This is a transcript of a recorded Nightlight message which you can still access on the website archives (December 2019 #316) This written version is expanded but the audio version carries the same basic message.
PRAYER, TIME, AND OUR PAST
In My Hands
When I was young the road ahead seemed like an endless highway
I laughed at fools who played by rules
I only did things my way
But now the road ahead is gone, and all that I can see
Are the tracks made by a fool
The biggest fool was me…
In my hands I held life as my possession
Schemes and plans were the focus of a heart as hard and cold as stone
Thinking I alone was at the center of the universe’s throne
I and I alone
With my hands I collected each new treasure
Wild and grand were the loves that brought me pleasure
All too soon to find they were cold, unkind, and empty
Or were they just imitating me?
Never a thought to where it all would go
Not a regret for those I’d injured so
Treating life like some adolescent game
Now I’m alone and I’m the one to blame
From my hands all the playing cards have fallen
Like the sand flowing swiftly through the hour glass
My soul now pours through a thousand sores…
So now I place this broken ruined self made man
In Your Hands
(“In My Hands” Clay McLean, Nightlight Pub. Inc. Copyright 2005)
Just as I began this message I got a note from an old friend of mine. We are the same age and have similar backgrounds. That is, we are both former compulsive sinners. His note read in part, “So many wasted days chasing a dream and having ‘fun.’ Time is telescopic-at times it seems way too long, and then, it’s way too short.” And that’s part of what we want to examine together here- the mystery of Time.
Time is so strange that we avoid focusing on its strangeness. We say the same cliché things about time, but as we age a growing sense of bewildered wonder may grow in us also. I remember as a very young man trying to escape my many up close and personal inner conflicts by focusing on the more distant outer conflicts of the world. My vehicle for this escapism was the study of all the current theories regarding prophecy and the ‘end of time.’ By delving into the political, philosophical, ecological, metaphysical, and international turmoil of the 1970s I partially silenced my own infected and infecting wounds from the 1960s. . I figured it was sanctified escapism because it was ‘biblical prophecy.’ Actually it was a lot of surmising. (Prophetic Scripture study is not the same as surmising. I liked the surmising more than the Scripture.) Prophetic theories presented as iron clad facts were exciting, like a sort of mental roller coaster-fast moving, but relatively safe: a thrill ride from a secure neutral position, promising a final happy landing.
But the more I looked out at the wider war the more I understood my own hidden inner war. I eventually no longer tried to avoid my daily present inner storm by mentally transporting to the ‘end of time,” for as I examined the outer evils I was looking into a mirror. All those nameless, faceless characters of the messed up world were images of parts of me. To see the corporate condition of man was to see myself. The soft happy landing promised by the pop prophecy theories, good as aspects of that may have been, faded to black as the far more present real war inside myself became unavoidable. And though I met many along the way whose evil and accompanying sorrows exceeded mine in certain aspects, I came to empathize more than judge, as I gained a deeper understanding of just how lost we are without Jesus. I would land safely because Jesus has conquered the power of death and hell, but I would still have to face the ravages of death and hell in human life along my way.
Jesus was coming back because He said He would, but theories of when and how no longer interested me. As personal necessity drew me closer to Him, the more I knew the more I wanted to know of just Him, not surmisings about Him. And that automatically moved my studies and prayers towards helping myself and others. Past and future began to meld into one complete life with Him- Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End (telos). There is certainly a place for ‘forgetting what lies behind’ (Philippians 3:13) in the sense that I do not focus on the past as my identity. As I began to live in my relationship with Jesus from His perspective (which of course is the only perspective that matters), my entire life progressively began to unfold to me as one whole story, not fragments. I no longer took pleasure and refuge in the good ‘me’ and neurotically or religiously hid from the bad. I brought all of me to Him, naked, honest (as honest as I could be-that had to grow), and began living with Him all the time, not visiting Him only until I wanted my own way again.
