Stay – Jimmy Needham feat. Lizi Bailey

Hi there, it’s me again.

It’s been a while; 658 days since I last posted anything, to be precise. I’ve been going through a really difficult period lately and thought blogging again might be a helpful catharsis.

May I ask you a question? Have you ever felt that momentary sense of joy in Jesus? It’s often just a fleeting moment — like the soft landing of a butterfly on a flower petal only to take off again — but it’s no less real or tangible.

I wanted to share a song with you, which I think captures this feeling so well. The rapture of knowing God; no, better than that — of being known by God himself.

Have a listen here on Spotify (or a short stripped out sample on YouTube). The rest of this post will make a lot more sense if you’ve listened to the song. Here are the lyrics (the post continues below):


You lead me like the dawning of the day
You lead me like April leads into May
You lead me like the stone you rolled away
You take my hand and we will run… away

Just like a child I rest upon your knee
Just like a song, your love, it sings to me
Beside your arms I find a symphony
You take my hand and then we run… away

To the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
I’d linger forever
If only I could stay… here

Remember all those years ago we met
All I recall are days of past regret
And you felt so far but I had never left
Just wanting you to take my hand… and run

To the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
I’d linger forever
If only I could stay
If only I could stay

In the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper
In the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
Linger forever
If only I could stay
If I could stay… here


 

I could wax lyrical about this song: about its acoustic quality, about the lovely harmony between Jimmy and Lizi, about many other musical features.

But I just want to focus on how perfectly it captures the momentary sensation of rapture that the soul experiences when it is full of the joy of being known by God. It is like being transported “to the place where my fears have no voice at all / The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call”. That moment is frozen; and you know that it’s you and the Lord Jesus, the perfect bridegroom, who has poured His love into your heart by the Spirit (Romans 5:5).

In the words of St Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

In those moments, your heart has found this rest.

Sadly, though, we know only too well that these moments are ephemeral, fleeting, temporary. You would “linger forever” if you could. But it just doesn’t work that way. It’s a bit like the Apostle Peter on the mount of transfiguration, yearning for Jesus, Elijah and Moses to stick around (Mark 9:2ff).

Thus the wistful tenor of the song: “If only I could stay…”

It’s what C.S. Lewis called an “inconsolable longing”; a “lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside” (the Weight of Glory).

But it’s not all bad. Captured so well in the third verse of the song is the great encouragement that the Holy Spirit is with us always as believers. When we are despondent, the Spirit (represented by Lizi in the song) says to us, “Remember all those those years ago we met?” Remember that moment when you knew it was Him? It may have been the night when you prayed to receive Jesus; it may have been that awe-full sense you had while meditating on Scripture; it may have been when you were on your knees singing in praise; indeed, it may have been in all of these moments.

How often do we think that God isn’t with us, just because that fleeting sense of joy has faded away! How easily we slip into thinking, “all I recall are days of past regret.” But the Spirit says, “You felt so far but I had never left / Just wanting you to take my hand.”

Indeed, he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

And so we do not lose heart (cf 2 Cor 4). We take courage and wait on the LORD, thanking Him for these moments of pure joy along the way, but longing eagerly for His return to rescue His bride.

And when He does, those moments of rapture — of pure joy — will no longer be fleeting. For we shall be with Him forever. He shall wipe away every tear from our eyes.

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C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books”

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

You can read this absolute gem here: http://www.theelliots.org/Soapbox2008/OntheReadingofOldBooks.pdf

A short post on C.S. Lewis

22nd November 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. Clive Staples Lewis, or ‘Jack’ as he was known to his close friends, was a stalwart of the Christian faith and one of my heroes. I owe much to him and his writings; in particular his Chronicles of Narnia which I read as a child, and his Mere Christianity which I read during a tumultuous period in my life. No doubt he is one of the first few people I’d like to meet when I get to heaven.

Much tribute has been made to him in the year that just passed. Amongst other things, he was honoured with a memorial in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey; he was the subject of the entire Desiring God National Conference 2013; and a number of books have been published this year in his honour (e.g. this one, and this free ebook). I shall not attempt to produce a tribute of my own here. This is largely because everything that can be said has already been said and by persons far more eloquent than I – I would simply not do Lewis justice.

I would just like to share one thing, if I may. C.S. Lewis’s description of faith in Jesus Christ has resonated deeply with me ever since I read it. In one of my favourite quotations from his entire corpus, he writes:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Christianity is the only coherent worldview which explains everything in the world – history, science, the human condition… everything. It is not a blind faith; it is a thinking, rational one, as I have elsewhere described. And, dear reader, if you would earnestly consider the claims of Jesus, I assure you that everything will start to make sense.

To conclude this short post, I would highly recommend the following message preached by Julian Hardyman of Eden Baptist Church, on Lewis’s ‘ legacy, 50 years on. It is such a good introduction to the life and work of a man touched by the love of Christ, who in turn touched the lives of many.

the efficacy of prayer – C.S. Lewis

SOME YEARS AGO I got up one morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened made it clear I need not go to London. So I decided to put the haircut off too. But then there began the most unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, “Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut.” In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of many troubles whom my brother and I had sometimes been able to help. The moment I opened his shop door he said, “Oh, I was praying you might come today.” And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him.

    It awed me; it awes me still. But of course one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber’s prayers and my visit. It might be telepathy. It might be accident.

