How very difficult it is to grapple our deepest experiences with God into words. “I felt my heart strangely warmed” is how John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) described his most significant encounter with God. It seems a little understated, a little unpoetic for such a great man of words. Yet the simplicity and authenticity of those words is precisely why they have stayed with me.
The words became more personal for me recently while reading a book called Red Moon Rising by Pete Greig. As I was reading the story of how the 24/7 Prayer movement began, I felt my own heart strangely warmed. Something about the way the Holy Spirit inspired a rather wild, unqualified bunch of young people to begin praying and preaching, moved me deeply. Their courage. Their bumbling obedience. Their joyful creativity. Their heart for God and the world. It was faith lived out in a real, expansive, impactful way. Part of me yearns to live this way too, even as another part wants to hide under the covers.
I wrote in my journal: “I’m both inspired and disturbed by such passionate Christianity that goes out of the comfort zone. But isn’t this exactly what God requires of us if we are to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? Still, how I like my comfort and routine. I don’t want to be disrupted.”
Despite my somewhat reluctant desire, that ‘strange heart-warming’ has done something inside me. I find myself eager to pray early in the morning. The words of worship songs stir my emotions. I feel a little more courageous and a lot more joyful. I feel something unclenching inside me, an expansiveness welling up in me:
“We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that He has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide-open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise” (Romans 5:1-2 MSG).
In my physical life I live in a city, hemmed in by walls and buildings on every side. But how I love wide open spaces—fields, mountains and beaches that go on as far as the eye can see. Places where you can breathe deeply and run and laugh and play. Spiritually, I have lived too long in small places, hemming God into a neat little box that I take out on Sundays and maybe polish a few times a week. But my God-warmed-heart calls me to much, much more:
“I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small but you’re living them in small ways … open up your lives. Live openly and expansively” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).
I admit I’m a little scared but I’m letting God out of the box and following him where he leads, into his wonderful, wild, wide-open spaces.