I saw differently than before. Tears had cleansed the windows of my soul so that I could see more clearly. Yes, all was forgiven. Some things were more than forgiven, they were being put right. What was not yet put right would be. “He who began a good work in me would complete it.” (Phil. 1:6) I saw that Jesus had come to save me from sin, not in sin. He loved me like I was, but, as is being better understood by many of us, He also loved me too much to leave me like I was.
The Mystery of Time
When we speak of forgetting or remembering we are using ‘time’ words. We know what we mean, but sometimes we do not know fully what words themselves mean. Case in point- TIME. We don’t know what ‘time’ is. All we know is it is short or long, or it is passing too fast or too slow, or is plentiful or short. (And if you are like me, you refer to it mostly with reference to the age and the size of children and grandchildren.) Wiser people never refer to “killing time,” because they have learned to see time is a gift. We sadly only learn that as time becomes shorter for us. As Gandalf says in THE TWO TOWERS, “Three hundred lifetimes of men I have walked the earth and now I have no time.”
It is no longer only the elders who sense the speed of passing time. My granddaughter said on occasion even before she was a teenager that time was zooming past her-that she could feel it. I wondered then if something had shifted in the corporate soul of humanity that made even children become more attuned to the swift passing of time; or could it be more a growing sense of some impending approaching Event?
Yet there is the other side of time, which all school children know well; that torturous creep of time so frustrating to youth. Who doesn’t remember the last thirty minutes before the Friday end of school bell rang. How could thirty minutes take two hours to pass? A fish if it could talk and reason would not know what water is. It is so much what it is in, that it cannot be objectified by the fish floating around in it. We are just as ignorant of our environment as the fish. We have to step outside time to know some of what it means to be in it.
We speak of some traumatizing moment as having aged us, like when our toddler nearly falls off the porch or our student driver son gets the brake and the accelerator confused, or worse. We refer to some wonderful momentous event as having caused time to stand still- like when we first see our bride in her wedding gown or hold our first child. What time is it in those moments? Who can say? What time is it in Alpha Centauri? Or for that matter on Mars? We can’t even decide the time in states where daylight savings time is debated. Time is as merciless and intrepid as a speeding freight train. It will not politely slow down to let us savor a precious moment. As the Gaithers wrote, ‘we have this moment to hold in our hand, and to touch as it sifts through our fingers like sand…’ Yet time can also gently torment us with lingering fragrances we can no longer savor. All that seems left is the fading scent. The aroma may seem to surge up inside us again, only to realize it is not ever a recoverable pleasure. Unless one has an eternal perspective even good memories can only ‘haunt the mind like tired ghosts’ as Michael Kelly Blanchard wrote. Bad memories can stick in our mind like tar, but even ‘good’ memories can be a bit punishing if when recalled offer no hope of some restored future. For it is not just pleasure we long for, but the permanence of the good. Where is the life and hope in gazing at the mere fading shadow of a once beloved object or more, person? People mean well, but they can say such empty foolish things at funerals, as they point to a grieving heart and say “You can carry them in your memories forever.” Without any hope of restoration and permanence such is not a good memory-it is a sorrow that with the passing of time turns the twilight of fading goodness into night of torment.
Taking Time to Step Outside of Time
We cannot speak of time without speaking of space (unless we explore the mysteries of quantum physics.) The question “how long does it take to get to London/ depends on how fast you go. Speed refers to space. Time, place, and space cannot be separated.
But what if there is a Place you could go where time could be stopped, its contents objectified, its errors corrected and its losses restored? Would you ‘take time’ to go there? Well there is such a place-and you can go there.
That Place is actually a Person. He is outside Time, but Time is inside Him. We rightly sing ‘From age to age he stands, and time is in His hands, beginning and the end.” He is outside space and so fills all things. Everything that has been, will be, or now is, is found in Him, created by and for Him and He is before all things and in Him everything is held together. (Colossians 1)
He has spoken to us in the Person of a Son, Whom He appointed Heir and lawful Owner of all things, and by whom He created the worlds, the reaches of space and time. He is the sole expression of the glory of God, the Light being, the out raying or radiance of the divine, and He is the perfect imprint and very image of God’s nature, upholding and maintaining, guiding and propelling the universe by His mighty Word of power.