    I have stood by the bedside of a woman whose thighbone was eaten through with cancer and who had thriving colonies of the disease in many other bones, as well. It took three people to move her in bed. The doctors predicted a few months of life; the nurses (who often know better), a few weeks. A good man: laid his hands on her and prayed. A year later the patient was walking (uphill, too, through rough woodland) and the man who took the last X-ray photos was saying, “These bones are as solid as rock. It’s miraculous.”

    But once again there is no rigorous proof. Medicine, as all true doctors admit, is not an exact science. We need not invoke the supernatural to explain the falsification of its prophecies. You need not, unless you choose, believe in a causal connection between the prayers and the recovery.

    The question then arises, “What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?” The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that a compulsive empirical Proof such as we have in the sciences can never be attained.

    Some things are proved by the unbroken uniformity of our experiences. The law of gravitation is established by the fact that, in our experience, all bodies without exception obey it. Now even if all the things that people prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic—a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.

    There are, no doubt, passages in the New Testament which may seem at first sight to promise an invariable granting of our prayers. But that cannot be what they really mean. For in the very heart of the story we meet a glaring instance to the contrary. In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not. After that the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed.

    Other things are proved not simply by experience but by those artificially contrived experiences which we call experiments. Could this be done about prayer? I will pass over the objection that no Christian could take part in such a project, because he has been forbidden it: “You must not try experiments on God, your Master.” Forbidden or not, is the thing even possible?

    I have seen it suggested that a team of people—the more the better—should agree to pray as hard as they knew how, over a period of six weeks, for all the patients in Hospital A and none of those in Hospital B. Then you would tot up the results and see if A had more cures and fewer deaths. And I suppose you would repeat the experiment at various times and places so as to eliminate the influence of irrelevant factors.

    The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer could go on under such conditions. “Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” says the King in Hamlet. Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for our experiment. You cannot pray for the recovery of the sick unless the end you have in view is their recovery. But you can have no motive for desiring the recovery of all the patients in one hospital and none of those in another. You are not doing it in order that suffering should be relieved; you are doing it to find out what happens. The real purpose and the nominal purpose of your prayers are at variance. In other words, whatever your tongue and teeth and knees may do, you are not praying. The experiment demands an impossibility.

    Empirical proof and disproof are, then, unobtainable. But this conclusion will seem less depressing if we remember that prayer is request and compare it with other specimens of the same thing.

    We make requests of our fellow creatures as well as of God: we ask for the salt, we ask for a raise in pay, we ask a friend to feed the cat while we are on our holidays, we ask a woman to marry us. Sometimes we get what we ask for and sometimes not. But when we do, it is not nearly so easy as one might suppose to prove with scientific certainty a causal connection between the asking and the getting.

    Your neighbor may be a humane person who would not have let your cat starve even if you had forgotten to make any arrangement. Your employer is never so likely to grant your request for a raise as when he is aware that you could get better money from a rival firm and is quite possibly intending to secure you a raise in any case. As for the lady who consents to marry you—are you sure she had not decided to do so already? Your proposal, you know, might have been the result, not the cause, of her decision. A certain important conversation might never have taken place unless she had intended that it should.

    Thus in some measure the same doubt that hangs about the causal efficacy of our prayers to God hangs also about our prayers to man. Whatever we get we might have been going to get anyway. But only, as I say, in some measure. Our friend, boss, and wife may tell us that they acted because we asked; and we may know them so well as to feel sure, first that they are saying what they believe to be true, and secondly that they understand their own motives well enough to be right. But notice that when this happens our assurance has not been gained by the methods of science. We do not try the control experiment of refusing the raise or breaking off the engagement and then making our request again under fresh conditions. Our assurance is quite different in kind from scientific knowledge. It is born out of our personal relation to the other parties; not from knowing things about them but from knowing them.

    Our assurance—if we reach an assurance—that God always hears and some­times grants our prayers, and that apparent grantings are not merely fortuitous, can only come in the same sort of way. There can be no question of tabulating successes and failures and trying to decide whether the successes are too numer­ous to be accounted for by chance. Those who best know a man best know whether, when he did what they asked, he did it because they asked. I think those who best know God will best know whether He sent me to the barber’s shop because the barber prayed.

    For up till now we have been tackling the whole question in the wrong way and on the wrong level. The very question “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. “Work”: as if it were magic, or a ma­chine—something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctu­ary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.

    Petitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and commanded to us: “Give us our daily bread.” And no doubt it raises a theoretical problem. Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate. He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will. “God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.

    For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye. He allows us to neglect what He would have us do, or to fail. Perhaps we do not fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite free wills to co-exist with Omnipotence. It seems to involve at every moment almost a sort of divine abdication. We are not mere recipients or spectators. We are either privileged to share in the game or compelled to collabo­rate in the work, “to wield our little tridents.” Is this amazing process simply Creation going on before our eyes? This is how (no light matter) God makes something—indeed, makes gods—out of nothing.

    So at least it seems to me. But what I have offered can be, at the very best, only a mental model or symbol. All that we say on such subjects must be merely analogical and parabolic. The reality is doubtless not comprehensible by our faculties. But we can at any rate try to expel bad analogies and bad parables. Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate.

    It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”

    Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.

on the relevance of theology

For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

C.S. Lewis, on doctrine and theology