It was late evening. The light was gone from the sky, but the air seemed to breathe a hue of compassion, illuminating the scene. The cattle were gently grazing around me. The grass was rich and thick – a lush summer’s growth, one that keeps the cows busy for many days. The sound of a mouth of foliage being torn from the plant reminded me of what it was to have happy cattle. The jaw of the bovine casually crushed the plant as the noise of chewing began, adding to the cud already in tow. A shuffle of hooves, slow movement as another sweet spot of the edible plant was found. An aroma of livestock, something reassuring to the farmer, emanated from the ground around where I stood. Black Angus bodies, my herd of cows surrounded me, accepting me as part of their circle. We had been many miles over the years, from one pasture to another, from one season to the next. There were bitter memories, loss of life, and struggles that come with raising animals. But there were the many wonderful thoughts upon which to reflect, from watching the miracle of birth to seeing a momma instinctively nurse a newborn for the first time. Standing there, amongst my extended family, one couldn’t help to feel blessed beyond measure.
These all played in my mind as the dusk slowly faded into night, and I awoke from the dream – my heart was gladdened. A gentle peace rested upon my soul.
To stand in that place in the dream was the recalling of many times in my journey. Surrounded by those gentle creatures to whom my care upon which they depended allowed for a certain feeling of satisfaction. That comfort in knowing that all that you strived to do, all those many tasks and chores to manage the farm were working – that alone emanated a certain peacefulness. Knowing that the barn is full of hay for the coming winter, that the fields are rich with grasses, a result of preparation long before the warm weather arrived, to planning the birth and rearing of the next crop of calves – there were many facets to what goes into creating that pastoral scene of peaceful solitude. To dream of that moment, that snapshot in time was a reminder of the reassurance God provides to those that serve Him faithfully.
Much like farming, our spiritual lives don’t happen by accident. It takes effort and determination to keep one’s mind centered on Christ. It doesn’t take much imagination to find something that can pull us away from our focus. All we have to do is wake up in the morning and we are almost instantly hit with something that will surely try to pull us away from our prayers or devotions. That sense of urgency that something needs to get done needs to be put aside no matter how grave or essential it is. The need to give God our first priority is as vital as storing those crops for the coming winters or, as in Joseph’s time, the famines to come. Preparing our minds for the day is as essential as a good hearty breakfast.
Many days after work, I would come home and change into my farm clothes, then escape to the barn to find solitude in the herd. Regardless of the time of year, if they saw me approach with a feed bucket, they would come running. The older cows led, the younger, for the elders knew what the bucket meant. As time progressed, the younger calves would quickly learn and follow suit. Once fed, they would return to the grass or the hay, whichever was in season. Then, in their respite and time of rumination, we would all relax and allow time to pass. Around us, the world would continue to spin – the geese flying into the pond on their journey south, the deer would pace through the undergrowth of the nearby woods, or the songbirds would welcome the coming dawn. Yet, there in that bucolic setting, a certain clockwork of life flowed, and the handiwork of God was always present.
As the sun would set or rise, the sky above would paint many colors that the waters of the ponds would reflect. The mirror’s looking glass would ripple as the surface was broken by one of the animals wading in for a drink or the splash from the Kingfisher diving in for a meal. The Swallows would skim along the surface as the steam would rise when the night’s air would begin to cool. Everywhere, the sounds of peepers and bullfrogs told of the coming night.
Meanwhile, a golden glow emanated from the farmhouse’s windows across the pasture. Inside, my wife and children would prepare for bedtime, and my focus would shift to my family. After we all had our showers and were ready to snuggle in our favorite reading chairs, we would blissfully read them a bedtime story. As they drifted off to sleep, I would gently rock them, singing softly the old songs that came to mind. There were many a time that we would fall asleep together, the chair slowing to a standstill, the night’s preparation complete. Sweetly and softly tucking them into bed, we would then resign to finally find rest in our own abode.
As the last prayers were spoken and the lights were extinguished, sleep came quickly and peacefully.
