I don’t usually share particularly personal experiences here on the blog, but this is a bit of an exception as I thought some of you might find it strangely encouraging too.
In the last few weeks, I have had a profound sense of the weight and enormity of my sin and selfishness. I have grown to hate it more, and I felt so incredibly bound and weighed down by it, so bogged down by it that my days seemed almost like a thick cloud that I had to fight my way through. Yes, I knew that my sins were forgiven, I knew that I didn’t have to carry this load by myself, but for some reason I felt like I was trapped in the same sins every day.
What it comes down to is that I was finding it particularly difficult to die to self. My whole world seemed to revolve around “I”s: I don’t want to, I want to, I think this, I don’t like… It was ugly, and I didn’t want to let it go. In some weird way, it was like I was grieving for the putting off of the old self, longingly looking back at my selfish little cocoon like Lot’s wife. As if putting on the new self was somehow going to short-change me.
Anyway, one Monday recently, I was struggling with all this and my head and heart felt like it was going to explode. When Ben came home and I left for my first choir practice of the new academic year, I was glad for the half hour walk in the cool evening air. Getting out alone in the fresh air, getting some exercise, and “talking God’s ear off” felt good. I pleaded with Him to lift this burden.
My mind felt cleared and lighter, but my heart was still heavy by the time I got to choir. And then I got my music. What a delight! We’re singing Purcell’s Hear my Prayer Oh Lord, Bach’s Jesu Meine Freude, and Vivaldi’s Gloria. (The links take you to online recordings, though the Vivaldi is too fast!) Could I have asked for any better music?
We were only in the beginning stages of learning, but it was already sounding pretty good. Then we turned to the lyrics of Jesu Meine Freude, with the translation printed alongside, and I fought back the tears — if I were a better writer, I could have written those lyrics myself.
O Jesus, my joy,
My heart’s pasture,
Jesus, my adornment,
Oh how long, how long
Has my heart been anxious
And longed for you.
Lamb of God, my bridegroom,
On earth never will there be
Anything dearer to me than you.
Now there is no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus,
who walk not according to the flesh,
but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:1)
Beneath your shelter
I am free from the storms
Of all foes.
Let Satan storm,
Let the Foe rage,
Jesus stands by me.
Though thunder crack as lightning flashes
Though sin and hell spread terror,
Jesus will shelter me.
For the law of the Spirit
which gives life in Christ Jesus
has set me free from the law
of sin and death. (Rom 8:2)
I defy the old Dragon!
I defy the jaws of Death!
I defy fear as well!
Rage, world, and spring to attack:
Here I stand and sing
In securest repose.
God’s might watches out for me.
Earth and Abyss must fall silent,
However much they keep growling.
But you live not by the flesh
but by the Spirit,
if indeed God’s Spirit dwells in you.
But anyone who does not have
the Spirit of Christ
does not belong to him. (Rom 8:9)
Away with all treasures!
You are my delight,
Jesus, my pleasure!
Away, you empty honors,
I won’t to listen to you.
Remain unknown to me!
Misery, adversity, cross,
Disgrace, and death
Will not, however much I suffer,
Separate me from Jesus.
But if Christ is in you,
the body is indeed dead
for the sake of sin;
but the Spirit is life
for the sake of justification. (Rom 8:10)
O ways of the world —
You do not please me.
Good night, sins,
Stay way back,
Come no more into the light.
Good night, pomp and pride!
Once and for all, you life of iniquity,
I bid you good night!
If now the Spirit of him
who raised Jesus
from the dead
dwells in you, then the same one
who raised Christ
from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies
because his Spirit
life in you. (Rom 8:11)
Yield, mournful spirits,
For my master of joy,
Jesus, steps in.
To those who love God,
Even their afflictions
Must be pure joy.
Though here I endure scorn and ridicule,
Still, even in suffering, you, Jesus,
Remain my joy.*
I read those lyrics when I could during rehearsal, I read them at the bus stop, I read them on the bus on the way home, and when I got off that bus, my heart felt light again. And so incredibly thankful. I walked home quickly so I could tell Ben.
But God wasn’t done with me yet.
On our block just before turning the corner onto our street I saw the homeless black man who hangs around this area. He has no legs and is in a wheelchair. Most of the time I see him, he is stoned. As I walked past him, I smiled at him, and perhaps taking my smile as a good sign, he started to ask me something. I instantly started declining, but then stopped. I said, “Look, I’ll buy you food, but I’m not giving you money.”
He seemed elated despite his lethargic half-stoned state. “Thank God,” I heard him mutter. So we walked to the Chinese take-out shop and I asked him what he wanted. “Half chicken with fries and ketchup and barbecue sauce all over.” I couldn’t help but smile. I ordered his food and waited for what seemed like an eternity. I’d look out the window at him periodically — sometimes he swayed and rocked, other times he looked like he had gone to sleep, doubled up in his wheelchair. I wondered if he was cold.
While I waited, I thought of what I should say to him. I am no Jesus or Peter who can tell him to get up and walk, however much I might want to. But I wanted to leave him with hope and not just some fried chicken.
When the food was finally finished, I went outside and asked, “What is your name?” He mumbled something back. “Pardon?” This time he spoke more clearly, despite the gaps where he was missing teeth. “Daniel,” he said. I leaned forward as I handed him the food and said, “Daniel, I can only feed you for one meal, but Jesus can feed your soul.” I felt trite saying that, and added a “God bless you” as I straightened and got ready to leave.
But then, before I could go, he straightened too, sitting up in his wheelchair, and with unexpected confidence looked me straight in the eyes and with rasping voice spoke up. Without any hesitation he said, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans eight, thirty-eight and thirty-nine.”
I blinked away the tears enough to whisper a “Yes!” and a quick “God bless you,” and then turned and walked home, tears streaming unashamedly down my face. Crying because, once again, God had humbled and blessed me. I thought I was doing the blessing, and God turned it all upside down and let a dirty half-stoned homeless man with no legs minister to me, the nice clean sober Christian girl, convicting me by quoting to me the Scripture I needed to hear. A piece of Scripture I should have memorised, but don’t. A piece of Scripture I know, but often live as if I don’t believe it.
That was the night I met Daniel.
* Translation of Jesu Meine Freude copyright San Francisco Bach Choir. Used with permission.