- Reflections

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--Debra K. Matthews

Journey to the Heart of God:
or Return to the Forgotten Secret of the Secret Place

Part 1
Copyright © 2018 by Debra K. Matthews. All rights reserved

But the LORD said unto Samuel, look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature: because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
-- I Samuel 16:7

See As God Sees

My first unusual experience in trying to see things the way God sees them was based on something the Lord told Samuel in the Bible.

Samuel was a prophet that God sent to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel. The first king Samuel had anointed many years before had been head and shoulders taller than the average person. Samuel may well have been looking for someone similar when he came to Bethlehem.

God sent him to the house of a man named Jesse, who had eight sons. When the firstborn was brought to Samuel, Samuel thought he was surely the one, but the Lord told him to not look on his countenance, or on the height of his stature because God had refused him, and that the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (see I Samuel 16:7).

I first took this to heart when something happened while I was an officer in the Civil Air Patrol.

I had been doing recruiting drives at junior and senior high schools in the north Seattle area one school year, and a bunch of teens had joined my squadron. This was around the time that things really started changing in the schools and youth were starting to get kind of rowdy.

There was a bunch that joined my squadron and made the seniors (adults) wonder if maybe we should encourage that group to move on. I had been getting active for the past couple years in a church in my home town, and had seen a lot of miracles happening with our existing group of cadets, especially on our weekend activities, so I didn't want to just give up on this group -- especially so early in them being with us.

I told the squadron commander, "Let me pray about it first, before you decide anything".

My way of praying is to worship first, sing and wait on the Lord, pray as He brings things to my mind, and then sing and wait more -- kind of a cycle. I didn't know what to expect in asking about the new cadets. When the time was right, I simply said, "Lord, show me how You see them."

He didn't answer in words. Instead, I felt something in my heart. I could actually feel a very strong emptiness and hurting that was in the hearts of the kids. The next meeting, I told the seniors, "Let's work with them."

The new cadets responded to us believing in them and training them. Not long after that, the Lord called me into full-time church work and after-hours ministry and I left C.A.P., but years later I ran into my old commander. We talked about a number of things, and then she said in a kind of tone of amazement, "Do you remember that . . . bunch of kids? Do you know, every single one of them went on to do something with their lives!"

It's amazing what God can do when His people let His love in and share it with others.

This kind of thing happened a lot over quite a while, God changing how I see people and their actions by letting me see how He sees them. Learning this brought me unexpectedly to the next thing the Lord wanted to teach me.

God and the Shepherds

I don't know about you, but when I read about certain characters in the Bible that really touched God, or of whom God spoke great love, I want to know more. I want to know what about them touched the heart of God. I want to know why they were so precious in the Father's eyes. I want to learn from them how to be closer to God.

My pastor is a gifted evangelist. He came to Seattle in 1970 and started a church, concentrating mostly on evangelism, including local crusades and for many years a radio outreach program. He has always been known and respected throughout the area as 'an evangelist with a church'. People from other churches would bring friends and family to our church to get saved and then take them back to their own churches to grow in the Lord there. He's not alone. Many famous ministers of the last century were evangelists who had churches, often using ministers with a teaching gift to help the church grow.

Billy Graham was also an evangelist who 'filled the churches' -- of course, on an amazing worldwide scale. Mr. Graham, as he preferred to be called, knew he was an evangelist and never tried to be anything else. His teams worked with hundreds of local churches months before a crusade to get them ready to receive the souls he led into the kingdom. He always felt he was like a spiritual pediatrician who brought the newborn Christians into the world and that it was the job of the churches to care for and raise them. I am deeply grateful for the ways Mr. Graham invested in young ministers like me, his team teaching us evangelism and follow-up, providing scholarships to attend his week long Schools of Evangelism, letting us work at the phone center during televised crusades, helping during the actual crusades, and in the follow-up in the local church.

I've been in my church for over 44 years, having served in various aspects of ministry. Watching my own pastor and Billy Graham doing evangelistic work and the role of churches in helping baby Christians grow in the Lord made an impact on my life. I care deeply about both sides -- the side of evangelism and of teaching and training Christians to grow to their full potential. I've studied the biblical five-fold ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. But over the years, the one thing I keep coming back to is how many times God uses not just the evangelists, but shepherds in the Bible.

Shepherds have a special place in God's heart. Abraham had flocks. David watched over his father's sheep. Moses fled Egypt and cared for his father-in-law's sheep for forty years in the wilderness. Others God used in the Bible were shepherds, too.

Shepherds cared for the sheep, getting them to where there was food, shelter, water, and safety. They were their protectors and providers. There are many lessons I've found in studying shepherds that prepared them to be used of God.

