You don’t say? You didn’t say. You didn’t know.

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
    I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

For about the first ten years or so that I was a believer, there were three communities of the faith where I was planted and then, to varying degrees, grew: the campus chapter of a national student ministry while I was a student at the Johns Hopkins University (about 3 ½ years); the expatriate missionary community in New Delhi, India where I did two short-term mission stints (about eight months, most of the personnel from Commonwealth countries, but some Americans); and the non-denominational charismatic fellowship which I was part of for about 6 years before the getting the left foot of fellowship (and don’t let the door hit you on the way out).

Each one of those has contributed something to what I am today as a disciple of Jesus Christ. And each one of them, in their peculiar roles, stood in the way. Being of the “warts and all” persuasion that I believe is the Bible’s perspective on the men and women described within its pages, I don’t know how to put it any other way.

And yet the two passages at the top of the post are remarkably open-ended. What happened in the garden reverberated throughout creation, and still does. Is there something, anything that never needs redemption? But the Redeemer always supersedes the unredeemed or redeemed-in-progress.

For example, God has given us pastors and teachers to lead us to maturity. But what if they don’t? That doesn’t suspend the promises contained in both verses. There are seven occurrences of will. If you’re wondering if it’s God’s will that what’s described therein will happen, I think you can safely stop wondering.

But then the question is how? What happens when ordinary or even ordained (i.e., by God) means fail?

By definition, we are shifting to extraordinary territory. And by that I don’t mean something extraordinary about me that merited special treatment or standing, like Moses receiving the tablets on the mount. In fact, it was my spiritual poverty that invited the gracious hand of God to move in unusual ways, not a stellar spiritual C.V.

Since Jesus declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3), I hope I haven’t lost you.

I have experienced two revelations in my 44 years as a Christian that I distinguish from the revelations that regularly accompany the writing of these posts and which you, I’m sure, also experience as you follow Jesus Christ. They were unusual, as you’ll see, but not rare.

First, I need to distinguish two uses of the word revelation. There is the sense I discussed in the last post that is a mechanism or process for imparting knowledge. And there is the sense of revelation as a discrete message or “uncovering” for a particular and limited set of circumstances.

Let me give you an analogy. I have used my hammer for many things, and it’s suitable for more than one type of task. So there is hammering I’ve done when I replaced missing shingles on the addition, hammering when I knocked apart that ugly metal shed in the backyard, and hammering when I should have been holding the brad nail with needle-nosed pliers rather than my thumb and forefinger when I—ouch—branded myself as the head glanced off the nail and onto my thumb.

Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation” (Gal 2:1-2).

This was an occurrence, not the “by revelation from Jesus Christ (Gal 1:12) that refers to the process and origin of the gospel message. Paul makes sure the Galatians understand by saying, “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it” (also 1:12).

These were the types of revelations I received, about 7-8 years apart and halfway around the world from each other. In each case, they were not “from any man, nor was I taught it.” And just as a hammer can be used several ways, these revelations took a form different from the more typical “inner lightbulb” lighting up.

The first occurred in the fall of 1980 in New Delhi, India. Just as I was about to take some time off to see another part of the country, I fell sick with a fever. The trip was off and I was on my back and drinking vitamin- and supplement-enhanced “cocktails” to replenish me.

And then one morning, despite my weakened physical condition, I woke up with a soaring sense of confidence and energy. I’ve related in the previous post how the fear of man made me timid and socially awkward. But this was like I had been purged of these character weaknesses just as my body was being purged of infection. I could speak with clarity and wisdom instead of stammering or grasping for words that always came out inadequate and imprecise.

It wasn’t me. Which was exactly the point. To someone who had become resigned to the belief that I was temperamentally defective in character and could not change, the Spirit of God was revealing to me that I could be something other than I had been. Talk about feeling free!

And then, after about a week, it was all gone. Just like that. What in the world had happened? I think I foolishly prayed something about getting the experience back, as if I were renewing a library book. Nothing.

I wrote in a previous post about the woman I was dating at Hopkins who came to me with 2 Timothy 1:7: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

From Hopkins through the time I worked in India, she was the only one to put her finger on the root of my problem. She came to correct me first, because the timid spirit (i.e., attitude) I walked around in was at odds with all of God’s purposes for my life.

You ought to be living differently, was her implicit message. Thank God for her sincere love and honesty, and I mean that with all my heart. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Pr 27:6).

But keep in mind, in India I was living and working among seasoned missionaries, the major leagues of the faith in my mind. There were decades of spiritual experience all around me.

Was there no one who could look at my life with a modicum of discernment and realize this was someone slowly being “destroyed for lack of knowledge”? (Hos 4:6) No one who could distinguish a timid personality from someone caught in the snare the fear of man is? (Pr 29:25) And if so, that it needed to be brought to the cross, not a motivational speaker at the Holiday Inn Express?

All those rhetorical questions point to why I received the revelation I did, and in the form I did. If the plain words of Scripture hiding in plain sight are in fact hidden from men’s eyes, then there must be another source of light. Not some “new revelation,” or some esoteric wisdom that only a select few can even receive much less comprehend, or some mystical experience that separates mind from body.

There is nothing new about the cross or what it frees us from. But what if the power of the cross has become hidden from our eyes? What if, in just a few generations, we have dug our own cisterns, “broken cisterns that cannot hold water”? (Jer 2:13)

If the way we are taken captive by sin becomes a subterranean truth hidden beneath conventional wisdom counseling, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace, which perceives timidity only as a personality trait and nothing else, then something–and that means sovereignly by the Spirit of God–has to give.

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.

He promised. And he delivered.

(To be continued in the next post)

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