Sunday, January 27, 2008


Moses... came to Horeb, the mountain of God... God ... said, '...the place on which you are standing is holy ground.'

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo... And the Lord showed him all the land.

The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, 'Thus you shall... tell the people of Israel: You have seen... how I bore you on eagle's wings and brought you to myself.'

The glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain.

Jesus took [them] and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun.

A cloud... overshadowed them... And a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my son, my chosen... listen to him.'

God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

He said to them, 'Follow me'.

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains.

(Exodus 3:1 and 5; Deuteronomy 34: 1; Exodus 19: 3; Ezekiel 11: 23; Matthew 17: 1-2; Luke 9: 35; Acts 2: 36; Hebrews 12: 1-2; Matthew 4: 19; Isaiah 2:2 -- all RSV)

One of the recreations of urban dwellers is to go for a long drive into the country, or to the mountains. Do you find, as I do, that it is restful for the eyes to have an occasional long view, instead of the shorter, limited view of suburbia? We need these times to break away from the routine of family life, of business life, of church life, and to take a long view, an overview of our total lifestyle. Have my priorities of time been wisely allotted? Have I made enough time for communication with my spouse, my children, my parents -- my Lord? Was that distur bance in my life so cataclysmic or, when viewed from the mountains, is it possible that God was shaking my earth just slightly so he could have more of my attention?

Think of some mountain-top experiences from scripture -- Abraham, called to give his son, but the Lord's promise, 'I will provide'; Moses, terrified at being called to a new responsibility and the Lord's promise, 'I will be with you'; Jesus, on Mount Hermon, on the way to probable death, experiencing transfiguration and being affirmed by his Father that the way. of the cross was the way that led to glory; the disciples on Mount Olivet who were assured by the ascending Christ of his power through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We are called to follow the steps of the Master up whatever mountain he has chosen for us. A man climbed a mountain as far as he could, then he marked the place, and returned, exhausted. On bewailing his misfortune a wise listener reminded him that each climber who makes a path and leaves markers makes it easier for the next people to go further.

May we each faithfully climb our particular mountain, making paths for others to follow which will lead them to higher peaks. Then may we have compassion on those who are hemmed in by the valleys of spiritual shortsightedness, limited by boulders of self-centredness, trapped by the forest of an unforgiving spirit. May we be empowered by the spirit of unconditional love, taking to others the message of a new view of life, seen from the mountain of the Lord.

Christ of the upward way My guide divine, Where thou hast set thy feet May I place mine; And move and march wherever thou hast trod, Keeping face forward up the hill of God.

Walter John Mathams

When you begin to pray aright you are on an ascending path. It will carry you to even greater heights, but as you climb you will become increasingly aware of your own littleness and of the immensity of the prospect. You will see your surroundings in relation to a higher heaven and a more distant horizon: mountains of difficulty will sink to molehills, ways will appear where no way declared itself and the sources of many streams be revealed.

Hugh Redwood, Practical Prayer

If one wants to climb mountains one must have a good base camp, a place where there are shelter and provisions, where one may receive nurture and rest before one ven tures forth again to seek another summit. Successful mountain climbers know that they must spend at least as much time, if not more, in tending to their base camp as they actually do in climbing mountains, for their survival is dependent upon their seeing to it that their base camp is sturdily constructed and well stocked.

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled

I have often felt that my life was rather akin to mountaineering, with a clear goal to reach the highest peak. There may be a fairly long journey to reach the foothills before the real climb can be started. On the way up, the goal is often hidden from view by clouds, or by lesser peaks, but the original sight of the summit keeps us pressing on, despite weariness and even discouragement.

As I went down from the present peak into the valley between the mountains, I was often shadowed by the very peak I was enjoying. This I interpreted in a sense of failure and this often led to despair... I see now I was wrong... The going down was merely an initial moving forward towards the next higher ground.

Helen Roseveare, Give Me This Mountain

There is a path of service in which I would lead you where the grass is green, the pastures verdant. No foot has preceded you there. It is virgin territory. You shall walk with me because there is none other gone before to mark the way.

0 my child, you have crossed a bridge. Reach not back. Move on ahead and press into the fullness of all I have prepared for you. It is the blossoming of that which long ago was planted and for many years has been nurtured. It is waiting for you to step forward and receive.

