Sometimes a single moment imprints us so strongly, that it stays with us, challenging us to more deeply understand what God is saying through it.
A moment like that unfolded for me in the cool quiet of predawn hours, as I was sorting through the Isaiah 61 and 62 prophecies of a time to come… when all things will be made right on earth. Yes, I believe that this age is ultimately going to be swallowed up by the age to come, and through Isaiah’s eyes we glimpse that time. But I also know that the transcendent nature of Scripture enables it to speak to every man in every moment—that through Isaiah, God wants to give us words of intimate encouragement, so that in a difficult time we can hold to the lovely hope that beyond this time better things wait.
Almost immediately after this thought, the picture of a train station filled the screen of my imagination. People were hurrying and scurrying all around me. Jesus was standing near me on my left, quietly waiting. There was a train on my right, standing still on the track with its doors open. This train was headed in a direction opposite to the one in which I was going. It was an old vintage train, not a silvery fast new one. It looked dingy and uninviting. I didn’t see any passengers inside. It seemed as if no one wanted to take that train. I knew it was scheduled to pass through grim territory in order to reach its final destination. But the desirability of that destination was not enough to make anyone–including myself–want to board.
We instinctively understand that grim territory; it represents the hard work that has to be done if we are going to get to a better place. We prefer to remain here, busy, living our lives as they are. But Scripture tells us that on the cosmic level this present age will give way to the next with birth pangs. This principle is as true on the micro level of our private lives, as it is on the macro level of corporate human history.
Having experienced natural birth, I know physical birth pangs…. I know that time of transition, when the intensity of travail makes you think you can’t bear it any longer. But when that baby is born, its wonder fills your arms and you weep for joy. There is also emotional travail, which we experience in some of our most important relationships, when pain cuts so deep we don’t know how to bear it; but for those who are trained by it, that travail brings spiritual breakthrough. The thing about labor pains is you don’t choose to have them, they just hit you and they hit hard, ripping you out of the status quo, propelling you through the tough work that has to be accomplished in order to reach the wonder on the other side.
Standing beside that train, I understood that it signified passage to a better place–the transition marked by pain that is absolutely necessary for us to leave the familiar but increasingly uncomfortable status quo that no longer serves our best interest.
I also understood that the vintage train that appeared somewhat grungy and uninviting symbolizes God’s purpose in His people’s suffering
And then Jesus spoke into the reflective silence between us, asking softly, “Are you willing to get on?”
That moment, that morning was real… it was suffused with the gentle quiet of intimate trust and connection that made me ready and willing.
In the days that followed, I saw the application of the message He was teaching me.
- My husband gently opened a conversation in which he suggested I might be making a mistake. I felt the grim clench in my stomach as I gaged the cost of making it right, if in fact, I’de been wrong. And there it was….the train waiting, and the question hanging in the air, “Was I willing to get on?”
- My family has been stuck for a long time in a status quo that is no longer acceptable. In the fresh wave of sorrow breaking over us, I see the train waiting with its doors open. Are we willing to get on that train … to go through the painful process that will take us to the place where things will be right?
- A young man, who recently embraced Jesus as his Lord, finds that his years of wrong living have hardened his wife. Understandably angry, she wants out even as he pleads with her to stay. I see him agonizing beside the track where the train waits. Will he let go, trust God, and get on?
- Our nation finds itself sunk to an unacceptable status quo. The confluence of violence and hatred, the loss of civility as polarizing accusations are hurled back and forth in the clash of two world views, economic instability, and terrorist attacks at home and abroad bring fresh warning of difficult times. I find myself standing beside the open doors of a train, thinking I hear Him asking me if I am ready and willing to get on.
- There is a rising conviction among Christians that we are coming into a time of persecution in a culture that increasingly regards us as not only contemptibly backward but a threat to peace. Nowhere in Scripture are we encouraged to go along with persecution, but to work to prevent such oppression “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Paul encouraged us to pray that God would give us good rulers who would allow us to live a peaceful life. (1Timothy 2:1) Surely persecution is not a train we’re being asked to willingly board….?
- For 6 years God has been telling me in myriad ways that a very difficult time is coming to America… Our choices are going to catch up with us with devastating consequences: food shortages and massive civil unrest marked by unprecedented violence. I want to lay low, buy some food, plant my garden, feed my chickens, spend time with my family, keep this to myself, keep my friends and not sound crazy. But I’m sternly warned that there will be consequences if I do:
But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand.