He planned for the maturity of the times and climax of the ages to unify all things and head them up and consummate them in Christ….
I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (the Origin and the fulfilled purpose)
Some things in Scripture are not to be fully comprehended, but embraced in childlike wonder that moves us to worship. This is one of them. For thirty three years Jesus lived on earth as a man, yet He encompasses all previous and future history. All unfolding ages and their events are summed up and put right in Him. He is the Author, Sustainer, Purpose, and Purposer of both matter and time. And we are united in Him. (He did not ‘create evil.’ But has set all things in motion to bring evil to a complete destruction. Evil is not a created ‘thing’ but a negation of creation. His providential goodness and wisdom will negate the negation. (I Corinthians 15:5:20-28)
He has come to where we are, in our time/space existence and promised to never leave us or forsake us. But when we come to Him and receive His grace, when we turn from our old independent self ruled life stumbling into His merciful arms before we ever we learn to walk we are also placed IN Him. We are seated with Him, and one with Him. This is not ‘jargon.’ These words describe a living Reality. These phrases are concrete. God expects us to believe this. He who comes to me must believe that I am and that I am a rewarder of those who diligently seek me. (Hebrews 11) And you shall seek Me and you shall find Me when you shall search for me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29)
Some commentators say it is not valid for Christians to read Jeremiah 29 as applying to them for it is only referring to God’s people in the Babylonian captivity. But Babylon is a prophetic picture of the world system. (Revelation 18) Have you ever felt like you were dying in Babylonian captivity-held captive by the world system? The ‘news,’ the world culture, the spirit of this age, the Ganges River of mixed sludge that offers a flow of life but is filled with poison? The general drive and push of living Jesus refers to as ‘the cares of this life and the lusts of things’ are the enemy of love, joy, and peace. Then I believe Jeremiah 29 has something to say to us. Rush, drivenness and its offspring is the enemy of wisdom. Dallas Willard, when asked what was the greatest enemy to the Christian life, replied thoughtfully and unhurriedly, ‘Hurry.”
Pascal once said of a Christian writer, “He wrote a long book because he would not take time to write a short one.” In the driving pushing spirit of this age trying to express truth in the opposite spirit without living in the opposite spirit only makes us argue. We may write a long book or make a long argument striving against our enemy using his weapons. But as Solzhenitsyn said, “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.” When we come to the One who is Truth in a childlike unhurried spirit we are able to hear Him. In doing this we are stepping outside worldly time, into another time/another place. IN this childlike simplicity we are weaponized for battle against the spirit of this age. The warrior is a child. One of the great characteristics of the child is its unconscious joy of being, un invaded by the tyranny of a clock of calendar. We can learn to live there while still maintaining a responsible awareness of the demands of time. But we do not have to be tyrannized by those demands. (Though that is another subject in itself worth our longer investment, I mention it here because it is a great part of our learning to pray into our wounded past.)
When we believe God’s invitation to come to where He is, we step outside the flood of fallen time. We then can see how things really are. This is what it means to ‘save our souls.’ In this way we escape from Babylon. We begin to live in a different time zone of the Spirit. We detach not to hide or isolate, but we attach to Wisdom; then we pour back into the chaos an opposite spirit from Babylon. We are against the age for the sake of the age. (Galatians 1:3, Acts 2:40 Luke 19:21 James 1:21) We are able to show others the way out also.
The Babylonian spirit of the world says if you pull away and be still you are ‘wasting time.’ Of course a thousand meaningless diversions which at best dissipates your soul and at worse poisons it, is not wasting time? But to pull away, to stop our distractions, to make ourselves reject being amused so that we can begin to allow our true self to rise up, to allow long suppressed painful memories or current inner struggles or deepest most precious longings to have a voice lifted to God in real interaction with Him and to be still and refuse to run away until we have really been with Him in His Realm instead of dragging Him hurriedly through ours, well that’s a waste of time???
