Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Testimony to the Power of God's Written Word

NOTE: this testimony was written for Sola Sisters by a friend and sister in Christ, guest writer Valerie Leone, after I urged her to write down her harrowing experiences with mysticism.  Valerie had these experiences as a believer.  Her testimony is a wonderful exhortation that we must "test all things" against Scripture, with the sobering knowledge that none of us are immune to being deceived.  Jesus exhorts believers over and over to not allow themselves to be deceived.  These words are aimed at the Church, not the world - those in the world are already deceived!

I was born into a family of Bible believing Christians. I was taught from birth that there was a God who I could know by Faith. I don’t remember a time that I did not believe in God. The problem is that the Scriptures teach that even the demons believe and shudder. I was not necessarily in good company.
At the age of 12 I started to read my Bible on my own. I have to admit that most of my reading was done in order to correct others and point the finger at their sins. I did not understand what I was reading. The word of God had not taken root in my heart; it was only on the surface.  This verse best describes my heart during my early adolescent years.
"Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. " (Matthew 13:18-19)
It wasn’t until I attended a small Bible college that I met some believers who were my age who really loved God and lived godly lives - not out of compulsion, but out of love for God. It was at this same time that I was required to take an Old Testament survey class, which meant that I had to read through the entire Old Testament. I have to admit I had never spent much time there, unless it was reading the Psalms or Proverbs. During this time I was convicted over my own sin.  I admitted that I was living in rebellion to God (even though if you were to compare me to most teenagers, I would have been considered a model child....looks can be deceiving.)

So even though the seeds of truth were being planted by my family, nothing happened until God’s word  started to plow up my hard heart, so that I could see my own sinful condition.  I was happy knowing that because of Christ’s sacrifice, my sins were forgiven, and in my mind I knew that I should turn away from my sins. For a while I would turn away from those things that I knew were sinful, but when hard times came, I turned back to my old ways. I was trying to stop sinning in my own strength (Galatians 3:3 “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”).
"The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;  yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20-21)
This went on for years as I continued to struggle against my own sinful desires and the conviction of the Holy Spirit that I should be living to please God and not my flesh.  I would seem to walk in victory for a while, but then more troubles would come and I would fall down again. Then at the age of 26 I met the man of my dreams. George was a fairly new believer of only three years, and we both enjoyed talking about spiritual truth and studying the Scriptures.

Now as you can imagine, things went well at first, but then we hit some bumps in the road.  The first one was the most devastating because it damaged our foundation. The church that we had been attending, I for six years and George for about two years, changed directions. They started teaching that people needed to "experience a miracle" before they could be truly saved. George was very perceptive to pick up their using Richard Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline” which teaches contemplative prayer, and God gave him the discernment to know that this was a dangerous path. At that time I knew nothing of Richard Foster and didn’t even know about contemplative prayer. There is much more to this situation, but it is sufficient to say that we were terribly hurt, and during this time in my life I became very skeptical of church leadership.

Now Satan used this to keep me from trusting God for many years. We did find another church that we thought was biblically sound and which we attended regularly for many years. During this time, George would never be the same. He went through the motions, taught Sunday School, and gave faithfully financially, but his heart was far from God.

I too was going through the motions. Over the next several years we were blessed with two healthy children. After the birth of our first child, a daughter, our marriage was suffering, as most do. Adjusting to “sharing me” was not going over very well with George.  So you can imagine that after our second child, a son, that everything was even worse.  I was not spending time reading the Bible or in prayer. I was so busy with the children and tired all of the time.  George became discouraged with my lack of discipline and he stopped reading and praying. I ended up having gall bladder problems and eventually had to have surgery when my son was less than a year old.
"And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)
After finally somewhat recovering from the gall bladder issue, I was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis in 2005. I had been on my knees desperately crying out to God for relief from the severe pain. Pain so bad that I couldn’t walk on my feet or even wear shoes. My hands so swollen and painful that I couldn’t hold a fork, wash my hands, or go to the bathroom by myself. It was very debilitating, so much so that I not only could not take care of my family, but I could not even take care of my own personal needs. 

I had no idea how vulnerable I was to deception at this point. I was spending a lot of time in prayer and reading the Bible, and decided that I must rethink everything that I believed. I read through the gospels, focusing on the words of Christ, because I reasoned that everything that He said had to be of utmost importance. Now this is true, but then somehow along the way, I had been influenced to believe that prayer was two-way communication. I decided that I had been doing too much talking, and not enough time "listening" to what God had to say.

So I started spending time sitting in silence “in His presence” with the expectation that God was going to transform my heart spiritually during this time. Just like Mary sat at Jesus feet while Martha was working right? But in reality I was practicing visualization as well as meditation. Please know that I was not expecting to hear an audible voice, nor did I ever hear any voices, but I was definitely influenced in my thinking during these times of silence. I had been deceived into believing that I was going to hear from God by sitting in silence by waiting and listening. What I did experience was a beautiful illumination of light that was totally spiritual and not of this world.  It was so wonderful that I don’t have the words to describe it.  I was convinced that this was the glory of God, the Shekinah Glory.  I wanted all of my loved ones to have this wonderful experience.

