Packer had me at “horseback.”
In his new introduction to John Flavel's Keeping the Heart, J. I. Packer tells a story from Flavel’s devotional life. Now I remembered hearing of a spiritual experience Edwards had on horseback, and of another from Moody. Then there it was again in Flavel:
It is recorded of him that he spent much time in meditation, self-examination, and prayer, and on one occasion at least he had an extraordinary experience of God. Meditating on horseback, “his thoughts began to swell and rise higher and higher like the waters of Ezekiel’s vision till at last they became an overflowing flood. Such was the intention of his mind, such the ravishing tastes of heavenly joys, and such the full assurance of his interest therein, that he utterly lost a sight and sense of this world and all the concerns thereof...“ (10)
What’s the deal with old saints and their communion with God on horseback? There are other stories — whether on horses, or on a walk, or going about their day — where these men encounter God. Perhaps you’ve heard of Jonathan Edwards’s experience in 1737. While riding his horse in the woods, he dismounted for a time of contemplation and prayer and was overcome with a vision of the glory of Christ:
I had a view, that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God; as mediator between God and man; and his wonderful, great, full, pure, and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. . . . The person of Christ appeared so ineffably excellent, with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception. Which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me, the bigger part of the time, in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud. (A Personal Narrative, “A Jonathan Edwards Reader,” 293)
And there’s D. L. Moody. He had traveled to New York to collect money for the victims of the Chicago fire. He writes,
I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day, in the city of New York — oh, what a day! — I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name. . . . I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand. (William Revell Moody, 1900, The Life of Dwight L. Moody,149)
Average and Awesome
These stories are amazing. And a common element in each one is the normalcy in which these experiences occurred. Riding a horse or walking or going about business in New York, this was the stuff of an ordinary day to these men. It was as plain as the four hours I spend alone each week on the road — as plain as that 15–30-minute window so many of us will find ourselves in every day as we travel between work and home, or from one errand to the next.
Though the background was normal, these brothers had a powerful glimpse of God’s glory. They were overcome with the gospel of Christ. Why? Because they wanted to be. They yearned for more of him. They saw him because they sought him — and they sought him in the simplest routines that make up life . . . when they had just a few minutes by themselves amid their daily responsibilities.
Which means, we really undersell our commute.
New Depths of His Love
What happened to Flavel and Edwards and Moody could happen to us. I don’t mean experience for the sake of experience. I mean an intrusion of divine power that makes Christ dwell in our hearts through faith, a strength to comprehend more all the dimensions of his love, to be filled with all the fullness of God. In other words, to realize what Paul prays in Ephesians 3:14–21, and to have that instead of talk radio or our latest favorite album.
What they had, and what we want, is the Father to grant us clearer metrics on the incalculable riches of his mercy. It’s not less than cognitive, but so much more. It is powerful. It is affectual. And it is “rooted and grounded in love” in such a way that others benefit from the new depths we grasp. It propels our personal holiness into servant-hearted mission. We taste and see afresh what cannot be mastered. “No matter how much we know of the love of Christ, how fully we enter into his love for us, there is always more to know and experience” (Peter O’Brien, Ephesians, PNTC, 264).
Commissioning Our Commute Next Week
Do we underestimate what God can do in our souls during that 20-minute drive home from work? Has our little faith sold out to making that time about vegging out with the car stereo? To be sure, it can be good to blast the music sometimes, or get the scoop on sports. No doubt we enjoy God through the beauty of those things. And NPR can be interesting. But I’m advocating that knowing him be our norm, that pursuing him be our pattern. What if we had a more God-besotted commute?
Really. I mean it. What if for one week we commissioned our commute for more expressly seeking God? Let’s start with just five days, beginning this upcoming Monday through Friday. Would you join me in setting this time aside for prayer and meditation on the gospel?
If you spend time on the road by yourself, whether in your own car or on a bus or a train, use that time to intentionally seek Jesus by mulling over a verse or portion of Scripture. Or use that time to intercede for your family. Dream of holiness for your kids. Or relinquish your anxieties to him who cares for us. Or meditate on a Jesus-centered Christmas song. Or perhaps simply pray for your own soul what the apostle has prayed for you (Ephesians 3:14–21; Philippians 1:9–11; Colossians 1:9–14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12).
Monday to Friday, would you join me?