If we begin to think of Time with a capital T instead of a small t would that help? If we think in terms of dwelling always in the Kingdom of God (abiding in Jesus) then whatever we have to do in little t time is swallowed up and enlarged in big T Time. We may have to practice-in fact I am sure we will. But since this is a reality and not a mere theory we can learn to eventually live this way.
When we learn to live in capital T Time and can bring small t time under its power we find that we can access any time, place, or person we need to through prayer. Obviously I am not referring to some kind of soul travel or psychic out of body projection of self under its own power. I’m talking of something far better. Don’t doubt this-for once you believe it and begin to do it you will stop living in guilt, grief, or regret. You may still miss people you love who are gone from you, but you will not pine for them or for some place in your past when you were happier. You will not long for people who were with you in that place while loving them even more. You will stop seeing time as a speeding cargo train swiftly and intrepidly carrying treasure away from you. You will view time as a passenger train carrying everything safely into its true Home where all becomes its true self.
One afternoon Mary saw a sad wistful gaze cross my face. She asked gently what I was feeling. Realizing I was pining a bit, and not wanting to pull her down with me, I just said “Oh I am just missing Texas.” Mary said “It is not a place you are missing, but a time. And everything and most importantly, everyone in that time is still safe in God’s hands.” Of course she was right. And she was not being religiously simplistic. The power of her words helped me put things in proper perspective. Because we live in capital T Time we are able to access any time, place, or person in prayer. This truth makes this level of prayer one of the most precious and meaningful aspect of our life. What a comfort to think of all we have ever encountered- that is- anyone we miss, are concerned for, or even those we may have injured and are beyond our reach, we have access to them through this kind of prayer.
What I mean by ‘access’ in prayer is this-because Jesus is Alpha and Omega, all time and space is summed up in Him. When I come to Him with a concern, that concern is accessible to Him and He is accessible to me. Therefore, the concern becomes accessible to me in my union with Him. (The concern may be a loss, a person, a grief, a sin, a place, etc.) Those treasures are not lost. Those sorrows and shames are not inaccessible for cleansing and healing.
What does it mean to ‘remember?’ It means more than to merely recall to mind or replay an event in the mental theater. We erroneously speak of learning something by heart but we usually mean is that we learn by mental rote-we just refer to it as ‘by heart.’ What we truly learn by HEART is far more than rote review. To remember or recall is much closer to relive than to review. The Latin word translated remember is recordare and its root word, cardia-i.e. heart. It is also the root word for ‘recording.’ In Latin to remember is to let rise from the heart the life essence of a past event so that event lives again. The same truth is in Greek. Anamnesis means to call back into the present a past event. When Jesus takes bread and wine and give it to us to eat and drink saying ‘as often as you do this remember…” He is not saying for us to merely ‘think.’ He is saying ‘live, re unite with, experience.’ To remember is to re connect (The opposite of remember is to dis member-to cut asunder or dis connect.”) This communicates the Hebrew idea in Greek and Latin terms. It is only we 20/21 century westerners who have reduced remembering to impotent mental assent only.
Where Does NOW Go?