In this mindset, I awoke from the dream, for there was no reason to interpret what had been said or found. It was clear. It was as if God was saying, “My Peace I give to you, and may my Peace be with you.” For it is in God alone that we can find the ultimate tranquility.
And in this, we can always say, “Thanks be to God
“He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth.” – Psalm 104:14
C.S. Lewis wrote about the holy spirit, “It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.” Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise, when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.”
But to those that receive it, “And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred. And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.”
If we were to interpret the holy spirit as a sensation, then it would quickly dissipate. Jesus even explained the action like this, “And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” While some say this is speaking of the gospel’s truth, it can easily be seen how it also applies to the receiving of the holy spirit and, with it, the truth. For one cannot have one without the other.
Considering these scriptures and words from Lewis, a thought, or rather, more of a question, began to form in my mind. How to encapsulate a testimony in so few words that it could be conveyed to a stranger passing on a twisty, root-covered mountain trail? That is the question.
The struggle of this thought was fully born the other night when my wife and I went to our favorite local ice cream shop for a treat. As we sat on our favorite bench across from said shop, watching humanity pass before us, a young man and his daughter walked by. The father was dressed in familiar bib overalls, something that is second nature to my heart in clothing. A pair of worn but serviceable bibs with a t-shirt underneath is probably as close to heaven’s robes that I will know on this side of glory. That was the first thing that caught my attention. The other was his intentional stare. It seemed that he noticed something about me that also drew him in. As he slowed to get a better look, our eyes locked, and it was then I realized I knew him from somewhere. My mind raced through the fog of mental cobwebs trying to place him. It was as if we were in a duel, seeking the past. Finally, the young father stopped walking. He had proceeded so far past our point of rest that he had to turn his head to continue staring. Then, as if neither one of us could not take the not knowing anymore, he smiled and said, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” The little girl with him turned around and came back toward us, wondering who her daddy had found in a town so far away from home that he knew.
“Sharpe’s Store,” I replied in question, “at the music?”
He grinned a little bigger and turned to face us. “That’s right. It’s been a couple Sundays since then.”
“Are you still playing music,” he questioned, still trying to put the pieces back together.
“Some, in fact, they have a jam up here on Saturday mornings that I go to sometimes.”
My mind was trying to recover names or faces that he might know, but it was as if my head’s fuel tank had run dry, and nothing would come. He seemed to be doing the same when he brought up a couple names or instruments that they played. But nothing seemed to trigger the right neurons, and so we left it at that and started talking about what brought him to town. He was obviously there on vacation, so we went over the usual suspects of destinations. He was leaving to go back to Bonlee the next day. By this time, my mind was frantically trying to pause time. As I looked upon him, it was apparent that he hadn’t physically changed much at all. He was still slim and clean-shaven. His children, whom I didn’t know he had any, were now old enough to enjoy walking with their daddy down main street in Blowing Rock. While I was still trying to drink it all in, he said, as if to reinforce my look of doubt, “The last time I saw you, you said you were starting to write a book.”
That last statement sent my head reeling into dates so long ago that it seemed multiple rivers had flowed beneath my proverbial bridge. It was over twelve years ago that something like that might have been uttered from my lips.
So much had transpired. It was challenging to put into words how much had changed, to the point, that it was impossible to tell him that he was looking at the new me. What he didn’t know, nor do most people in my life, was that the writing of that book changed my perspective on life and my walk with God. It placed upon my heart an urgency, an impetus of motivation.
Seven years ago, it had become too much. There was a frustration level in my soul that couldn’t be quenched by serving God just part-time. It was time to take the step off the cliff and devote all of me to Him. It was an immersion that would take my family and I hundreds of miles away from the only home my children had ever known – our Chatham county farm. My instincts were drawn to the mountains, both physically and spiritually – to a higher calling, if you will. The first year was one that I felt would break us, both financially and emotionally. It was our Israelite forty years in the desert phase. We learned to do without and to suffer. But we learned something much greater through all of those trials – that we couldn’t do it alone. We needed God even more than ever before. But how could I convey this to Matthew, a person who had almost entirely been lost in my memory?