What amazed me was how Jesus Himself was called the Good Shepherd (John 10:14) and the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20), how God often spoke of His people being His flocks, and how detailed the instructions He gives in Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 34, and other places in the Bible to pastoral shepherds on how to care for His human flocks.

The Bible says how multitudes went out into the wilderness to see Jesus and hear His message of God's love and forgiveness. It tells how Jesus had compassion on the people because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd (see Matthew 9:35-36). We see it today as God is raising up more and more evangelists and pastors with the message of God's compassion and healing power. The world is hungry for God.

All this led me to the beginning of the prayer that changed my life.

The Heart of the Shepherd

I love how the Bible says David would go and sit before the Lord, and just talk to Him.

One night, after the staff and congregation had left the church, I locked the front doors and turned out all the lights, then stepped through the double doors to the sanctuary, closing them behind me.

I waited until my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, with just the glow of the Exit lights on all the outer walls. Then I walked to the front of the church and sat on the floor a few feet in front of the altar.

I love to keep a childlike awe and expectancy in my worship time with the Lord. My habit is to sing praises and then move to the deeper worship songs, then wait in the silence, letting the Lord lay on my heart things to pray about. I had a specific thing I wanted to ask of the Lord that night, but I knew to wait until just the right moment, letting Him lead as I went.

When my heart was quiet and His presence so close, I asked softly like a child awaiting something special, "Father, show me the heart of the shepherd."

Do you know, one of the wondrous things about the Lord is that you could think of all kinds of ways He can answer a prayer, and just to amaze you, He will come up with an entirely different thing you would never have imagined.

All of a sudden, the platform area in front of me was gone. It was as though I was high up in the sky, looking down on the earth as it was turning slowly. At first I thought it was like being in an airplane, but then realized it was more like I was with the Father standing still, looking at the world as it turned.

I understand now the story in the Bible when it says the devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him "all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time" (see Luke 4:5).

This was not the devil taking me to a high place, but the Father showing me what He sees from above. The world was turning in front of my eyes, forests and different terrains on the earth going by. As it turned, though, the head of a person of different nationalities would come up through the trees, buildings or other places. It was as if God was showing me the nations and tribes of the whole earth, one representative at a time rising all over the earth.

That was remarkable in itself, but what was happening in my heart was even more powerful. Tears were pouring like torrents down my face. There was a deep, powerful love welling up inside of me and filling my very being as these people's heads came into view and then went back down into their regions and countries as their part of the earth passed by me.

I was feeling the very heart of God poured into mine, and the great love He has for ALL the peoples of the earth. The very power of the words 'for God so LOVED the world, that He gave' filled my heart. I did not know such a depth of love existed! Oh, if we could understand how deep God's love is for us, it would stop all the doubts that the devil tries to throw at us. If we understood the depth of the love He has for all those around us, nothing would be able to stop us from sharing it with them.

The love pouring into my heart was too powerful, though. I felt like my heart would explode. I confess, I did not have the capacity to receive what was flooding my heart. I felt like my whole chest would explode, and I suddenly cut off the vision.

I instantly regretted it, but God is understanding and merciful. He knew He had to take me through some growing before He could give me the rest of the lesson.

Lessons Before God Could Finish the Vision
1. The Lesson of the Nets

Will you agree with me that God can use anything to teach us, and that even though we can be taught one lesson about certain passages in the Bible, there are often other lessons hidden in them that the Holy Spirit can bring to our minds later?

Jesus used a coin to teach on rendering what was the government's to the government, and what was God's to God. He talked of sheep to shepherds, crops to farmers, loving enemies like the Roman soldiers who were all around them, and of course all the 'beatitudes' for everything else. I've learned lessons working in my garden, in boating around the Puget Sound, preparing food, washing dishes, just about everything I've done. As long as we keep our hearts open to Him at all times, He -- the master teacher -- can always show us things.

I felt bad about cutting off the vision of the Shepherd's heart. Somehow, deep inside, I knew there was supposed to be something more if I hadn't stopped it. Thankfully, God is a very loving and patient Father. I was not the first to whom He wasn't able to tell what He wanted to. Jesus Himself told the disciples He had more to tell them, but that they couldn't bear them yet (see John 16:12).

One of the lessons that helped after I cut off the vision came from the Bible stories of Peter's nets. When Peter first met the Lord and was told to cast the net out on the right side of the boat, he caught so many fish that the net started breaking. He beckoned to his partners in their own boat to come help because his boat was in danger of sinking. Some people teach that Peter's net broke because he didn't exactly follow Jesus' instructions correctly, but the Lord used a different lesson from the story to help me.

God doesn't waste words in the Bible. In the beginning of following Jesus, the net broke with the mass of fish caught. The Bible then makes a point of showing us in the Gospel of John after Jesus rose from the dead, a different incident with the nets.