Where does ‘now’ go? See, there it went! By the time you grasp the question of where, the question has gone into the same inaccessible past. When you really consider it, you have to see that you and I cannot live in a real present on our own. Every moment we live is to some degree contemplating a past or anticipating a future. The only way we can connect with NOW is to connect to the One who is beyond time. ( Hebrews 11:1 KJV) This is the capital T Time I mentioned. In union with Him you stop feeling the small t time as zooming or creeping or depriving or foreboding. Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46) The Hebrew word for ‘be still’ here is translated in the Aramaic as simply ‘relax.’ Let go. Stop striving to control. This certainly includes learning to live in the moment and stop trying to wrestles against TIME. In being ‘still’ we can learn to quiet our minds and hearts and to truly enter into the Real Presence Who is always with us, and who holds all that we consciously and unconsciously long to re engage, or long to hide from. (Psalm 38:9, Psalm 90:8)
Then in that stillness you can move with Him through time and space to connect with people far away or pray healing and help for broken issues present or even passed. For what exactly is the past? Have you ever counted rings of a tree? Each ring is a year of that tree’s existence. In a sense each ring is in the past-but obviously each ring is fully present. Take away the rings and there is no tree. The tree is made of its rings.
Sentimentality vs. Remembering
Sentimentality and nostalgia can be a sickness. In fact, that is what nostalgia means-to be ‘home sick.’ We have probably all known a time in life when we were sick inside from a sense of loss. So dwelling on some portion of the past, a time, place, or person can become a source of mental illness. But ignoring the past can be detrimental also. It depends on why you go there and who you go there with. Mike Hudson wrote a great song a few years ago that says it well.
The things I’ve done, the things I’ve seen, melt into a lifelong dream, and I become what I’ve gone through, I am so thankful I’ve been there with You…
(“The Day I Gave My Life to You” recorded by Imperials on the Sail On album)
The difference between remembering in a sickly way or a healed way is whether you visit the past with only yourself or with the Lord- to haunt and be haunted by the mere past leads to ongoing illness; to go there in love and faith, encountering the past in prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of redeeming the time-either present time or past time is a manifestation of eternal life.
Redeeming the Time
Yes, we can redeem the past. After all, that is what salvation-to be saved from sin, partly refers to. “I will restore to you the years the locust and the caterpillar and the canker worm have eaten.” Joel 2. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:16 to ‘redeem the time.’ That’s the phrase the KJV uses. More modern translations say something like ‘make the most of your time or take full advantage of every opportunity, and that’s fine-but here the KJ is richer and more helpful. To REDEEM the time suggest something greater than merely using your time well. Redeem, ex (out of) agorazo (purchase) time(kairos) is a special limited time. We do this because the days are evil. So yes, we certainly need to wisely use our time in a season of darkness, but I believe this encompasses more than keeping a well ordered daily calendar. The blood of Jesus is the only power that can redeem fully-past, present, and future. So to redeem the time is to stand in the Cross where Jesus, the Alpha and Omega stretched out His arms to embrace the universe, and to pray for the re purchase out of the evil a special time, that if left unredeemed would remain in the grip of evil, or would be a tool for evil.
Oswald Chambers said ‘There is no space or time with Almighty God. We cannot think beyond the limits of birth and death; if we are to know anything beyond our earthly life and time it must be by revelation.’ Henri Boulad, a priest serving in Egypt wrote that to “deliberately take up my own existence in the Light of God is to embark in a dialogue, to discover a Presence, the Presence of the One who has followed me from the first moment of my life.” And C.S. Lewis speaks also to this when he writes that we are ‘born lonely,’ …. from the moment we are conceived we begin a journey that seems to always be moving us away from and towards something we cannot reach. When we truly begin to engage with the One who created us, who has always known us and who will never leave us, our inner loneliness-which seems to haunt us throughout life, begins to ease.
Maybe you have to reach a certain age before being able to take this truth to heart, but I don’t think it is the mere passing of time that brings us there. It is the wisdom of how we see time, and such wisdom can come to the very young. I have known young people who are wise in this way, and older ones who are not. But it’s never too late to learn.
Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you (Jeremiah 1:5)
Your eyes saw my unformed substance and in your book all the days of my life were written before ever they took shape, when as yet there was non of them. (Psalm 139:16)
He will perfect that which pertains to me (Psalm 138)
To be in eternal life means that all we have experienced has marked us forever and is part of our Eternity. (Obviously not our sins which are washed away, but even the “bad” events may be transformed by a grace we cannot yet see.) Henri Baloud again. “We shall always be who we have been, what we have felt, and all that will one day rise again and be eternally alive…One day all our events will lie before us alike an open book, like a present reality. The past [redeemed] will come alive again.”
