Desire for eternal life is God’s gift to us

“He has … set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

 

The life of Neville Jayaweera, my long-time mentor, is a beautiful testimony to the truth that God does indeed set eternity in the human heart.  Neville’s own heart began aching for eternity from a very young age.

Below, I would like to share a short reflection that I wrote a while ago about Neville’s early life and his eventual encounter with Jesus Christ.  It is personal to Neville, of course, but I think it also illustrates – vividly – three insights into the nature of God, and His relentless, ever-patient love, which can apply to any one of us, in whatever situation or context we may find ourselves.

I will expand on those insights briefly, at the end of this little cameo:

The call of God in a tender, young heart

“Neville told me that, as a young boy, instead of playing with his friends after school, he felt drawn to go for walks along the peaceful, palm-fringed beaches near his home on the outskirts of Colombo in Sri Lanka (called Ceylon at that time, in the 1930s/40s).

He walked along in awe, looking out over the majesty of the vast ocean with its thunderous waves – and his heart would swell with an inexpressible longing.

Neville was brought up in a Sinhala-speaking, Buddhist family but his parents chose to send him to an English-language Christian school because of the quality of education there.  Neville was always respectful, but he had no interest in Christianity; his focus was, naturally, on the teachings and traditions of his Buddhist upbringing.

Nevertheless, a part of his school duty was to learn English hymns. Neville has a lovely sense of humour, and he says he puzzled over the relevance of singing “In the bleak midwinter” with its verse “snow had fallen, snow on snow” … when he and his classmates were mopping their brows in the intense tropical heat of Ceylon!!

One particular hymn, however, worked its way deeply into his mind and heart. It is the hymn “Abide with Me”.  He would find himself softly singing its verses during his beach walks in the early evenings, gazing up at the vast, star-filled firmament. Tears would pour down his cheeks, but he did not know why.

Back at home, his mother would pull her youngest son protectively into her long skirts and stroke his head, uttering words of love and reassurance. She knew that something special was going on, even though she could not understand what it was. Her unconditional love sustained Neville during those early, aching years, and – looking back – he saw clearly that she had been a wonderful instrument of God’s grace.

It was his mother, too, who had encouraged him during even earlier years at school, when he repeatedly came out second from bottom in the class exams.  Neville recalls: “My teacher came home one evening, when I was only six years old, to tell Mummy about me, that I was no good in class and would not be promoted unless Mummy taught me how to add and subtract.”

Throughout it all, his mother kept encouraging and believing in Neville … and things began to change. In fact, the changes were so marked that, over the following decades, he went on to become a presidential advisor, director-general of what is now the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, and ambassador to four Scandinavian countries.

However, none of these achievements filled the poignant longing that had remained deep within him since his boyhood. In his early 40s, He began to seek God earnestly, through disciplined prayer and meditation on Buddhist and Hindu scriptures, but he could not find the lasting peace for which he yearned …

… until one day, in his 43rd year, during a time of intense seeking, Neville received a profound spiritual experience which utterly transformed his heart, his values and ultimately his entire way of life. The experience was all the more extraordinary because he had not specifically been seeking Jesus Christ. Great was his amazement and wonder and overflowing praise that Jesus was indeed the Peace and the Eternal Truth he had been longing for.

Ever since then, Neville’s life has been totally dedicated to following Jesus Christ and to proving God’s Word to be true. Life after his 43rd year was not at all easy, but has been characterised by overflowing peace, joy and loving-kindness, and Neville says he would not have chosen any other way. The following decades were full of adventures, challenges, very deep pain, joys unspeakable, and an ever-deepening awareness of the sustaining, transforming Presence of Christ through meditation on His Word and obedience to His leading.

Neville and I worked closely together as teacher and pupil for many years, and, when he became less mobile in his 80s, he asked me if I would find a very good recording of a particular hymn and post it to him.

Yes! The hymn he had asked for was indeed “Abide with Me”.

♫             ♫             ♫

From this little cameo, the three insights that I hope will encourage us, and others, in our own lives and situations are these:

1)  That God is always present with us, waiting patiently for us through all our ups and downs, successes and failures. The Bible expresses it this way: “ …you always have God’s presence. For hasn’t he promised you, “I will never leave you alone, never! And I will not loosen my grip on your life!” (Heb. 13:5, TPT).

2)  That if we seek God earnestly, we will find Him: And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:23, NKJV) and “seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7, NKJV).

3)  That the things of the world, however elevated and “successful”, can never fully satisfy the human heart.  Neville likens his former, high-profile life in the world to a squirrel whirring away furiously inside his cage, unaware that it was in fact going nowhere, until in midlife he was awakened to the futility of his exertions.  He describes himself as similar, metaphorically, to the beggar who was healed of his blindness by Jesus of Nazareth and who ran through town, proclaiming with overwhelming joy:

“I was blind, but now I see!” (John 9:25, NIV).

*******

Ann Shakespeare

Welcome to the Ann Shakespeare blog. Ann, a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, BBC World Service and The Daily Journal, is currently involved in editing and writing on Christian themes. She also ministers in a local ecumenical centre which provides prayer and pastoral support.

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