Flight: Chapter One.
Hound of Heaven
Prevenient Grace is a building block in my view of salvation. Prevenient grace is the working of grace before you become a Christian. It is impossible for you to respond to the gospel without the assistance of grace before grace. It is the Holy Spirit who activates this process. I have come up with a new word for the Holy Spirit’s pre-conversion work, “prevenient charisma.”
I have experienced the Holy Spirit as the Hound of Heaven. I had a women once comment on my referring to the Holy Spirit as the Hound of Heaven. “I don’t think referring to God as a dog is a good idea.” I hadn’t really thought of it. But the words of Francis Thompson ring out with power just the same. We are hounded by love before we decided in response to prevenient grace to say yes to Christ.
In Thompson’s poetic writing we learn that God will chase us to the ends of the earth. We are all chosen in the human race and we are being chased. Remember Jesus said the good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep. Everywhere you turn there is the hound hot on your tracks.
C.S. Lewis in his autobiography “Surprised By Joy” reveals the Holy Spirit as also the great Angler. He says he never suspected that the Angler had a hook tightly in his life. He also used the metaphor of a Cheshire cat to describe God. He laughs as we think we can escape him. Lewis also likened God to the metaphor of a pack of hounds chasing a fox. He is persistent and unwilling to give up.
He finally saw God as the Divine Chess player. He is conspiring making moves on us in the maze of our existence. I have come to see that it was the person of the Holy Spirit who did hound me until I entered the flight. He cries with joy, “Checkmate!!”
The night I received Christ was a memorable one. But it was a puzzling one as well. I had been running for weeks from Him. A friend of mine who was a terrific musician famous for his work with the great Charlie Parker and inventor of bee-bop jazz had received Christ. His change in perspective and cessation of taking drugs had gotten too close for comfort. I was anything but intending to follow Him.
He asked me one afternoon, “do you want to get saved.” I had never read a bible, been in church nor known well a Christian as best I can remember. He may as well have asked me if I’d like to turn green. But his comment stuck to me like lint. I couldn’t shake it.
I may have experienced feeling the Hoy Spirit long before that. I can remember watching a black and white movie on the life of Peter Marshall the famous preacher in Washington D.C. I remember being very moved and felt I wanted to be a preacher though I had no idea what one was. From time to time in my life the part of the movie where God spoke to Marshall would fill my imagination. I think he was in a misty park when God spoke to him deeply.
I could not escape the thoughts of God from the time I was eighteen. Everywhere I turned there was a reference to God. Yet I had no idea what God was all about. I longed to know what I didn’t know. The only time prior to Don Lanphere (my friend) I can remember anyone talking to me about God was in 1968 when our drycleaner Ray took my mother and I captive in our living room and explained that Jesus died for us. I still didn’t get it. All that happened was it really frightened me. I was on my way to hell according to Ray without understanding how you avoid it.
Yet, the hound of heaven was at work.
I remember one other time that wasn’t so direct. I was in English class. I wasn’t the best-behaved kid in the class sometimes. A young sophomore in the class told me she was praying for me. I was actually glad someone was. But it freaked me out. I subsequently found out she was a Jehovah Witness. I knew she was sincere about her faith. But I wasn’t interested in her brand of spirituality but it trigger an inner desire to know more of the unseen power I suspected was there..
He is a maestro symphony conductor. He begins his designs long before we become Christian. He is setting the stage by things within and without us. Our life takes on a musical theme that is his making. When we pick up the melody we are on our way.
I had been captivated by thoughts of God for an entire week the fall of nineteen sixty-eight. I just couldn’t get out of my mind a simple phrase “do you want to be saved.” I didn’t know what that meant. Yet I did. I was nearing the end of the hunt for me.
It was a troubling time for me. I had been arrested for selling drugs in October. And I had been fearful of what would happen to me for weeks. I was also living with a great deal of embarrassment for the shame I caused my parents. And I felt very alone. Yet mysteriously not so alone.
On December 15th I was driving around town in the snow in the small town I grew up in with my girl friend. There was a Christian “house” that was used as a base for young kids to come and discuss God or attend bible studies near the high school. I don’t know how to explain what happened but without my consciously thinking about it my car drove right to that place like someone else was driving the car.
I got out of the car and walked up into the house. The leader of the house met us at the front door and asked, “Do you want to get saved.” Again I didn’t get what that meant. Then out of my mouth came a response that was not thought out at all. It came from somewhere deep within in. “I guess I want whatever you guys have.”
He looked puzzled and even a little bothered and pointed to the prayer room and said, “go talk to God you’ll know what to say.” And so I did.
My prayer was a simple one. “Here’s my life God. I don’t know what to do. I need you and want you.” I experienced no heightened emotion. But I did experience an intense awareness of God’s presence. The Holy Spirit had finished his hunt. I was in.