Nothing passes away that is of value, and all that is of love is of value.
If this idea frightens you because there are some events that are tormenting to remember, or people you do not ever want to see again, because either they injured you or you damaged them, or both, do not worry. You are being made mature in love. Perfect love casts out all fear. When you see Him you shall be like Him and He will work in you to make you free from all fear and perfect you in love. This is not a goal you work towards, though we do always strive to grow. It is your destiny to be like Him. Think of it. To be so filled with love that even your most despised memory, whether caused by others or by you, is not only healed, but you have become one with a Love so powerful that for those involved in your most painful past, it will be as if they were your cherished earthly relations. Again if this thought upsets you, it is good to stop reading now and get alone with God to open this up to Him. We don’t have to wait for Eternal Life to begin for us. We live in eternal life now.
The Pieces of Our Lives
Give ear to my words Oh Lord. Consider my meditation. Harken unto the voice of my cry, my King and my God. For unto you will I pray. My voice shall you hear in the morning. Oh Lord in the morning will I direct my prayer unto you and will look up. (Psalm 5)
This psalm was put to music back in the days of the Jesus Movement of the early seventies. We have sung it for years. I sometimes sing it as a morning prayer just to get my body and mind in line with my spirit. A few months ago Mary and I were visiting her parents in our former home in Texas. I got up before sunrise and drove to one of my favorite spots overlooking the football field and campus where I had many early young adult years. Stepping out of my car to watch the breaking dawn my mind raced with memories-not always a good thing, depending on the memories. Often we need to shut down thinking patterns like this and train our minds to be quiet in the Presence, making space for Him to set the agenda. But this time I felt my memories were His agenda. I finally said out loud ‘Lord I bring you the many pieces of my life, many of them were broken here. I thank you that nothing and no one is beyond your Cross.” And I began to sing and worship.
Earlier that week a good friend had introduced me to the Passion translation of the NT and Psalms. I had it with me and as the morning rays began to illumine the pages out of what I assumed to be mere curiosity I turned to the Passion version of Psalm 5..
At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice as I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar (and wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.)
Pieces of my life….
Not often, but on several notable occasions in my prayers I have become aware of entering another dimension, where time and space seem to not matter. I don’t mean I lose consciousness or that my surroundings become altered. I just mean that inside me the Holy Spirit takes me to Himself in a way that causes all other thoughts or concerns to step way back into relative insignificance, and all that seems to matter is being in that moment with Him.
The pieces of my life began to come before me. Let me explain. These were not memories of unconfessed sin. I had long ago brought these painful and often shameful memories to the Lord in repentance. But in this moment I was consciously aware of these memories not as memories, but as events-ones that still lived on in the people whom I had damaged or in some cases who had damaged me. Again, let me be clear that these were not unconfessed sins. I usually can tell when the enemy is accusing me with sin that is under the blood of Jesus and has no power over me. This was not that. It was as if I was being taken by the hand, so to speak. I don’t want to make this too vivid and give the impression that it was an out of the body experience. I was fully in my body and mind and fully aware of my physical being, yet I was present to God in a way I don’t usually feel able to know. Memories and people in them were as present to me as I was to God, if that makes sense to you. I can’t explain it any better than this.
The words I had just read were as vivid to me as if they were written in flame on my heart. “I lay the pieces of my life on your altar and wait for your fire to fall upon my heart. I began to recount people, people more than places or events-because obviously what seemed to matter most were the people. I began to hold them up in the Presence of the Lord as a priest would lay out the pieces of the sacrifice on the altar waiting for the holy fire of God to fall upon them, as the Psalm describes. I become aware that I was participating in a movement of redemption, that the people and events I was naming before the Throne of God were being positively affected as I named them, celebrating grace and mercy upon them. This sense of redeeming power was more real to me than the memory of sinning or being sinned against..