As I have told you so often, keep your heart fixed on me. Only thus will you have the needed stamina to keep your own soul from falling into discouragement. Only by my power will you be able to stand. Focus on my footsteps.

Frances Roberts, On the Highroads of Surrender

How do you spot a miracle? Just look for a mountain. Look for a problem or a difficulty, because often the first way God reaches us is in a moment of pain.

Trouble never leaves you where it found you. It changes you, permanently. It either makes you bitter and tough and hard and cold and angry, or it'll turn you into a soft, gentle, compassionate, understanding, generous human being.

You know, if you've got a problem, I predict it's the beginning of a miracle, because what is the reason for mountains that God lets us run into? Some mountains are there to block us so that we won't run madly ahead and get ourselves in trouble. If a mountain is there to keep us from going into enemy territory, then the mountain indeed has been turned into a miracle.

Robert Schuller, Living Positively

She perceived that no-one who finds herself up on the slopes of the Kingdom of Love can possibly dogmatise about what is seen there, because it is only then that she comprehends how small a part of the glorious whole she sees. All she can do is to gasp with wonder, awe and thanksgiving, and to long with all her heart to go higher and to see and understand more. Paradoxical as it may seem, as she gazed out on dazzling vistas, so glorious that she could not look at them steadily or grasp their magnificent sweep, she often thought that the prayer which best expressed her heart's desire was that of the blind man, 'Lord, that I might receive my sight! Help me to open myself to more light. Help me to a fuller understanding'.

Hannah Hurnard, Hind's Feet on High Places, an allegory of a girl, formerly crippled, now walking on the High Mountains

Enlarge thou me in love, that with the inward palate of my heart I may taste how sweet it is to love, and to be dissolved and, as it were, to bathe myself in thy love.

Let me be possessed by love, mounting above myself, through excessive fervour and admiration.

Let me sing the song of love, let me follow thee, my beloved, on high; let my soul spend itself in thy praise, rejoicing through love.

Let me love thee more than myself, nor love myself but for thee; and in thee all that truly love thee, as the law of love commandeth, shining out from thyself.

Thomas a Kempis

Lord, forgive me for being blinded so often by the pressures of this world. Open my eyes so that I can see the mountain path up which you are calling me. Help me to keep my eyes on the risen Christ who knows the way I take and will never leave me comfortless. Thank you for your knowledge of me, of my gifts, of my dreams and for the way in which you incorporate them into your greater plans for your kingdom. Lord, I want to keep my eyes on the glistening peaks of your perfect will and your perfect love. I give myself to you again, for you to use on the mountains or in the valleys, as a guide or as a rescuer, as a sweeper of the paths or keeper of the rest-houses.

I praise you, Lord. I stretch out to reach you -- and find that you are there, ready to hold my hand. I praise and worship you.

A Benediction

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever. Amen.

Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, chapter 45

Thursday, January 24, 2008


All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.

So Jesus said to those who believed in him, 'If you obey my teaching you are really my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'

You diligently study the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

If we obey God's commands, then we are sure that we know him. If someone says that he knows him, but does not obey his commands, such a person is a liar and there is no truth in him. But whoever obeys his word is the one whose love for God has really been made perfect. This is how we can be sure that we are in union with God: whoever says that he remains in union with God should live just as Jesus Christ did.

What he commands is that we believe in his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as Christ commanded us. Whoever obeys God's commands lives in union with God and God lives in union with him. And because of the Spirit that God has given us we know that God lives in union with us.

This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for our brothers! If a rich person sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against his brother, how can he claim that he loves God? My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which showsitself in action.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit let us also walk by the Spirit.

Not everyone who calls me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my heavenly Father. When that day comes, many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, cast out devils in your name, and in your name perform miracles?' Then I will tell them to their face, 'I never knew you: out of my sight, you and your wicked ways!'

(Philippians 3: 10-11, GNB; John 8: 31-32, GNB; John 5: 39-40, NIV; 1 John 2: 3-6, GNB; 1 John 3: 23-24, GNB; 1 John 3: 16-18, GNB; Galatians 5: 22-25, RSV; Matthew 7: 21-23, NEB)

The business of knowing God, and it is after all our chief business, is not so easily practised as it is talked about. For many of us 'knowing God' consists of having given intellectual assent to Christ's claims to duty and having accepted the fact that Christ died for our sins. We then blithely go through the routine of life, say a few mumbled prayers -- perhaps even on a daily basis -- study the Bible a little and regularly attend the services of the church. We might even be involved in volunteer ministry. We might just feel serious enough about the whole thing to tithe. For some, 'knowing God' may even have led them to attend Bible college or seminary -- perhaps even to engage in 'full-time' Christian ministry. But is this what is really meant by 'knowing God'? 'Knowing God' goes far deeper.

