For the first half of Jack Deere’s Christian life, he thought loving God meant obeying God. He did not consider that it is possible to obey someone without loving that person. Then when he was 38, he heard a pastor give a sermon on “passion for God.” Jack had never heard that phrase. The pastor used no notes for his sermon, only an open Bible. He did not proclaim a doctrine he had studied. He revealed the power of a truth that lived in his heart. And for the first time in his life, Jack wanted the spiritual life he saw in another pastor. That night, Jack began the consuming quest of becoming a friend of Jesus. It’s a grace to welcome Jack to the farm’s front porch today…
I didn’t know it would feel this good to be a grandfather.
On Memorial Day 2012, I listened to my son Stephen read my granddaughter Rachel a bedtime story. She was two months old.
My wife, Leesa, stretched out on the floor of their loft. Stephen opened the book so Rachel could see the pictures.
He read the words using different accents. He had to fight off his own laughter. Rachel giggled and touched the pictures.
I remembered Leesa at twenty-two as she held her infant son Stephen, sang to him, and prayed over him.
She was enraptured with love for her baby boy, confident that at last she walked in the purposes for which she had been created, and thankful to the God who made her what she always and only ever wanted to be—a wife and a mother.
I saw that young mother read stories to her infant son, not out of obligation, but because it made her happy to read to her baby boy.
While I built my kingdom, Leesa built a home in Stephen’s heart for God.
Now Rachel will grow up loved, delighted in, feeling beautiful and smart, with her dignity and defenses intact.
In East of Eden, John Steinbeck wrote that we all have one story, and it is the same story: the contest of good and evil within us. Any honest person knows that they are losing this contest.
As a child, I could lie to others, but hadn’t yet developed the sophistication to lie to myself.
I knew my bad deeds would always push down the scale.
So I chose to enjoy my darkness rather than feel guilty about it.
Then I discovered that Christ had already borne the weight of my sin, and that once I accepted His gift, He would never leave.
Yet Saint Peter’s scales lingered. In church I was told that as a Christian, my good deeds eventually would outweigh the bad. Then I preached versions of the same message.
But the evidence always contradicted the promise.
My life stayed messy. I never stopped needing God’s mercy.
At the end of his life, the apostle Paul claimed that he was the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He didn’t write, “I was the chief of sinners,” but “I am the chief of sinners.”
The closer Paul drew to the Light of the world, the more evil he saw in his life.
I am no great believer. But I can confess with Paul, “In my flesh dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18 KJV). I am more aware of the enormity of evil in me than I’ve ever been. This is one way I can tell that the light within me is expanding.
* * *
For years, I have besieged heaven with thousands of prayers that seemed to go unanswered. I can sometimes sense the Spirit of God hovering.
When I lusted after material wealth, He turned my gaze toward eternity.
When I sought large crowds, He brought me humility.
When I tried to change my wife, He taught me how to love and understand her.What I really needed all along, more than anything, was to see myself through His eyes.
* * *
It is Saturday, June 11, 2012. The flicker of dawn creeps into my study.
I want to see God’s beauty. But I’m also trying to find something to say.
My Sunday stage waits for me. As usual, my motives are mixed.
I open my Bible to Psalm 27:4.
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
These six lines are the essence of all of King David’s psalms.
So on this morning, I tell God I want to gaze on His beauty.
But I’m not sure how to go about it. I’m not sure I know how to define His beauty.
I survey some of Aquinas’s modern disciples and cobble together this definition: beauty is a mysterious harmony that dazzles us.
But after a couple of hours, I am not dazzled. I have searched in all the usual places: Bibles, lexicons, concordances, and commentaries.
But this morning, God has not hidden His beauty in books.
I walk out of my study and lie down on the guest bed. I vow to stay prostrate until God dazzles me.
Maybe my persistence will impress Him.
For more than an hour, I rummage through my history with God.
I recall acts of His mercy, goodness, and forgiveness, but I am left undazzled.
My smartphone pings with an email. I pull the phone out of my pocket.
There is a video. I forget my vow. The video is eighteen seconds long. I watch it over and over. Every time I push Play, I think: This is the last time I will watch the video. I need to get back to God.
Then I push Play again.
On the screen, Rachel lies on her back and giggles. Her mother, Lindsay, and Lindsay’s mother, Melanie, are both off camera, saying, “Say gou, Rachel. Say gou.”
Rachel wiggles about and lifts her hands high in the air. She smiles and says, “Gou,” her first syllable at two months old.
It is one moment among millions that will make up her existence, and yet I want to remain in this moment for as long as possible.
I keep watching and watching. I laugh at myself. In my laughter is the gentle whisper.
This is how I feel about you, it says.
I shake. I reach for the keyboard.
My chest heaves with joy.
He has taken an angry ten-year-old boy and turned him into an old man awash in gratitude for a child’s gibberish.
When at last I can speak, I say, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Jack Deere is a teacher, writer, and lecturer who speaks on friendship with God and on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The author of several bestselling books, his new memoir is entitled Even in Our Darkness: A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life.
Every once in a while, a gripping book comes along that is profoundly unmasked, unsettling, and unforgettable. I couldn’t stop reading Even in Our Darkness. It is one devastating, thought-provoking, and needful read that will change the landscape of your soul. An authentic story of the Christian life, Even in Our Darkness will serve as your own guide in overcoming life’s disappointments and learning to hear God speak in unbelievable ways.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]