Another Spirit was Present
I then sensed another presence very different from the Holy Presence. It came to me in the midst of this intercession and tried to drag me into another mindset, either shame, guilt, or self pity and nostalgia. These memories also focused on people but all in the negative. I had sinned against them and they me. I had damaged their lives-some very deeply. I had also lost them on an emotional level and most of them were no longer reachable by me on a human level. I could not safely or healthily contact them either by phone, letter, e mail, or visit. From the standpoint of mere human relationship they were lost to me and it was mostly my fault. This fact made me an easy target for the negative forces I sensed. Guilt- “you are a damaging sinful selfish fake…,” then self pity, “if they had ever really loved you they would still love you and forgive you, but they never did. They just threw you away…”
Neither of these powers had any validity now. I had repented. My heart was clean. The proof of my transformation was that I wanted to pray blessing and goodness on these people and that I could pray that. I prayed with power, with joy, with faith, and most of all with love. I named each person one by one. It was not hard to list them. They were all vividly present to my recall. They were not the pieces of my life. People are not pieces. The pieces were the parts of me that had become broken from carrying the emotions over those people events, and memories. That is what was changing in me. I was forgiven. But on a deeper more profound but unconscious level, my heart was still somewhat damaged by the memories. While I was being healed of this I was also at the same time interceding for that same grace to be poured out for them. I probably won’t know until Heaven what happened for them that morning. But the change that began in me then was tangible…But it was only the beginning.
Grief vs. Self Pity
As the consciousness of this anointing lifted and I returned to the normal events of the day I continued to be a bit harassed by the temptation to slide into the negative interpretation of these memories-shame, guilt, and self pity. Self pity as opposed to grief. There was a sense of grieving in my original encounter with the Holy Spirit’s opening of this to me. But grief is easily confused with self pity if not carefully discerned. These emotions are like wheat and tares. They look almost exactly alike but it is vital that we discern the difference. One bears good fruit. The other is fruitless or worse, rotten. Grief when processed prayerfully brings love, joy, and peace. Grief is only present because love is present. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning-the returning of the light out of darkness. Self pity keeps it dark, by refusing to embrace the goodness of God. It is fruitless, and eventually destructive. I knew the difference for I had a lot of practice in having to discern that difference. I knew better than to check my feelings to see how I should pray. Various emotions swept through me all day. I had long ago learned to let such emotions flow past me and not to be focused on them or swayed off course by them. I became aware that God was giving me a protracted gift of understanding and insight. In this revelation of Psalm 5 I was shown how to not only refuse the negative interpretations of memories of shameful failure, but I had been shown how to transform such negative into great opportunities of healing intercessory prayer. It would prove to be a vitally important truth in days to come. For I had more broken pieces in my heart to unpack.
HEART ATTACK/ Heart Unpack
Weeks went by. We were back at home and the Texas prayer encounter, though still vivid, had become a bit muted by the daily grind of business as usual. The day before my 65th birthday a friend at his home across town felt an urgency to pray for me. As he did, he saw me having a heart attack. Miles away from him and totally unknown to him, I was having the chest pains that portended that event- but, of course, he didn’t know that. As he viewed this picture from the Lord concerning me, he saw the word ‘attack’ sort of being crossed out, and the word ‘unpack’ put in its place. He at first doubted, like most might tend to do, that this was at all meaningful. But when he later sent a message to me in the hospital I was of course, overwhelmed by the accuracy of the vision, and let him know how much I understood what it meant.
I am continuing to unpack the burden of my heart which I had unconsciously but wrongly stored inside me. Mary and I know without any doubt that this stack of unpacked, unhealed old pain brought on the heart attack. It needed unpacking. So, here I am. As I write these words I am carrying on my normal work, but I withdraw from the demands of the day more than I used to in order to provide proper time for ‘unpacking.’ It is painful and healing. It is tearful and joyful. He who has begun a good work in me will complete it.