We parrot the phrase 'having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ'. But do we really understand what we are talking about? Do we realise that those words refer to 'intimate, constant companionship'? It is a relationship very much like being in the presence of one's best friend all day long and constantly interrupting the work or the silence for conversation wherein you reveal the deepest longing, pains, fears, joys and sorrows that you've experienced. And it is two-way conversation. How often do we really listen to God? Do we study the Bible simply to have more and better Bible knowledge? Or, do we study the scriptures to hear and see and know the Person behind them?

And does our knowledge really change us in any way? Indeed, we may become more 'mystical', more 'spiritual', and 'free'. But how does our companionship with God change the way we act towards others? Do we love more deeply, with greater sensitivity, greater practicality? In God's name how have we loved? With greater mercy, compassion and generosity? Have we loved only with our tongues and not with food, clothing and shelter for the poor? Or, have we loved in action, only to let our razor tongues destroy another child of the Father?

How well do we know God? How well do we image Christ? It is to that extent, and no further, that true knowledge of God dwells in us.

For you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.

Augustine, The Confessions

Thy beloved is of that nature, that he will admit of no rival; but will have thy heart alone, and sit on his throne as king.

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have this day done one thing because he said, 'Do it', or once abstained because he said, 'Do not do it'. It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you.

George MacDonald, Anthology

[We]... would rather receive salvation from God than God [who is] our salvation.

George MacDonald, Anthology

And here again we ought to observe that we are called to a knowledge of God: not that knowledge which... merely flits in the brain, but that which will be sound and fruitful if we duly perceive it, and if it takes root in the heart.

John Calvin, Institutes

Only [God] himself is completely and utterly sufficient to fulfil the will and longing of our souls. Nothing else can. The soul, when it is restored by grace, is made wholly sufficient to comprehend him fully by love. He cannot be comprehended by our intellect or any other person's -- or any angel's for that matter. For both we and they are created things... to the intellect, God... is forever unknowable ... to love, he is completely knowable.

The Cloud of Unknowing

Lift up your heart to God with humble love: and mean God himself, and not what you get out of him.

The Cloud of Unknowing

A man may sink by such slow degrees that, long after he is a devil, he may go on being a good churchman or a good dissenter and thinking himself a good Christian.

George MacDonald, Anthology

[Each of us] should render our account to God. No third person dares venture to intrude upon this accounting between God and the individual... the most ruinous evasion of all is to be hidden in the crowd in an attempt to escape God's supervision of us as an individual.

Soren Kierkegaard

Behind every saint stands another saint... I never learnt anything myself by my own old nose.

Baron von Huegel

That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

This is the reason why we have no ease of heart or soul, for we are seeking our rest in trivial things that cannot satisfy, and not seeking to know God, almighty, all-wise, all good. He is true rest. It is his will that we should know him, and his pleasure that we should rest in him. Nothing less will satisfy us.

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

He alone is able to make himself known as he really is. We seek in reasoning and in the sciences, as in a bad copy, for what we neglect to see in an excellent original... We leave him for trifles, and disdain to hold converse with our king, who is always present in us. It is too little to love God and know him by what books tell us, or by what we feel within, through a few worshipful ideas, or some inspiration. We must... lift ourselves above all that which we feel, to worship God and Jesus Christ... as they are in themselves.

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

Come, 0 Fount of every blessing,

tune my heart to sing your grace;

streams of mercy never ceasing

call for songs of 1oudest praise.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,

wandering from the fold of God;

he, to rescue me from danger,

interposed his precious blood.

To your grace how great a debtor

I become in all I do;

let that grace now, like a fetter,

bind my wandering heart to you.

Prone to wander -- Lord, I feel it

prone to leave the God I love,

take my heart, Lord, take and seal it,

seal it in your courts above.

Robert Robinson

A Benediction

O Lord our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, who has safely brought us to the beginning of this day; defend us in the same with your mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin; neither run into any kind of danger: but that all our doings may be ordered by your governance, to do always what is righteous in your sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord.


