Words on the Door
Some would like me to tell you that the reason I believe in God is intellectually and theologically pristine. And I would like to think that I’ve studied enough biblical theology, comparative religions, history, philosophy and ancient Greek to make a good case for God’s existence in those arenas. But if I’m completely honest, I must admit that the true reason I continue to believe that God exists is that, he has, on may occasions, interacted with me in personal and supernatural ways. In my darkest hours of life, my consolation does not come from the so-called “orthodox” Christian ideas that I’ve learned. It’s the “Who” I believe; the God that has touched my life deep within my soul. It’s the God who sees me, who knows me and who speaks to me.
So the first story I will share happened when I was about 8 or 9 years old. If you are old enough, you might remember the television series, “In Search Of”, hosted by Leonard Nimoy. I used to love to watch this show dedicated to exploring mysteries and natural phenomena. On one particular night it covered the topic of the death of stars, particularly, how our sun would die. According to Leonard, it would first expand outward burning up and tearing apart the earth before turning into a black hole. I went to bed frightened by the images of our planet breaking apart underneath us.
As I lay in bed, I thought of a few excuses to get up. First, I had forgotten to brush my teeth. (Always a good one that no mother could refuse.) Then, I remembered to take my vitamins. And after that, I needed a drink of water. At her wits end, my mother threatened a spanking was I to get up one more time. So that was it. It was the dark room and me – and Leonard Nimoy’s looming prognostications of our dear earth’s impending doom. I had just started attending a small Christian school and remembered something that a teacher had said about praying to God when I was afraid. So in a final effort to calm my fears, I whispered a prayer to him, “God, help me not be afraid.”
I looked up at half-opened door to the bedroom and saw what appeared to be letters and numbers on it. It spelled, “Psalm 104:5”. Everywhere I looked this scripture reference appeared in my vision, like a retina burn when one looks at a bright light and looks away. I blinked a bit and was quite surprised at what I thought I saw. I thought that I should look in my Bible and see if there was such a verse (at the time I doubted there were that many chapters in the book of Psalms) and I wanted to read what it said. But my Bible was in the other room and I didn’t want to upset my mother any more than I had. So, I told God that if what I was seeing was really from him and not my own imagination, to please help me remember it in the morning. A deep peace came over me and I fell asleep.
In the morning, I remembered the verse. I told my mother the whole story and she ran to get my little King James Version Children’s Bible to see if there was a “Psalm 104, Verse 5”. In utter amazement, she found it and read it aloud to me:
Beginning with the first verse,
“1 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
3 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind:
4 Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
5 Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.“
And in that moment, with my mom as my witness, he laid a foundation for my life that would not be removed for ever.
God Asked Me to Be Rude
“Hmmm… that doesn’t sound like God. Asking someone to be rude?” This is what I might have said about this story at different points of my life. But I have learned that God doesn’t have as many problems offending people as I do. And this experience with God was one of quite a few times I’ve noticed that God will be unconventional if he wants to. And much to my surprise he often asks my to participate in his shenanigans…
“There will be a school-wide assembly during 3rd period today,” announced the administration of Princeton High School. “The drama department has a special presentation.” With the crowd, I funneled into the auditorium looking for my two best friends: but I ended up sitting alone.
I had been attending this “ivy-leaguesque” school for 3 years now and was finally comfortable with my place in our class. There were the usual groups: the athletes, the druggies, the artsy, the academically advanced, those we used to call “punkers”, and some people were a little bit of each. I fell somewhere in a mixed ranking of the academic/athletic/artsy crowd. But, in many ways, we were all the same. I knew many individuals in the various groups in my class struggled emotionally as so many do at that age. So, we sat. Waiting for this presentation. I was one in a crowd of many – that is until I heard God speak to me and say – “When I tell you to, I want you to yell out, ‘Jesus Christ will!'”
“What?!!!” I thought I was going crazy! “This couldn’t be God. How rude! No. That is just not right!” But I sat there, feeling this overwhelming power coming over me and making me shake…
The first scene started with a girl who was living a life of prostitution. Her face was downcast and ashamed as she continued on her way across the stage, telling her story of childhood abuse. She felt dirty and trapped and asked how she might ever get over her self-hated.
The second scene was a boy who had a drug addiction. His slavery to cocaine was inescapable. “What is wrong with me!” he screamed at us. “There is NO hope for me! I have hurt everyone who loved me and I am all alone! Only pain and emptiness are my friends!”
There were a few more heart-wrenching stories like the first two. My heart was beating so hard thinking about what God had told me to do. Some of the actors were my friends – doing a phenomenal performance. Maybe I had just imagined the whole thing…
One last character held a rope with a noose and began telling his plan to kill himself. He had been abused by many people in his life and also felt dirty, had no hope for a future and despised himself. He stood up, walked to the edge of the stage, pointed at the audience in the middle and yelled, “Who will give me hope?!!” He pointed at the audience on the left and screamed again, “Who will erase the wounds inflicted on my soul?!!” My hands and feet were sweaty and my heart raced as he turned to my side of the audience and pointed directly at me. He looked me in the eye and demanded, “Who will wash away the death and filth of my life?!!!”
“NOW!!!” God said. “Now.” I looked at the actor and remained silent. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t answer his question.
