is not the time. Right now, I’m just saying ‘Mark this, remember this day, this moment, these words, because when the time comes for Me to speak to you more fully in this verse, I want you to know – to know, in an especial way – that it’s Me.’”
Yes, in those moments on May 2 I knew my Father was calling me, even me, to our special place, to Brandywine Falls. A place, for me, of emotion and assurance and heart, where scent and sight and sound resonate, deep, with memory and meaning. A remote place, a restful place, of solitude and silence. A place to detach from the world, and sink into the Father. A place of refreshment, focus, fulfillment, and call clarification. A place to breathe deep, with eyes and heart and ears and hands heavenward.
And so, in mid-June I found myself there, alone with Him, in answer to His call, listening to His voice speak to me again, from Scripture and from sermons, through nature, and quietly in my heart. . . .
Oh, how much, how very much, I need Him.
* * * * * * *
Psalm 92, I believe, captures my heart right now, as I reflect upon the moments I just recorded here, and contemplate and cherish His greatness, His goodness to me, His eternal lovingkindness toward me:
1 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
2 To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning,
And Your faithfulness every night,
3 On an instrument of ten strings,
On the lute,
And on the harp,
With harmonious sound.
4 For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work;
I will triumph in the works of Your hands.
5 O Lord, how great are Your works!
Your thoughts are very deep.
Ps 92:1-5. (Amen!)
I can’t even begin to comprehend the depth of His thoughts toward me, the depth of His heart for me, every moment of every day.
As He unfolded an autumnal ballet before me, He knew of an intimate fire quietly lighting and warming a room for a man who longed to know His voice – to know Him – more dearly. And so, even as He passionately embraced me atop the early morning falls, He silently whispered to me of a time when He would satisfy, more fully, that yearning of my heart. Unashamedly baring even His own heart’s desire for that moment by the fire.
And in the midst of a February winter, that heart – His heart – seemed to break for me even as He romanced me with poetry, with restfulness, and poured Himself out with compassion and mercy, so I would be assured of His care and provision, His love, on that fateful, second day of May, when my world would be listing, when death would seem to be drawing near.
What more is there to say? Words fail me. This is my God. This is His heart. The heart of my Abba-King. He is deeply concerned — for me. Deeply romantic — towards me. Deeply in love — with me. Unashamed of His feelings for me, dust, a man who deserves nothing, but who is worth everything, to Him.
And here, really, is the point of all this:
This is your God.
I certainly hold no special claim(!!) upon His heart that He does not offer and shower upon you! For Someone is deeply in love with you. Yes,
He is deeply concerned — for you.
Deeply romantic — towards you.
Deeply in love — with you.
Unashamed of His feelings for you, dust,
a person who deserves nothing,
but who is worth everything, to Him.
I don’t know where this life finds you at this moment. Perhaps on the cusp of a celebration, or gazing upon waves rolling in from the ocean, or setting aside your guitar. Perhaps beside a campfire, or preparing for a nap, or baking. Perhaps in an airport headed home. Or away.
Perhaps you’ve just walked into your kitchen, holding a mortal diagnosis in your hands for the very first time . . . .
I don’t know.
But I do know this. Wherever this finds you, God’s heart toward you is the heart of Someone deeply in love, and He is calling to you even now(!) . . . saying to you, His beloved, “Seek My face”. For that is His heart. He does not try to hide it, as all of Scripture attests — and will attest, for all of eternity.
May you hear Him, hear His voice. And may your heart say to Him, “Your face Lord, I will seek.”