>From Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys (Albatross/Lion), chapter 40

Friday, January 4, 2008


Do I make my plans like a worldly person, ready to say Yes and No at once? As surely as God is faithful our word... has not been Yes and No.

Test me, Lord, probe me, scrutinise my heart and mind: Your love is always my study, and your constancy my companion.

I mimic the deaf in hearing nothing, I mimic the dumb in not saying a word, I mimic the one who, since he hears nothing gives no sharp answer in return.

I mean to sing to the Lord all my life, I mean to play to my God as long as I live. May these thoughts of mine give the Lord as much delight as he gives me.

Dear friends, if our consciences do not condemn us, we approach God with confidence, and we obtain from him whatever we ask for, because we are obeying his commands and doing the things that please him.

My heart exults, my mind rejoices and my body can dwell secure, knowing that you will not hand me over to Sheol and not put your friend within danger of the grave. Instead you will show me the path of life, the unbounded joy of living in your presence.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ whom we preached to you... was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.

God is love and whoever continues to love keeps in union with God and God with him.

(2 Corinthians 1: 17-18, RSV; Psalm 26: 2-3, JB; Psalm 38: 13-14, JB; Psalm 104: 33-34, JB; 1 John 3: 21-22, Goodspeed; Psalm 16: 9-11, JB; 2 Corinthians 1: 19-20, RSV; 1 John 4: 16, Goodspeed)

It is prayer which alone makes good sense of the past, illumines the present and makes the future hopeful. In the first half of life we are immersed in doing. We test our strength and innocence against the flood of experience which comes upon us, even over us. We taste in order to become wise, we enter in so that we know, we seek in the hope of being found. There are so many possibilities presented to us that we hardly contain our impatience, an impatience which later surprises us, gives cause for regret. We don't call 'procure me possibility'; we hope only for sufficient time to buy up all the experience possible.

In the second half of life we emerge from this welter of sensation to find that our necessary immersion in the world has left scars upon us. There are some regrets, there is some emptiness and longing. We are not satisfied; whatever we were looking for, that was not it. Our successes have not filled us, though we own that they were worth the labour. Our failures have dimmed the bright image of ourselves we entertained. We look about us with a view both widened and restricted by our experience. The fine things we hear ourselves saying have no corresponding beauty within. We paint ourselves into a corner with the varnish of appearance, even as God troubles our hearts with truth.

Now is the time of emergence. God comforts us by leading us into prayer. Some old securities and certainties he renews with paradox. Pride and hardness of heart he commutes into vulnerability. The love which we dwelt upon but which was not within us he puts into hearts renewed in tenderness. The creation we largely ignored in pursuit of more glittering prizes he fills with grandeur. We were afraid of dying and he allowed it to touch us in failures and disappointments, and having fallen so far, he raises us to comfort and joy. He satisfies longing and makes it increase. The cry of wretchedness is the cry 'procure me possibility'. God knows the wretchedness, hears the cry, answers it in and by prayer. The life of prayer discovers true riches.

From the Christian point of view everything... should serve for edification.

The sort of learning which is not... edifying is precisely for that reason unchristian. Every thing that is Christian must bear some resemblance to the address which a physician makes beside the sick bed.

Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

Salvation is humanly speaking the most impossible thing of all; but for God all things are possible. This is the fight of faith, which fights madly for possibility. For possibility is the only power to save. When one swoons, people shout for water, Eau-de-Cologne, Hoffman's Drops; but when one is about to despair the cry is, Procure me possibility, procure me possibility.

Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

We are free when we are living in a homeland, not when we are straying and breaking away. We are free when we are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief. Obeying from within. We are free when we belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealised purpose.

D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature

For only to faith is God alone of value, and God is God in that he desires nothing but faith... and just as faith is a trust which reaches out into the darkness, so God is the presence, affirmed in spite of every experience of his absence, of the one being who is worthy of faith, never disappoints, never fails, and deserves total reliance.

Gerhard Ebeling, Luther

It is from within us, deep down within us, that the new life proceeds and that means that anything which is not an expression of us will not be an expression of God either. In some sense the converse is also true. What is not an expression of God will not be a true expression of us.

Simon Tugwell, Reflections of the Beatitudes

If the soul loves God, its heart will not be turned in upon itself or preoccupied with its own pleasure and glory.

Rather, it will be intent upon giving honour and glory to God and upon giving him pleasure.