After having this experience, I remembered having a similar thing happen back in the 1980s when I was in my early twenties. I had purchased a book by Madame Jeanne Guyon called “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ.”  I was very spiritually hungry at the time and had no idea that a “Christian” book that seemed to be pointing to Jesus Christ could be dangerous. While reading this book and following her suggestions, to sit and turn your thoughts inward, I had had my first mystical experience and entered an altered state of consciousness. At the time, it surprised and intrigued me.....but at the same time, it had also frightened me. I never shared what had happened with anyone, and though I tried again, never had another experience, until almost 20 years later, during my dark, searching period of October 2006. During these twenty years I had never made the connection that it was "sitting in the silence" that had been the catalyst. This vision was much more powerful than my first experience and I thought that because of my great piety, God had blessed me with this divine vision.

After some time had passed, I became very frustrated. None of the other believers around me seemed to have had a similar experience and I had no one to share my experience with. No one in my sphere of friendship had any understanding of what had happened to me.  I tried to share what had happened, but I felt like I was speaking another language and no one could understand me.

Anyway, I continued to diligently search the scriptures, and to test my experience by the Word of God. One of the biggest clues that I had been deceived was that I began to think and feel like I was more spiritual than my other Christian friends because I had this experience.  Pride is a sure indication of deception.

Then I started doing research on the internet and I found some disturbing testimonies by people who were not Christians who had similar experiences: for instance, a Mormon with an eerily similar story. At this point, I started to really question the source of the bright spiritual light. Not long after I found the Mormon testimony, my mother-in-law gave me a Catholic Bible that she had gotten from an elderly friend of hers that had been cleaning out their garage. Inside was a folded up paper entitled “How to pray the Gospels” that had been typed with an old typewriter. When I read it, alarm bells went off. At that point I started to research Madame Guyon and upon discovering that she was a Roman Catholic mystic, I realized that I had surely been deceived by a satanic messenger.

Slowly but surely, over a period of four to six months, the Word of God brought correction and rebuke and I repented for this act of rebellion. God showed me that this was not from Him, but it was a counterfeit from Satan, appearing as an angel of light, a messenger of light, if you will (2 Corinthians 11:14). If this had been God, He would have identified Himself, but also, we are not to summon up God. While researching mysticism, I found the Lighthouse Trails web site, and what I read there only confirmed that what I had been through was a very powerful counterfeit. I was truly humbled that my pride had so blinded me and thankful that I was set free from this deception. Still, I have to admit that this experience was so powerful and beautiful, that to this day I have to remind myself that this was demonic.

I learned that this practice goes by several names, one of which is "contemplative prayer." It was at this point that God taught me an important truth: Prayer is when we talk to God, and God talks back to us through the written Word.....the Bible.
“(Y)ou shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 13:3)
So to sum things up, God has been doing a work in me from an early age, and He isn’t finished with me yet. I am so thankful for those people throughout my life who have been faithful to speak God’s word into my life and point me to the Truth of God’s word.
"We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ..." (2 Cor 10:5)
I am continually striving, by God's grace, to take every thought captive, and to fight the good fight of faith, so that when I stand before the Lord, I will hear those most precious words: "Well done good and faithful servant." My heart's desire is to be pleasing to God, not because I must, but out of love for Him.  There are many times that God has tested me to see if I love Him, and I am humbled to look back and see proof that yes, even in painful times, my faith is in Him, not just what He can do for me. He gives me the strength to walk through the hard times, and like Job I can say, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust or hope in Him.”(Job 13:15)

The Lord will test us to see if we really love Him, and what confidence we have in His goodness when our faith is shown to be real. Each one of us must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  (Philippians 2:12) As we diligently seek Him to truly understand his Word, we will bear the fruit of righteousness, which comes only from abiding in His Word. (John 15:4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me”)
"And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some  a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty." (Matthew 13:23)
I like what Luke says after he recounts the parable of the sower.
"So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him” (Luke 8:18)
I also can look back and see myself as the Pharisee in the following passage in Luke chapter 18 (The Pharisee and the Publican). I used to think that I was being thankful for all that God had done for me, but now I can look back and see that I was as deceived as the Pharisee. It wasn’t until I truly cried out for mercy that my understanding of Scripture started to grow. Deception is that way; we don’t even notice all the areas in which we have been deceived, until the truth is revealed. Each day I fill my mind with God’s word, which will keep me from deception and keep me humble before my God.
"And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 
 "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 
 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' 
 "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'  "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." " (Luke 18:9-14)

I know there are things that I've left out in this account, but the most important thing is that people are warned. These mystical practices may appear as a form of righteousness, but they are indeed demonic. No matter how long we have walked with the Lord, we are still only human. Unless we stay diligently in His Word, it is always possible for us to be deceived.

Satan has had a long time to polish his skills and knows God's word better than we probably ever will.  He is always watching for an opportunity that he can twist to his advantage.   Most Christians today can recognize the more obvious demonic deceptions that are hideous and evil (and which would manifest themselves in obvious sin, such as an immoral lifestyle). But there is another, even more sinister, Satanic ploy that uses pride and a false sense of righteousness (self righteousness) to deceive those who claim the name of Christ (the puffed up Pharisee).  Let us pray by God's grace that we would not be deceived by any of Satan's deceptions, be they the obvious ones......or, the more subtle ones that would tug at our flesh and our pride.

Grace and peace in His Name, Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind,
Valerie Leone

 Additional Resources 

Desiring God Bookstore Selling Books on Roman Catholic Mysticism