But there, in those precious few seconds, there wasn’t enough time to tell the whole of the story. There weren’t enough seconds to convey what God had done in not only my life but in the life of those around me. Suddenly, as if the breath of life were about to be removed from my chest, an urgency came upon me. If it weren’t for this chance encounter, this momentary pause in time, we would have never seen one another again. There was an instant of longing to want to find a way to spend time with him and his family, but he said they would be leaving on the morrow. There was no way to reach out to him technically because, like so many where he came from, they have spurned those so-called advances, and for many good reasons. It was a finality of a missed opportunity that stung the most. There was so much to show him and his family they would have missed.
But then, if we are true to our faith, isn’t this a feeling that should possess us every day?
The feeling that we sometimes only have a moment in passing a person on the trail, walking past someone on the street, or even meeting someone only briefly in our daily life, to reach out to them to share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sense that time would slip by before we could tell them how their salvation depends on the way, the truth, and the light of Christ descended on my heart mightily. This spirit of urgency began to drive me to seek wisdom and direction from the Word. And with it, a determination to seek out those who are lost, not by their own accord but through lack of hearing.
It was in this mindset of fleeting chance encounters that lingered when the sunrise beckoned, and it was time to go to the Bible Study on Tuesday morning. Dan, our teacher for the day, walked us through 1 Timothy 4. He was enlightening as always, and for that, we were grateful. But the moment which is always desired but rarely seen happened after the meeting had concluded. My friend Richard and I had planned to go hiking and were about to head out after all the bustling of departures had ended. But in my heart, that lingering pause, that feeling that we should rush out just yet lest we miss something, seemed to loom over my earnestness to depart.
The chance encounter occurred when one of the elderly men, named Jim, came over to my table and began to share with me the enjoyment of reading that book Matthew had alluded to the night before, “Bruecke to Heaven.” He started to ask questions, and as is usual, they brought back the flood of memories, emotions, and spiritual awakening that had transpired through its writing. As we talked, another friend of mine, Richard, joined us. It was just us three in the restaurant’s dining area at that point.
Jim began to open up about his own personal walk and how that very morning, his dear wife had shared with him her point in life when she came to Christ. She told him that he needed to know it because it was something often mentioned at funerals, how the believer came to know Jesus. Tears began to well up in his eyes as we could feel our own heartstrings being pulled.
As he continued to share, his own emotions began to flow down his cheeks. He then said he wasn’t sure if he had ever truly received Christ into his life. We both could hear the despair in his voice. Then, without warning, he continued. The tears of sorrow flowed from his eyes like rivers of relief as my friend, and I felt that moment open, like the clouds after the rainstorm parting and the sun breaking through.
“Do you want to come to Christ right now,” Richard asked.
“Then let’s do this,” and Richard began to pray over Jim, asking God to come into his life and give him the gift of eternal life through the salvation of his Son, Jesus Christ. When Richard was finished praying, he then, with head still bowed, said, “Jim,” as if to say, “take it away, you know what to do.”
With head bowed and heart in deep contrition, I was blessed beyond measure to hear our friend Jim pray to God, seeking his forgiveness, thanking him for his Son, and asking him to fully come into his life, once and for all. He battled through his flood of emotions so much that we began to embrace him through his change. The Holy Spirit began to flow, and that shaft of sunlight seemed to illuminate that little room until all three of our hearts would almost burst with joy. For a moment, time stood still, and the love of Jesus Christ filled us to overflowing.
Grace for grace became our measure.
As I sit here this morning, the day after, still reflecting on all that transpired in the past couple of days, it is with profound, heartfelt sincerity that I want to share how important it is that we seek those chance encounters. In those brief moments of time, we must find a way to stop time and speak into another’s life. Be always prepared to succinctly and as abundantly tell someone about the gospel of salvation, the story of Jesus Christ. And even more importantly, allow them time to come to Him in their own words.