Francis Kelly Nemeck and Marie Theresa Coombs, The Spiritual Journey

We learn about sin only on the basis of the proclamation of grace and pardon.

Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity

He who is truly alive is free to die... the people who find death intolerable are those who have never been more than half alive... Death followed by resurrection, life through dying is the way things are. It is the principle of all existence. Hang on to what you have of life and you are lost. Let go, do the necessary dying and a fuller, richer quality of aliveness will be given to you.

John V. Taylor, Weep Not For Me

Being a child of yours, dear Father, is the best adulthood I've ever had! It's richer, by far than any combination of status, promotion, glittering things, beauty prizes and being 'special'. It gives me liberty to laugh at myself with enjoyment. Indeed, now I can grin and bear, laugh and be happy because you appreciate the joke and the joy better than I do. I am freed from envying the talent which others possess. I can say 'I don't know' without feeling the world reddening with embarrassment. 'Truth in the inward part' is what you give and it's wonderful, it's freedom! I see that I'm more ordinary than I thought and that others are deeper, more interesting, more loveable than I used to think. And the poor, dear God, the poor! I see them, more and more. For these wonders and for all the possibilities that he will yet draw from them, may God be praised!


A Benediction

On your head let there be humour,
In your breast let there be peace,
Out of your eyes much seeing,
Out of your words much ease.

Rowland Croucher ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys (Albatross/Lion 1991/1994) chapter 39

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


O God you are my God: eagerly will I seek you. My soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for you: as a dry and thirsty land where no water is.

My soul is thirsty for God, thirsty for the living God. Blessed are those whose strength is in you: in whose heart are the highways to Zion; who going through the valley of dryness find there a spring from which to drink.

I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.

Behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple... this water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, 'If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'

All my fresh springs are in you.

(Psalm 63: 1-2; Psalm 42: 2; Psalm 84:5-6 -- all The Psalms, A New Translation for Worship; Isaiah 41: 18; Ezekiel 47:1 and 8; John 7: 37-38; Psalm 87:7 -- all RSV)

The predominantly arid nature of Australia and the prevalence of drought mean that many Australians know what it is to be in a dry and parched place. The very ground cries out in its desolate need for water.

The Psalmist can see in his dry surroundings a vivid image of his own thirst for God. The farmer longs for the sound of the drops of rain on the roof: otherwise he faces ruin.

The flow of God's spirit seems at times to be withheld from me. The memory of other times of refreshment and comfort only serve to increase my feelings of dryness. My sins, committed in moments of angry despair and impatient self-centredness, only serve to aggravate my sense of desolation. 'Where is your God now?'

Do not withhold your mercy from me, my God. Refresh and water me in my dry state. Penetrate the hard layers; soak me with the waters of your Spirit. May I not be satisfied with anything less, any temporary respite.

Jesus thirsted to do your will. In the scroll of the book it is written of me that I should do your will: O my God, I long to do it; your law delights my heart.

Give me that heart that longs to do your will. There is no other way for me.

What amazes me about you, Lord

is that the source of your love

doesn't dry up.

There is always more.

'Inexhaustible, incomprehensible, incalculable'

-- big words those.

We use them as we use you;

but still there is more.


Our needy souls sustain

with fresh supplies of love

Charles Wesley

'My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?' (Psalm 42: 2). The thirst of this poet is not unique. It is universal. Just as these bodies of ours are not self-sustaining, but must be watered and fed from resources external to themselves, even so it is with our souls. If our bodies do not have physical food and water, they will hunger and thirst and die. Just so, if our souls do not have God, the Bread of Life and the Water of Life, they, too, will hunger and thirst and die.

Clovis Chappell, 'The Great Thirst'

Fr Dimitri Dudko, a Moscow priest, asked the young people of his congregation to write to him to tell of their experiences in coming to faith. The following is a letter which he received and subsequently read to the congregation:

Dear Father Dimitri,

You asked your young parishioners to describe their path to faith. So I'm writing to you about myself.

The people in my family are deeply atheistic by disposition. Even my grandmother and grandfather were non-believers. From childhood I learned my lesson well that God is just a fable invented by ignorant people.

The more I thought about what lay around me, the more clearly I saw and understood that everything is gibberish, not worth a brass farthing. So I came to the point of rejecting everything and everyone. Concepts such as conscience, truth and morality were empty to me...

