Steve's Story: Learning to Listen
Excerpt from Rescued from Hell, Chapter 6: Back on Planet Earth
I have learned that the Bible is more like a treasure hunt than an instruction manual. Sure it contains plenty of instructions and we need all of them, but they aren’t exactly laid out in the same way as our tidy little step-by-step manuals for learning the computer or making perfect omelets. You would think that the Lord would have done it that way. Makes sense to me, and it would sure speed things up. Unfortunately, He tried it once with Moses. Ten simple procedures for good living didn’t even make it to the bottom of the mountain before being smashed to bits by the very one to whom He had given them. So if you want a nice, tidy, logical explanation for everything in heaven and earth, go to the theology section of your library for something written by one of us. But if you want to really know God, if you want to fall deliriously in love with Him, if you want your life to become an adventure go to His Book. Just be prepared to do a lot of digging around.
One of the clues I dug into early on was tucked away in the little epistle of Paul to the Colossians, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). I sensed that the Lord was saying to me that I would never be able to figure out the mystery of who I am now that I am in Christ. That’s two mysteries in one! The only way this was going to work was for me to stay “dead” to trying to live my life. In other words don’t even try to figure out who you are now based on anything about who you once were—that whole enterprise was brought to death when you received Jesus. And be glad it was! Also, don’t even think about trying to figure out who you are going to become—that is hidden from you by God Himself. The only way you will get to discover who you truly are (what you want to do, what you really think and feel, how you really desire to live) is through Christ. So if you want the real you to come forth, you will have to learn how to let Jesus live in you, and take your leadings from Him. Isn’t this what you prayed for My son?
In simple terms, I become me—and you become you—by trusting and obeying Jesus. Period. Or rather, exclamation point! Only in this way can we become who He has created and redeemed us to be. Everything else is a self-made version lacking the Master’s crucial imprint. But whenever we surrender the whole of our life entirely to Him, He can then lead us out of the narrow confines of Self into the new life, a life that is lived in union with Him. With this revelation a much needed principle descended from heaven with a KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetheart). As an old Baptist hymn goes, “There is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” There is also no other way to truly be yourself. C. S. Lewis put it this way in the final two sentences of Mere Christianity: “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”These were my new marching orders.
A principle of simplicity, even one as good as this one, doesn’t guarantee a simple life. I quickly discovered that it is by no means easy to trust or to obey the Lord. We can get it wrong on either side of the equation. The problem isn’t in Him, of course; it’s in us. In a word: sin. What a concept! That was a word that I never even thought to use during my whole time in hell. Sin got me into hell, or so the enemy had convinced me on my Night of Terror. Once there I never thought of it again. This is a rare “fringe benefit” to being damned and exiled to eternal death—you can’t actually be tempted to sin. You have already become sin. It is who you are and all you are. You cannot not sin. It no longer is a thing to avoid, any more than a fish can avoid being wet. Surely all that was a thing of the past, wasn’t it? Now that I knew and loved the Lord, I “had died” to all that, hadn’t I? Much to my chagrin, I was about to become intimately acquainted with sin all over again.
Only a day or two into my new life, I was showering at the end of a working day, feeling just as dirty inside myself as outside. Knowledge of having sinned that day was heavy upon me. I have no recollection of what it was about, but since sin can encompass thought, word or deed, things known or unknown, things done or left undone, I have no doubt the sense of guilt was right on target. I remember thinking to myself: “This stinks. I’m doomed all over again. I’ve only been at this a short while and already I’ve messed up my fresh start. I’m a hopeless failure as a Christian.” Just then the thought dropped into my mind like manna from heaven: Do you see how the water is washing the dirt away? Confession, forgiveness and the Blood can always wash your sins away. And just like that they did! I felt washed clean and free all over again, and I realized that I was being offered an endless gift of fresh starts whenever I might need them. I later read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). How I have needed that revelation! I also noted that the shower is a good place to hear from God.
Hearing from God became as much a part of the treasure hunt as digging into His Word. Our God is not silent! Sure, He speaks profoundly through silence, but He also speaks through the beauty of creation, through natural events, through everything that moves, through people, through conscience, through inward thoughts and impressions. Listening is tricky, especially since there is plenty of static coming from the enemy, and the voice of the demons are almost always louder and more insistent. I complained to the Lord about this once: “Lord, I liked it so much better when Your voice was easier to hear; now it’s barely a whisper.” Waiting in the breathless stillness, I “heard” the barest hint of a message: I’m speaking more softly now, so you will quiet yourself down to listen for Me better. I knew to what he was referring and could see His wisdom. So much of my old emotional life was still churning inside like an engine racing out of control. Knowing that I was hooked on hearing His voice, He wanted me to have a good incentive for dialing down.
One of my favorite images from those days was of the Dalmatian dog, sitting in front of an old Victrola gramophone listening for “His master’s voice.” I wanted to be that well-trained. One day as I was preparing tea, feeling heavy hearted about something and wondering if I would ever again feel the lift of the Spirit, this thought occurred: See how the tea bag floats to the surface? Nothing can keep the life of the Spirit down. It will always tend to rise—just relax! I was so glad I was using a tea bag that floated that day. Again I took note—tea time and bath time are good times for hearing from God, so was bedtime. I soon learned that I needed a pen and paper next to my bedside because so many great ideas for what to do the next day at Timberworks were being “dropped in” once the lights went out.
What was going on? Why those times I wondered? One thing I noticed was that all those moments had something in common: I was not trying to think. Quite the opposite, in fact. I was relaxing, letting go of the day’s cares, therefore, without even realizing it, opening to grace. Since we are saved by grace through faith, this made tremendous sense (Ephesians 2:8). An image occurred to me of a woodland pond, pelted by wind and rain, with all manner of leaves and sticks striking the troubled surface. How could anyone notice a little pebble being dropped in? Now picture that same pond on a totally calm day with a glass-like surface. The sound and sight of that pebble will be instantly noticed and every ripple it makes can be traced. Our task is to prepare a still, quiet place from which to hear the gentle voice: “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother” (Psalm 131:2).
How do you do that, though, with hell raging against you, trying to get back in or drag you back down? Jesus said that the demons, when cast out of a person, will seek to return and bring some of their buddies along to add to the mayhem (Matthew 12:43-45). Already I had been learning how to nail the door shut against sexual lust and the fear of death, both trying to stage a comeback. Those attacks were obvious and unsettling, yet reasonably easy to withstand. The other five demons Eddy had cast out seemed so much harder to recognize and I had no idea how well I was standing up to them. I didn’t even want to consider the possibility that there were still more that I knew nothing about, hidden within like “moles” in a spy novel.