From childhood onward, I wanted to be a novelist or nothing. In my junior year at college I started a novel that, before long, consumed me. The book controlled my life more than I controlled the lives in it. Everything external—friends, family, finances—was interpreted, qualified, and analyzed through the template of how they would impact my writing the novel.
One early evening in the late summer of 1979 I wandered back to my room in Gainesville, Florida, to continue writing. I had, at this point, poured two and a half years into the novel, more than 10 percent of my life (I was 23), and that evening I felt more excited about the project than ever before. Never had it been going better.
In the room I stuck a sheet of paper into the typewriter, and when I struck the first key—as real as anything that’s ever happened to me, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus came and said, “Cliff, you have been playing with Me long enough. If you want Me tonight, burn the book.”
This didn’t happen in a vacuum; the Lord had long been working to bring me to this moment, in which He showed me that the bookwas my god, and if I wanted the true God, the false one had to go. But why tonight, when I was more enthusiastic about the book than ever? Why couldn’t the Lord have asked me to do this at a time when it wasn’t going too well?
After a night of wrestling I burned the novel and went to bed amid a cloud of smoke (I burned it in my room).
Within days the devil whispered in the ears of this new believer: Oh, you burned the book because you needed an excuse to get out because you knew you couldn’t do it. A wave of doubt swept through me. But as I recounted the experience of that night, I thought, On the contrary, I was never more sure of the book than I was that night. That’s why the Lord had me burn it then! Get thee behind me, Satan!
Ellen White explains so much: “At the moment of success, when the nets were filled with fish, and the impulses of the old life were strongest, Jesus asked the disciples at the sea to leave all for the work of the gospel. So every soul is tested as to whether the desire for temporal good or for fellowship with Christ is strongest.”*
By uprooting us from the world when our roots are the deepest in the world, the Lord makes it more difficult (though not impossible) for those roots to take hold again. We have to commit ourselves at the lowest common denominator, that of ourselves; otherwise, it’s no commitment, only a handshake with our fingers crossed.
*Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 273.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. He is writing a book tentatively titled Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity.