By Dan Stone (Union Life Magazine March 1976)
Let me share an experience which has totally altered my life. I was a pastor when it took place. In fact, I had served several churches when God showed me this “new thing.”
As so many young theological students before and since, I had wrestled with the various schools of thought concerning Jesus Christ and who He was. I settled for an external Christ whose death was a substitute for the sin of the world. I knew my sins were forgiven. My past was clean. This was the Christ I preached.
I was less concerned with the future. Actually I was not very emphatic about the future because I felt a pastor only needed a word on the future at funerals. I trusted God to take care of the future, for the Bible said I had eternal life.
This then is what I had. The past was forgiven; the future was covered by a wise and provident God. I had confidence in what Christ had done for my past, and I knew that life after death was in His hands.
But where did this leave me? It left me with a great big void in between. It left me with the day-to-day existence to handle. And that day-to-day existence was without the awareness of the Abiding Christ. The day-to-day is the arena of action, and here I was in deep trouble. I had experienced the truth of Romans 1-5; but I had not been mixed with the truths of Romans 6-8 (though I sometimes preached about it). I lived a miserable, unfulfilled, Romans 7 Christian life (“wretched man that I am”).
I sought to prove my love for God with acts of consecration. I failed repeatedly. The Holy Spirit’s life within a believer was a vague, vague concept to me. (Notice, I said “concept” rather than Person). I served the Lord from the ‘flesh’ and taught others to do the same. Try harder, do more, prove yourself, these were my themes.
Then a major crisis came (though there were many minor crises before then). My crisis was in the form of one of my dejected moods. This one was particularly severe. It was to result in a learning experience I desperately needed.
During this period of intense depression, some friends had invited me to teach at an interdenominational prayer retreat. However, a second teaching was also taking place at that retreat. One I was doing for them, and one God was doing through them on me. I observed a life-style and an attitude in them that was radically different from what I had ever seen before. It was surely different from my own life. Most important, they were talking about Christ living in them with power.
By the end of the retreat, the teacher had been taught. I left recognizing ‘Christ in me.’ I finally had something (really Someone) for daily living. From the past and the future to power for day-to-day living. I was thrilled to discover “The Helper.” No longer did I need to battle Mr. Everyday in my own strength.
I had learned my first lesson, but I still knew nothing of a fixed awareness of the Person in me. Since I was still subject to moments of exhilaration as well as moments of dejection, I assumed that the power of the Presence of Christ in me varied in proportion to my emotional temperature. I tried to maintain my “high” by seeking “spirit-filled people” and “spirit filled leaders” and “spirit-filled meetings.” All of this resulted in an up and down “high.”
The problem was that I was not locked in. I did not understand that faith is fact regardless of the emotional confirmation. But one cannot run from “spirit-filled meeting” to “spirit-filled meeting” forever. God in me was getting tired of that jag! You see, I had not learned I was caught. I ran the whole gamut of feelings. In desperation, I cried out in anger for God to let me alone. I said, “If this happens to a person who is spirit-filled, who has consecrated himself to You, then just go on Your way and leave me alone.”
This experience caused pain for others beside myself. In the end I saw that God had set me up to expose me to myself in an area where I had thought I was untouchable. He showed me what could happen if I did not learn His lesson for me. When all my hostility subsided I said, “I’ll stand on the truth of ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me’ if I never feel another thing emotionally.”
I had discovered the awareness of a fixed union. It was no longer just Christ in me, but Christ is me. The inner witness of the Spirit said, “It is so.” I was cemented in a Person. I was no longer my problem or even my opportunity. I was His problem and His opportunity.
Finally I understood what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches;… apart from Me you can do nothing.”