And the moment was over. And the whole play was over. A heaviness came over the room. No hope. No answers. I just sat there in shock. Suddenly my friend Claire awakened me from my stupor. She was hurrying to me, with tears pouring down her face. “Did God tell you to say something?”, she cried out. All I could do was nod. Then my other friend Gretchen found us, also crying. She asked me, “Did God tell you to say something?. “Yes,” I squeaked out. Claire said that God had told her that after I yelled out, she was supposed to get up and preach! And then Gretchen said, “And after Claire preached, I was supposed to give an altar call!”
This seemed crazy. But I felt horrible. And I was surprised at the administration, that after stirring up our emotions with such a dark view of life, there was no offer of help or hope. No counselors standing by – no teachers or peer leaders to talk anyone through it – just “back to class, kiddos.” I had been given a “heads up” from God to be that voice to hurting teens in my school. I could have pointed them in the direction of a God who deeply loves them and redeems what has been lost in their lives. But I had too much pride. Too much fear.
We left school and found our youth pastor, Dave, and told him our sad story. “We have been praying for our classmates. We asked for God to speak to them. How could I have missed such an opportunity?”, I cried to him. Dave had truth and mercy in his tone. “Yes, you should have listened to God’s voice and obeyed.” [Pensive pause] “But… why don’t we pray that God gives you another chance?” Hmmm… the thought hadn’t occurred to me. After all, the whole school had already seen it. Highly unlikely, but why not? We prayed and headed back to school for the uneventful rest of the day.
The next morning I was at my locker, when Claire rushed towards me declaring the wonderful news. “The play’s back on! They are performing again today during 4th period this time!” Her words hit a chord of both excitement and dread in my heart. I had 4th period free. Was God giving me another chance?
Gretchen had a class, but Claire and I sat together in different part of the packed auditorium than I had before as they worked through all of the same scenes. Claire leaned in and asked me if I was hearing from God. “I DON’T KNOW!!! I loudly whispered back.” She leaned back in, “Well, God isn’t telling me to do anything so I’m just going to pray for you, Kelley!” I sat and wrung my hands and waited.
The appointed time finally approached. The boy began his rant at all of us again. “Who will give me hope?!!”, he pointed one direction. “Who will erase the wounds inflicted on my soul?!!”; he pointed at others.
He looked straight in my direction. He raised his hand and pointed directly at me, “Who will wash away the death and filth of my life?!!!”
“JESUS CHRIST WILL!!!”
A collective gasp came over the crowd. Everyone was stunned. I had chills. The people around us glared at Claire. I don’t think many would suspect me to do such a rude thing. But I did. And people heard it loud and clear.
I lost a few friends that day. But I also found out that there was a girl in the audience who had planned to commit suicide that evening. She heard God that day and was never the same. Maybe God was rude just for her. And if God ever wants an accomplice to his outlandish tactics again, I would be honored to be the girl for the job!
Remembering How to Hear God’s Voice
I realize that the title of this post seems presumptuous on a couple of levels. First of all, let me say that I do not consider myself the expert on this matter. And as I will further explain, you may agree with me that each person is their own expert in hearing (or not hearing) God.
I’m taking slightly different approach today in my “God is Real” series to talk about what I mean when I say that God said this or that to me. Before my big “Words on the Door” moment, I had many other encounters with God that where just as real and personal. As a small child I used to look up at the birds and notice their beauty and sing aloud to them. You could say that I was a Snow White type, happy and careless of what singing to the birds looked like to others. I would spend hours creating adventures and challenges for my brother, cousins and friends to do in my backyard, out in the natural world that God had created for me – where he had “rooted” me. I had an almost innate perception that this was all for me from a kind creator who loved me and enjoyed watching me thrive there. My songs and my play were all like prayers to him, saying thank you for this life and “wow! how beautiful and brilliant is this world you’ve given me!” As a child, prayer was like breathing – natural and a part of my life – an assumed posture of giving and receiving from the Kind Being who had created it all.
Can you remember a time like this? What did you see and know deep within about God? Was prayer as natural as breathing? What things did you do that showed as openness to a kind God?
David Benner says that prayer is “the natural language of the soul”; it is “simply saying yes to God’s invitation to loving encounter”. Of course in every encounter both the inviter and the invitee are participants, and so prayer involves our saying things to God as well. But it starts with him. It’s his invitation that is specifically directed at you, in a way that you understand – whether through nature, something someone says, your own hurts, your joys, the scriptures, art, or something else – to draw you to himself into an encounter with him and his love for you.
Without a Bible, God has spoken throughout many generations. According to Paul, (the man who brought Jesus’ story to the western (non-Jewish) world), “since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” (Rom. 2:20) Yes, we have the testimony of miracles and supernatural prophetic words from God – (i.e. the Bible and church), and many of us have the hair-raising experiences of mysterious and “miraculous” moments with God, like the ones I talk about in my first two stories in the “God is Real” series. But the truly miraculous is the world we have been placed in and the many daily ways that God invites us to stop and listen and hear his whispers to us in what seems so regular to our hardened adult hearts. Taking the time to look at the world with the wonder and enthrallment of a child’s heart may actually be the best way to start again to hear God’s voice.