The disciples had again fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus is suddenly on the shore and calling to them asking if they caught anything. When they say no, He tells them, "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find". They do and they again catch a huge number of fish. When Jesus told them to bring in the fish, the Bible makes a point of saying of the great catch, "and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken" (see John 21:1-11).

The lesson the Lord gave me about the nets is that when they first started their journey as His disciples, not really knowing Him yet, they didn't have much capacity to believe, let alone receive -- not to hear and understand the real meaning of His teachings, or to receive the many blessings He had for them. After several years of walking with Him, their capacity to receive had grown. This time the receiving net didn't break.

I was fairly young in learning about God's love when I first asked Him to show me the heart of the shepherd. I couldn't receive all that He wanted to show me, and felt my heart breaking at the burden of God's powerful love for all people. Just like in the Bible story of the nets, I just hadn't had the capacity to receive the full lesson of the vision at first.

Lessons Before God Could Finish the Vision
2. Three Old Chickens

Remember, I said God can use anything to teach us. Psalm 91 talks about the Lord covering us with His feathers, and under His wings shall we trust. We read this psalm and think about baby chicks running to the shelter of the mother hen, hiding them under her wings, but God used three old chickens that my mom suddenly inherited from a friend, to prepare me to see a deeper meaning in it.

For forty years, my mother took care of an old friend's assortment of chickens and exotic birds every time the lady traveled, and during the winter every year when the woman and her husband would live in Arizona. I went with mom a few times and helped feed all the pets and learned the routine.

At the time I got involved they were down to three older chickens who weren't laying as many eggs as they used to. They each had very distinct characters. One was a larger dark red bird and very untrusting of strangers. I also called her a bully when it came to how she acted with my mom's favorite chicken. The third chicken just went about her own business.

Mom called her favorite chicken "Arie" because of her breed. When mom came to clean out the boxes and refresh their food and water, Arie would start stamping her feet and insisting on attention. Mom would bend down and actually pet her. The big red one was called Red and would have nothing to do with such doings. When they had eaten and went to their nest boxes, invariably, I would find Red crowded into Arie's nest box like a little bully.

When mom's friend, the chickens' owner, died suddenly after an accident and her husband couldn't care for her assortment of pets, mom 'inherited' their little poodle and the three chickens.

Understand that these chickens had a great life before. They lived in a fancy eight by eight shed-type chicken house with a ramp and an automated little door, thermostat controlled heat and a bunch of nest boxes. The nice thing about the shed was that you could walk inside it to do the cleaning and getting the eggs. They also had a very large fenced in area in which to run and peck and scratch around.

Mom had none of this and went through a number of trials in getting something ready to bring the chickens to her house. We settled on a sort of deluxe chicken condo built from a real two-chicken coop, and an addition I added to accommodate their food and water dishes, plus a third nest box.

To make a long story shorter, mom built a make-shift low 'run' for the chickens of some frames she brought from their original home. It was a kind of helter-skelter setup held together with plastic coated wires tied in different places. I tried to make better frames, but mom didn't want them. She insisted what she had done would be safe enough.

All this was okay for about a year and a half, with me coming down in evenings and weekends to take care of the chickens when my handicapped brother became ill and mom stayed with him in and out of the hospital. By then, there were only two hens left -- Arie the friendly chicken and her bully of a sister, Red.

I thought of Red as a bully because from the very beginning, after going to the trouble of making sure there was a nest box for each of the chickens, invariably I would find Arie buried behind Red, scrunched in the bottom corner of one of the boxes. Mom said she liked it, but it sure didn't look that way to me at first. Eventually, I realized it was true.

Anyway, a few months after my brother passed away, I came down one day to a sad scene. The helter-skelter low pen was all over the place and Red's carcass was laying on its side. Arie was cowering in the far corner looking all ruffled and her neck bare of its feathers. Mom explained that one of my niece's dogs, a giant of an eight month old puppy, had gotten loose from her chain in the front yard and found the chickens in the back yard. She had leapt up on top of the pen and crashed through where one of the frames wasn't secured right. My niece's family had been camping out at mom's for a month, awaiting their new house being approved so they could move into it.

I untied the rest of the covering from where Red lay and retrieved her body. Then I went over to see how Arie was. Her neck skin was bare, but otherwise she seemed okay. After getting her settled back in the coop for the night, I opened her nest box lid and tried talking softly and petting her for a while the way mom did.

Arie died during the night. The next day mom told me the strange thing Arie had done immediately after the attack, and it is because of what happened then, that the Lord was able to get my attention and open up a whole series of scriptures to me when He completed the vision in 2017.

"To be continued . . ."

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