This is not a train I want to board… but it is there and I hear His question hanging in the air, am I willing to get on?
The soul’s willing union
It is a serious matter — what we bring our soul into willing union with.
When we bring our soul into union with what is from God, it binds us closer to Him, it brings us under the protection of His authority; it creates intimacy suffusing us with His own strength and life. There is nothing more precious, no place I would rather be. BUT
When we bring our soul into union with what is not from God, our union will subject us to the heart-breaking, destructive power of evil. It will alienate us–not only from Who God is–but also from His best intention for us.
Our union with what God has already willed
is the source and secret of God’s power in us.
The moment we come into union with false arguments,
His power dissipates from our lives.
But what is from God and what is not? With so much at stake, the enemy seeks to confuse us, so that he can undermine our willing union with what God wills.
As powerful as this message was becoming, a strong counter argument hit me, bringing doubt. Wariness reproved me, telling me it was dangerous and wrong to ever will suffering–that to do so was to open myself to darkness. This sounded true; so I began to back away from the message, even as I felt the pang of loss.
Understanding what God is saying to us is life. It is one of the most precious things we can achieve… but it is also a battleground where every word is challenged ruthlessly.
The conflict in me escalated as wariness reproved me, but the intimate connection in the train station wooed my heart… Which was I to bring my soul into union with? The only way forward was to test the spirits: could my picture of Jesus waiting with me by the train, asking if I was willing to get on, be confirmed anywhere in His written word?
This seemed just about impossible. I stood at my kitchen sink almost arguing with God.
“If You gave me that vision, where in all of Scripture is such a thing found? Where have you ever asked someone to willingly step into judgment? To will their own suffering?”
The very next morning, He answered… through Jesus in Gethsemane.
Luke 22: 41-43
And He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, where He knelt down and prayed, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.…
My heart caught in my throat. Clearly, Jesus wanted to avoid the suffering, fervently praying it might be averted. But more than anything else–he wanted to bring his soul into willing union with what the Father already willed. Before he arose from that prayer, he knew… he had heard his Father ask him softly, “Are you willing to get on the train?”
In the following days, the Lord brought me Scripture after Scripture to show me where His people willingly stepped into judgment and/or suffering.
- In Samuel 3:18, the young boy Samuel had to tell Eli, the priest, all of the terrible things God had told him were going to befall Eli’s family, Eli’s response was, “It is the LORD, Let Him do what seems good to Him.” Whatever else his failings, Eli revered and trusted God enough to get on the train.
- Then Job: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. … Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity? (Job 9:15, 1:21, 2:10) Job may not have willingly chosen the adversity that befell him, but he willed to receive it as something God was over. He revered and trusted God enough to get on the train.
- And in The New Testament, Hebrews describes our chastening and even scourging as something painful but yielding the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:6, 11) We are summoned to get on the train, passing through what we dread, embracing the purpose of God’s all surpassing end.
As I read these passages, I realized that
getting on that train is a picture of bringing our soul
into willing union with what God has already willed.
Our willingness to get on is the demonstration of our trust in Him,
and proof that we understand His heart.
We know that nothing is going to befall us,
but what serves His most loving purpose for His people.
Difficult days are coming to America. But it’s not the end of the world. It’s birth pangs coming to rip us out of a no longer acceptable status quo.
In science, in nature, in history and in life chaos precedes the coming of a new and better order that can only come when we have relinquished what we are not as yet willing to let go of–what belongs to the old order. The ways of the flesh have to be let go of before we can walk in the Spirit. God’s divine judgments come unsolicited and unsought, in order to separate us from that which is sabotaging us and would destroy us and keep us from the hope He has waiting for us…. ahead.
The train–God’s purpose in His people’s suffering–we never board it alone. He is with us and we are wrapped in divine purpose, hurtling toward the inexpressible desirability of the destination ahead.
So…. Where is the place in your life where He is waiting with you beside a train… a train headed in a direction opposite to the one in which you are going, whose dread journey you really don’t want to take?
Is He asking you if you are willing to get on? What is at stake if you do? What is at stake if you don’t? How well do you know His heart?
We cry out for God’s intervention, for His power to invade and change our painful circumstances–not realizing that those very circumstances are revealing the imminent threat to our life, that the hard journey will save us from. Nothing is more critical in this hour, than for us to learn how to bring our soul into willing union with Him.
That union is the source and secret of His power in us.