Prayer and the Mystery of Time
My point in sharing all this is not to unburden myself at your expense, but to help us see the way time, space, memories and prayer sometimes works. I’ll never forget the very first time I encountered this truth. It was in 1980. I was dealing with my own secret inner wars, but trying to help others at the same time. A man came to the church office that I hade prayed with a couple of time before. He was a Viet Nam vet, badly damaged by the war both physically and far more emotionally. Memories tormented him. Though he had come to me for help previously, this visit was quite different. He let me know right away that he was only coming to state his unalterable plans. He intended to shoot himself, and there was nothing anyone could say to change his mind. He was clearly not being dramatic or vying for sympathy. His almost cold mechanical demeanor was chillingly telling. Some degree of histrionics might have betrayed a crack in his armor. None present. He dismissed my pleas and appeals for more time to help by what he said next.
“If you knew someone was coming at night to kill your wife and kids would you stop him by any means necessary? Of course you would. Well, I am that man. I can’t control my mind or my actions. I have waked my wife choking her in her sleep, thinking she was the enemy. I have pulled pistols on my kids. I am the dangerous intruder who need to be stopped. And I will stop me.”
I didn’t know what I was doing or saying. I was not aware of my actions but only my inner cry to God for help, as I slid out of my chair and pulled him out of his chair onto the floor, which he for some reason seemed to cooperate with. It must have been a strange sight. I heard myself say “You’ve gotta let me pray one more time. Just let me pray. You don’t have to do a thing, just let me do the praying.” And I suddenly saw in my mind’s eyes a sort of triangle of time. I ‘saw’ so to speak, the year we were in-1980, and in another corner, I saw this soldier in Viet Nam in 1970 something. Then I saw the Cross. Again, when I say I ‘saw’ I mean I was mentally aware but very strongly, of this concept in an image in my mind. It didn’t seem to matter whether I saw the Cross as coming to the man or the man being taken up into the Cross- for time and space had no meaning here.
I don’t exactly remember what I prayed, only that I somehow expressed for God to gather up the memories and brokenness within this man and unite him and them to Jesus in His Cross, and to lift off him the effect of the vile things he encountered or even (especially) that he perpetrated. That was it. It was not wordy or theological or even polite. It was a child like cry of desperation, crying out in time to the timeless all encompassing redemption of the One in Whom all Time and space is gathered in His Cross.
In 1980 we took hold of something that occurred in 1970 and gathered it up into the Cross that in history occurred approximately 33 A.D. But the one on the Cross- arms stretched out hanging between heaven and earth, already had this suffering soldier in His love and care, along with all mankind, all creation, and all time and space. He was teaching met this lesson that I am evidently still learning. The soldier was healed. He went home in peace and lived his life in that peace. But I was only just beginning to begin this journey I am still on, and which it is my honor to try to help you to embrace also.
I know how the past comes back to haunt you
I see the ghosts that come to stalk your mind
Memories that scandalize and taunt you
Specters from the grave you left behind
And the fear is strong and growing stronger every day
Telling you that you cannot resist
And you wanna run but there’s no place to hide away
Stand your ground and just remember this
Remember that your past has died with Me when I was crucified
That I’m in you and you’re in me, united for eternity
Remember each and every time you eat the bread and drink the wine
Remember you belong to Me
Memories awaken old sensations
Threatening the good of here and now
Resurrecting buried old temptations
Broken idols begging you to bow
But your faith is strong and growing stronger every day
Giving you the power to resist
And you’re gonna find that there’s no need to hide away
If you’ll only just remember this
Remember that your past has died with Me when I was crucified
That I’m in you and you’re in me, united for eternity
Remember each and every time you eat the bread and drink the wine
Remember you belong to Me
(“Remember” Clay McLean from “Mercy for the Memories”- Nightlight Publishing. Inc. Copyright 2005)