Brennan Manning tells of an initiation ceremony that young braves have to go through from a certain Native Indian tribe. Around puberty, the young boys have to endure a whole night in the forest. Each is sent out to be alone in the dark. You can imagine the night noises - animals snuffling in the dark (what are they? Are they predators?), branches twisting and leaves rustling in the wind (was that a footstep?), and shadows taking strange and alarming shapes. You can see the young boy trying very hard to be unafraid - perhaps telling himself to be strong. Somehow, his heart thumping and his pulse racing, he manages to last the night, and as dawn rises, imagine his thrilled yet puzzled surprise when just behind him, armed with bow and arrows, he sees his dad! He’d been there all the time! He’d never been alone after all!
I wonder whether you have seen that cartoon depicting two zealous evangelists at a door, enquiring of a nervous woman, “have you found Jesus?” So what? you may say. Well if you look carefully, you will see that Jesus is already in her room - he’s hiding behind the curtains, and his sandalled feet and the edge of his robe can just be seen poking out. It’s not a question ever of us finding Jesus, but always him finding us.
Both of these remind me of a precious truth we all too often forget: Jesus is with us ALL THE TIME, whether we realise it or not. There has never been a moment when he has left us. There has never been a second when he wasn’t close by. He is closer than we think. When Paul says, “in him we live and move and have our being” he wasn’t being nicely poetic. No - our whole life is irradiated with Christ’s presence.
But I don’t want to give the impression that Christ is idle in our lives. He is always at work. And to tell you what he is up to we need to look at the following verse. Speaking of his death on the cross, we read from John 12:32, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (CEB)
I love this … the words Jesus used when he said, “I will DRAW everyone to me” refer to two things: 1) it is used of a net, dragging the fish in; and 2) it is used of a lover romancing his beloved - and it is this last use I want to concentrate on. What is Jesus doing in your life? Well, he is romancing you, he is drawing you to himself. Do you see? Whatever it is that you are going through, whatever trial, whatever joy, whatever circumstance, all the while Jesus is there, drawing you to himself, romancing you to have a closer relationship with him.
Let me explain how by telling a familiar story… There you are, and you have fallen in love. You see your gorgeous beloved, and you don’t want to frighten the horses - you don’t see her/him and immediately tell of your intentions to marry and have children together the first time you talk - so you learn to woo (to use an old fashioned word). You ‘accidentally’ bump into each other, you go for walks, you build up trust, you share, you enjoy excitement and fun together. All the while, you are moving towards each other, increasing trust and faith in each other. But perhaps you also pretend not to be that desperate - and cunningly your yearning for each other increases. You could say that you are ‘drawing’ your beloved to you, you are arranging the events of your lives so that one day when you pop the question your beloved will gladly and willingly say “yes”. Understand, this is a response freely given - no one can be frog marched down the aisle. Love that is not freely given is not love. And yet this response has been orchestrated, if you like. There was an end in view from the outset.
Jesus has been doing something similar in your life and mine ever since his death, resurrection and ascension. He has been involved in your life, often silently, often unknowingly, shaping and fashioning all that makes you you - taking the strands and threads of your life, and like some artful embroiderer he is designing a beautiful picture, a glorious display of his grace. Dante had it right, when at the end of his Divine Comedy, he wrote of “Love that moves the sun and all the stars.”
Love is a mighty power and a great and complete good. Love alone lightens every burden and makes rough places smooth, Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider, nothing more pleasant, nothing better or fuller in heaven or on earth - and that Love is targeted at you, that Love is directed towards you - and there has never been a microsecond in your lives when that Love has not been drawing you to its fiery heart, which is the Holy and Blessed Trinity.
Love causes lovers to write poetry and sing and say stuff like the following: “You are simply the most precious thing in the world to me. In all possible worlds I would love you. I would wait a thousand lifetimes for you, I would give up the whole world for you. You are the centre of my life, my heart and my mind. I can’t stop thinking of you and yearning to be united to you.” Lovers say this kind of thing all the time to each other, being designed by Love for love. And get this …one day you will be amazed, astonished beyond all wonder and worship, to hear Love Incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, saying something very similar to you, his Bride. Then you will see how much he has been romancing of you, drawing of you to himself.
Do you recall Reepicheep in CS Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? When the mouse was in the cradle, a wise prophetess spoke over him. Of this Reepicheep said, “I do not know what it means, but the spell of it has been on me all my life.” Ever since this prophecy has been spoken over him, he had been longing for heaven, hungering after seeing Aslan, thirsting for love in other words. And he says, “While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.” CS Lewis lived his whole life like that. It is he who taught me that when I snuggle under the quilt at night, warm as toast, I am experiencing something of God’s great passionate love for me; that when my children and wife hug me, I am experiencing in part the affirming love of God; that when I hear the happy noise of children laughing, or waterfalls splashing, or waves crashing and churning the sand, or the liquid calling of the curlew, I am in part hearing the delighted chuckle of my heavenly Dad behind them all. It’s all been part of him drawing me to himself. It’s all been part of his Great Romance.
Think of the greatest love you have ever known - it is only a shadow of the love God has for you. And when you finally see him as he is, you will see you have met the love of your life. You will know, like never before, that he is what you have really been dreaming of and longing for in every desire you have ever had. AS GK Chesterton said, “every one knocking at a brothel door is looking for God.” CS Lewis said memorably, “all joy awakens our desire for heaven.”