Or as Lewis declared in the penultimate chapter of Surprised by Joy, “Checkmate.”
I was filled with the Spirit and with immense joy. The whole world looked different. I wasn’t emotionally excited. I had a quiet assurance that all was well. And a big smile, something I didn’t do much.
No one stopped me as I left the house to ask how things had gone. So I just slipped out into the snowy night. My girl friend was waiting on the porch. She asked, “What happened.” I said, “I don’t know but I am completely different from the inside out.” And I was.
Life was amazing the next morning. I got up and went to the local bookstore and bought a Bible. It was a nice white one. I had no idea that men didn’t have white Bibles. I was often teased about having a white one. I still have the thing. It sits atop my bookshelves as a grand reminder of a good start on the journey.
I believe in prevenient grace. I experienced it. And the Holy Spirit was the agent working his power leading me to checkmate. You may be experiencing God’s drawing and hunting you. Go ahead and surrender and thank God for loving you enough to not leave you alone.
The apostle Paul experienced grace in several ways. In Romans 7:7 He said he had mastered all the commands but one. He couldn’t stop coveting. This had his attention. The Hound Of Heaven was chasing him. He also had approved the stoning of Stephen. Stephen called out to God asking him to forgive his persecutors. And all were caught up by the angelic appearance of Stephen as he died. Paul couldn’t escape this experience.
Then came the fateful day. In Acts 9 on his way to Damascus to persecute the church he was struck off of his horse and blinded. Ananias prayed for him and the Holy Sprit filled him and he regained his sight. He could have refused Christ but prevenient grace and the Holy Spirit had filled him.
I was sitting outside a Nordstrom store on a sunny day reading a book while waiting for my wife. I can’t remember the book I was reading but I also had a small Bible with me. I am sure I was a person of interest to many. I was reading and a young man about twenty-four or so walked by me and stopped and said, “Are you a Christian?” I said. “Yes as a matter of fact I am. Are you one?”
He responded quickly “no.”
“Would you like to be one,” I asked.
Without hesitation he said, “yes.”
So we prayed right there and he experienced the in breaking of the Holy Spirit. God had prepared him to receive him. I had just been in on the checkmate. He told me he had a cousin who was a Christian and he had visited a few churches around Seattle and decided he wanted to be one. And there I sat as he went by.
Amazing. Yes the Holy Spirit is Amazing.
Chasing Donkeys or Checkmate
The Holy Spirit is always working with not just prevenient grace in our lives but with spiritually subtle guidance. Remember he is a chess player. You will find as you grow to know the spirit that he is always moving ahead of you setting the stage for his great plans for you.
King Saul was the son of Kish before he became king of Israel. But before that Saul’s father lost some donkeys. Donkeys were very valuable and expensive in Saul’s day. Now Saul was very handsome (I Samuel 9) and a head taller than anyone else in Israel. He was the ultimate golden boy.
When Kish saw the donkeys were gone he went to his handsome son and told him to take one servant and look for the donkeys. So he searched in the hill country. No donkeys. He searched in the lowlands. No donkeys.
We are informed that like a sitcom the prophet Samuel was sent on a mission as well. The famed prophet Samuel who was on the search. He was looking for who would be the king of Israel. Samuel was entered a small town. He was still smarting from Israel’s willingness to easily follow a king. He thought it was a bad idea but God had told him to go along with the people and find a king. We should add that God was reluctant to choose any candidate. But went with the wishes of the people.
The young man Saul reached the district of Zuph and told his servant they should return before their father worried. The servant said there is “a man of God” in the town nearest them. And he would tell them where the donkeys were. The young donkey chaser agreed and off they went.
Once in town they were directed to where the prophet was staying. Samuel got one look at him and knew he was the king to be. Saul looked at the prophet and was hopeful he would help them find the donkeys. But he wasn’t really chasing donkeys he found he was there to be anointed king of the nation. Checkmate!!!
What are you chasing now? As you get to know the Spirit you will know that often you think your are chasing donkeys but he is wanting to make you king. How big are God’s surprises. And it’s the Spirit’s work to get us to our moments with destiny.
Grace is a wonderful thing. The Spirit of Grace is always seeking to guide us to God’s greatness. A youth leader asked a group of students what grace was. The room was silent. The students had never really thought of such a topic.
After a moment one of the young men said I know. He began to ennumerate the points.
- 1.If a cop pulls you over for speeding and gives you a ticket that is –God’s justice.
- 2.If a cop pulls you over for speeding and doesn’t give you a ticket that is – God’s mercy.
- 3.If a cop pulls you over for speeding and brings you a Krispy Kreme donut that is – God’s grace.
Never forget that even after you have said yes to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is still in some ways playing chess and setting the stage for God’s greatness in our lives.