Nothing made me really happy. Nothing was pleasant. I started to drink. You get drunk and things get a little easier. The longer it went on, the longer it took me to get really smashed. On my days off I'd drink myself unconscious.

I got away with everything for a while, but you always reach the end of your rope. It all came very simply and very quickly. I got drunk, got into a fight and found myself in jall.

There was this guy in my cell, a Baptist who prayed a lot and would always cross himself before meals. Many people -- including me -- mocked him for this. Out of boredom I dragged him into a dispute over religion. At first, I just let my words run away with me, interspersing facetious comments about how old women just thought God up. He answered every one of my flippant arguments seriously. His unshakable conviction that he was correct began to irritate me. Soon -- just for the fun of it -- I began defending atheism seriously, proving by whatever means necessary that God could not exist.

I really couldn't have cared less either about God or atheism. I just wanted to break his confidence -- that was the main thing. Arrogance pushed me on. And I achieved what I wanted. My cell-mate stopped talking. He fell silent, and then began to cry. He began praying that his faith would be strengthened.

I felt no satisfaction in my victory. A horrible weight fell upon me. I felt sick, like I'd done something mean to someone. And he just kept on praying, but more calmly now. Suddenly he looked at me and smiled. I was amazed at his face -- there was something joyful about it, pure, like it had been washed. The weight immediately fell from my soul, I understood that he had forgiven me. And then a light of some sort penetrated me, and I understood that God exists. It wasn't even so much that I understood, but that I sensed it with my whole being. He exists! He alone has always been and will always be. He is everywhere. He is our Father! We are his children, brothers one to another. I forgot that I was in prison and felt only one thing -a great joy and thankfulness to the Lord who revealed himself to me who am unworthy.

After this a strange and radiant thing happened to me. As a non-believer, I had read the Bible but had always hit on the 'dark and incomprehensible'. For me, the Scriptures were 'woven of contradictions'. After I came to believe, each word of the Gospel was filled with meaning for me, close to my mind and heart.

From Light through the Curtain

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lack'd any thing.

'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here':

Love said, 'You shall be he.'

'I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

I cannot look on Thee.'

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them; let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.'

'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'

'My dear, then I will serve.'

'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'

So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert, 'Love'

I heard the voice of Jesus say, 'Behold I freely give

The living water; thirsty one, stoop down and drink and live.'

I came to Jesus, and I drank of that live-giving stream;

My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in him.

God is as near as our burning thirst. We do not have to wait for some far-off tomorrow to find him. He is ready to meet our needs in the here and now. And nobody can rob us of our finding him but ourselves. This is Jesus' amazing claim. Shall we take him seriously and drink and live, or shall we go on our feverish way feeling that his promise is altogether too good to be true?

Clovis Chappell, 'The Great Thirst'

The residual essence of religious devotion is that the object of one's dedication is the All. The poet wrote, 'O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is.' (Psalm 63: 1). The saintly Fenelon said, 'We must be God's without any reservation. When we have found God, there is nothing more to look for in others. We must sacrifice our best friends. The good friend is within our heart. He is the bridegroom who is jealous and who does away with all the rest.' Fenelon was archbishop of Cambrai and tutor to the Duke of Burgundy, but the profligacy of the court of Louis XIV in which he lived was spiritually as weary and waterless as the Babylon -- real or fancied -- of our poet.

Edwin McNeill Poteat, Interpreter's Bible

Tu nos fecisti ad te, Domine,

et cor nostrum inquietum est,

donec requlescat in te.

You have made us for yourself, Lord,

and our heart is restless

until it rests in you.

St Augustine of Hippo

Lord, you have often refreshed me in dry places. I had gone along with little sense of your presence, then found an unexpected experience of grace. I cannot deny that you have worked through me -- I've seen the results, but all quite out of proportion to my state of preparation and the shallowness of my prayer. Time and time again, I've seen good things happen even under my own hand. Thank you for including me in your purpose, when I've done little to deserve it, and much to spoil and frustrate it.

Give me fresh springs of joy in the dry places of my being; then I shall be able to minister grace to others in all kinds of circumstances.

A Benediction

May God in the plenitude of his love pour upon you the torrents of his grace, bless you and keep you in his holy fear, prepare you for a happy eternity, and receive you at last into immortal glory.

Blessing at the Consecration of Coventry Cathedral

This is chapter 29 from Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys (Albatross Lion).