Imagine yourself in this scenario. You are on a train travelling at high speed, a speed that grows faster with each passing moment. You are in a crowded carriage where every other passenger is seated. But you are standing in the aisle, trying very hard to stay on your feet as the train’s speed continues to increase. You try desperately to maintain a grip on the backs of seats near you but still you are being shaken around violently. As the train picks up even more speed you simply have no choice but to ride it out, holding on as tight as you can.
Glancing through the window you notice the train is approaching a station. You can see an old man on the platform dressed neatly in a suit and tie, and you are relieved the train will now need to decrease its speed. You wait for the inevitable jolt of brakes, but it doesn’t happen. The train seems completely out of control. Speechless, you can do nothing but watch as the train slams at top speed into the platform and the elderly gentleman. You are close enough to see the man’s horrified face, wide eyed with fear, as the train hurtles directly into him, after which he disappears from sight.
The train finally comes to a stop and you exit, shaken and distressed at what you’ve just witnessed. You don’t want to look back – you know the old man could not have survived that terrible impact. Angry and upset you climb the stairs to find the Station Master. A uniformed man, seemingly indifferent, meets you at the top. Thoroughly alarmed that nobody seems to care about the situation below you loudly proclaim: “I want to make an official complaint against the train driver. He has just callously killed someone!”
Without saying a word, the uniformed man raises his eyebrows, hands you a notepad and pencil, and points to your right. Looking around you see for the first time a long narrow bench where hundreds of people are furiously writing down their complaints against the train driver. The line of people stretches so far you cannot see the end of it. A sigh rises from a place very deep within you. Wordlessly, you hand back the notepad and pencil, and after soberly making your way back down the stairs, you step onto the train. The train departs the station and continues on its journey, with you on board.
I have just recounted a very graphic dream I had several years ago, one I’ve never been able to forget. For months afterwards, knowing this was no ordinary dream, I questioned the Lord about its meaning, and most of all about the identity of the old man so cruelly mown down. Was it a warning for someone I knew? Was it a call to intercession? Was it symbolic of some pending disaster? And who was that poor old man?
One day, after I had again been pondering the dream and its possible meaning, the Lord suddenly lifted the veil so I could see. The old man was me, or more specifically my carnal self:
….knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. Romans 6:6 NKJV (See also Eph. 4:20-24, Col. 3:9-11 )
(I smiled at this revelation, remembering that the old man was without doubt the ugliest old man I have ever seen!)
The train represented the Holy Spirit. The Lord was showing me the Holy Spirit was about to impact my ‘old man’ in a way that would be radical, out of my control, and irreversible. Am I thankful I got back on that train and continued my journey? Absolutely!
There was a time when Jesus openly invited His closest disciples to turn back. Many on that particular day had already done so. He had spoken of spiritual things, but they wanted natural things. He had insisted if they wanted to live, He must be their bread, their very sustenance, saying “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53). But they wanted bread for their bodies, not their souls. They wanted yet another new sign or wonder, when He was their sign.
As Abraham’s descendants, they had wanted Him to confirm their spiritual superiority as God’s chosen people. He had instead told them ‘the flesh profits nothing’ (Jn. 6:63). They found His sayings ‘hard’, they were offended – not because they didn’t understand His words, but because they weren’t willing to learn to live in the Spirit. And so they turned back.
“Do you also want to go away?” Jesus asked the twelve. There could be no compromise here. Jesus did not say ‘let me explain these things in a way that is more comfortable for you‘. No, there is no ‘comfortable’ way to say “follow Me and die to your flesh”. Jesus was momentarily stopping the train and allowing them an opportunity to get off. Permanently.
“But Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” answered Peter. I suspect the Galilean version would have been more like: “We’ve come too far with You. We know who You are now. We can’t live without You or Your words. We’re not looking for bread on the table every day any more, we’re looking to eternity. That’s what you’ve planted in our hearts. You’ve ruined us for the lives we used to lead. Of all the rabbis in Israel there is no other like You. Who else could we follow after being with You?” (Jn. 6:67-69)
Christ following is a one way journey. It can get pretty shaky. There are times on this journey when everything may seem totally out of control, at least to our old, dead carnal nature. We can get off the train at any point we choose to and still believe Christ died and rose to redeem us. We can set up camp on the platform, build a little fire and huddle around that truth. That’s salvation and no-one can take it from us. It’s good, but it’s not all there is.
Meanwhile the train moves on carrying what could have been along with it. If we never move beyond receiving the salvation of Christ to partaking in the life of Christ we have merely checked in our ticket but not left the airport. Salvation is the gateway to the Kingdom, but it is not the Kingdom.
There are Christians who camp out on the platform waving their train tickets under the noses of anyone who crosses their path, but should someone ask them about the journey they are unable to give an authentic answer. They intend to just huddle around their camp fire grasping their tickets until a Heaven bound train arrives. They are campers, but not travellers.
The problem with camping too long is we start to become introverted. We begin to value our platform (church, denomination, doctrinal position, tradition, lifestyle, career, etc.) with its little bit of flame more than the Holy Spirit fire that ignited our little fire in the first place. In the Kingdom of God there is no setting up camp – if we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to grow and expand us spiritually we are merely stagnating and eventually regressing. Soon we are looking like some ugly, carnal old man, all dressed up, waiting on the platform for the ‘right’ train to arrive.
There are others who understand these spiritual principles and have made a conscious choice to trust the train driver to get them to their destination, which, by the way, is not Heaven, but the fullness of Christ. Along the way they are being shaken, rattled and radically transformed, but they are also increasingly partaking in the supernatural, endless life of Christ, here and now. Though the train ride may not always be comfortable they know turning back, or camping on the platform waiting for a more comfortable ride, are not options.
Jesus didn’t send the Holy Spirit so we could play games with Him and then put Him away in a box until we want to be entertained some more. He’s not a toy train. He blesses us with spiritual gifts and spiritual empowerment, He comforts, leads and teaches us, but above all He is focused on transforming us from the image of the first Adam into the image of the last Adam, Jesus Christ.
Times are upon us when unless we are learning to live by the Spirit we will not be able to discern that which is Christ from that which is not (Rom. 8:13,14). If we are genuine about following Christ, we need the Holy Spirit to deal with our carnal ‘old man’. We need to respect the Train Driver as more than a giver of gifts. We need to co-operate with Him in the assignment He’s been sent to complete in us. And we need not to put it off, because time is not on our side in this.
The Bride of Christ consists of disciples who have fully committed to the journey, trusting the Bridegroom’s grace is sufficient for whatever unfolds along the way. They have nowhere else to be apart from the costly, unbroken, extraordinary Presence of Christ.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.