I had no idea how this one man’s faith would impact me. I had barely even heard of him. I stumbled across one of his books at a thrift store. It was only a dollar, so I bought it. What does an obscure preacher from the distant land of China – literally the other side of the world – have to say to me about faith? Everything. This one book led to the library procurement of a couple others. I am reading his biography right now, and it daily reduces me to tears. Not a little bit. Not the kind of tears that just well up in your eyes and stay there for a minute until you regain composure. I am talking about the shoulder-heaving, loud, wet, streaming, spilling-down- my-face-onto-my-clothing kind of tears. The kind of tears that cause little children to stop what they’re doing and come running in concern, “Are you ok, Mommy?”
No, Mommy is not ok.
Mommy’s whole world has turned upside down. I am so moved by this man’s faith, his suffering, his self-denial, his perseverance to the end. He is a living example of a crucified life, lived wholly unto the Lord. His story humbles and convicts me at the same time. What time I waste sniveling over my life circumstances. How myopic is my view of life and faith. Watchman Nee is a spiritual giant and a clarion call. He challenges me on every level to get over myself and accept the life God has given me. To move with purpose in the direction of God’s will and work. But Watchman is real too. In his story, I see his struggle. This has blessed me most of all. I see him wrestle with temptation, his own will, the lies of the enemy. All the same things I wrestle with. He has captured my heart with his courage and strength in the Lord.
One of the spiritual realities he has enlarged my understanding of is the acquisition of truth. How we get truth in our inner being. This is funny because I wrote about what I called “truth tunneling” several years ago. In the spirit of the “mountain” and “mining” theme God has given me, I metaphorically espoused that God “tunnels truth” into our rocky hearts as we read His Word. At that time, this meant that once God revealed a truth from His Word to me that it was mine. Meaning I possessed and embodied the truth, and was able to live it out. What a crock. Not even close to the truth. Watchman talks about this in his book, ‘Faith, Fact, and Experience’. He refers to this revelation of truth as a mountaintop experience (Can I just say that I love that he uses the metaphor of a mountain!). We think when we are on the mountaintop that we have the truth and we wish to dwell there forever. In reality, however, we do not yet have the truth. Or the truth does not yet have us, as the case may be. Watchman says there are actually three mountains. Stay with me here.
Like the disciples had to leave the mount of transfiguration and go down into the valley of life (re: Matthew 17), so we must descend the mountaintop experiences of revealed truth and go into the second mountain. Watchman calls this mountain the tunnel. It is dark in the tunnel and everything we thought we previously understood about the truth revealed to us is challenged. We are in the dark so long that we start to doubt we ever understood anything at all about the truth we formerly thought we had. We become disillusioned, discouraged, maybe even bitterly defeated. Watchman says many Christians never make it out of the tunnel of mountain number two to get to the third mountain – where the truth is actually ours. We possess, embody, and live in truth only when we emerge on the third mountain. Here the truth becomes our own. We can stand in truth, firm and secure.
This was such a strong encouragement to me. I previously wrote from the mountaintop experiences of the first mountain. I can now see the falsity in my exuberance that overstated the truth. In truth, the last several years of my life have been lived in the tunnel of the second mountain. What hope and strong urging this view has given me to keep the faith.
Watchman Nee died alone in a Shanghai prison in 1972. Yet, he lives on. His story speaks to me of a faith that is greater than gold and outweighs all of our momentary troubles. I pray for a faith like his; to take hold of even the fringes of glory spilling from the pages of his life story. I imagine Watchman is keeping watch from his eternal home in heaven. He is looking down with the great cloud of witnesses, looking on all of us still here running our races, or limping, or crawling through tunnels. One day when we join him there, I hope to meet Watchman personally. To have the chance to thank him for how his life and faith have affected my own. Maybe he’ll say something like Paul said to the church in Corinth, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2, 3).
If today, you find that you are in the dark tunnel, etch his lesson on the walls of your human heart. There is light at the end of this tunnel and a truth that can never be taken.