By Loren Hatlen —
In John 14:21 Jesus told His disciples, “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” That scripture went from abstract concept to profound reality for me on the day I describe as the lowest point of my life. On that day, in early July of 2019, a perfect storm caused by two simultaneous crises hit me, plunging me into depths of hopelessness, despair, grief, and fear. I was feeling so low that thoughts of suicide flooded my mind.
The first crisis was the approaching death of my wife, Virginia. A few months earlier, she had been diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumor with metastases in multiple organs of her body. I was watching as cancer sapped the life of the person who for thirty-one and a half years had been my wife, my best friend, and my fellow minister. I had given her round-the-clock care until I was no longer able to do so, and now full-time caregivers were in our home at considerable financial burden.
Life-and-death decisions came at us on an almost daily basis, with consequent urgent medical consultations, emergency room trips, and hospital stays. I prayed intensely for Virginia, as did some friends and family. The effect of those prayers seemed to be keeping her pain at a level which could be managed by low amounts of pain medication, which meant that she was lucid most of the time. But those prayers did not result in her healing. Since I had also lost my first wife to cancer, the repeat of this experience was unbelievably painful.
The second crisis was precipitated by test results from my doctor indicating that I almost certainly had prostate cancer. As absolute confirmation, my urologist wanted to do a biopsy of my prostate. Years earlier, I had undergone a prostate biopsy, and it was one of the things I never wanted to happen to me again. Therefore, the prospect of a prostate biopsy made me very fearful. Beyond the biopsy, treating the prostate cancer would involve some weeks of radiation together with a couple of years of hormonal therapy. All these circumstances relating to my having cancer were overwhelming, and I felt that I just couldn’t take any more stress in my life.
On my lowest day ever, when thoughts of suicide started coming, I realized that I needed help—and quickly. I reached out to a close friend, a pastor, and asked if I could come to his home for prayer. He happened to be free at the time, and I spent a couple of hours with him, talking and praying. I came away from this prayer time more peaceful and no longer feeling suicidal. Despite these two crisis situations I was experiencing, I was not having a crisis of faith. I still had strong faith in God, in His goodness, in His plans for my good. But I had come to the end of myself. I had no other choice than to trust God to take me through all this.
After dinner that evening, as I was lying on the sofa in my living room, I began worshipping the Lord. Rather than distancing myself from Him and withdrawing into myself, I was choosing to press into the Lord by worshipping Him. I was singing along with a video of “Way Maker” by Sinach, a Nigerian singer and songwriter.
All of a sudden, I experienced an open vision of Jesus. In an open vision, God shows the vision to the person as if it were happening right in front of him, and the person is conscious, not dreaming, seeing the vision with his eyes open. The vision I was having was like watching a movie, my eyes open, seeing a scene in freeze-frame mode. But unlike a movie, the scene I was seeing was three-dimensional.
The scene of the vision was the shore of the Sea of Galilee, with a crowd gathered around Jesus. (It was like the event described in Matthew 13, in which the crowd pressed Jesus so tightly that He had to get into a boat on the sea.) While I could see the faces and bodies of the crowd, they were a nondescript brown in color, like the color of a burlap sack.
Jesus, however, was clad in a blue robe over a white tunic. His back was to the sea, and He was looking at me, his left arm outstretched toward me. I could see Jesus quite clearly and would describe Him as having short, medium-brown hair; a short, medium-brown beard; and smooth, tanned skin. But what struck me as I gazed at His face was how beautiful He was. It was not the beauty of a Hollywood star, but an inner beauty that radiated from Him and made Him attractive. And I mean attractive in both a visual sense and in a spiritual sense. I just wanted more of this beautiful Jesus. While I had sung Christian songs about Jesus being beautiful, until this point, I had considered the lyrics something like a compliment we were paying Him. But at this moment I had a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ, perceiving His beauty as an aspect of who He is and something that draws us to Him. I was so overcome by the vision that I burst into tears.
The vision faded, and shortly thereafter my daughter came by the house to say goodnight to her mother. I told my daughter, “I have just seen Jesus, and He’s beautiful.” I hugged her and broke into tears again.
We went together into the bedroom where Virginia was resting. I shared the vision of Jesus with her. She and I had seen the movie Heaven Is for Real, which has a scene showing the portrait of Jesus painted by a young girl named Akiane Kramarik. Her portrait really captures the Jesus I saw in my vision, and I told my wife that. She was happy for me, that I had seen a vision of Jesus. But I knew that soon she would be seeing Him face-to-face, not on earth, but in heaven.
A few days later, I went into the hospital for my prostate biopsy, accompanied by another daughter. I had an amazing peace about the whole situation, which included total anesthesia and the biopsy. My fear was gone, and I felt that Jesus was with me. A month later, Virginia and I moved into an assisted-living facility where she could receive better care. She died there a few days later. Even though I’d had months to prepare for it, words cannot adequately describe the loss I felt when she died. I asked for Jesus’ presence to comfort me, and that helped some. I still had to go through the grieving process, and even now I continue to ask for Jesus’ presence to comfort me. Virginia was laid to rest after a memorial service attended by dozens of family members and friends. Earth is poorer for her absence, but heaven is richer for her presence.
When the biopsy came back, it confirmed the diagnosis of prostate cancer. I began hormone therapy immediately. A month after Virginia died, I underwent 4 weeks of radiation therapy. I had great peace as I went through these treatments. Again, I felt that Jesus was with me.
In March of 2020, I went to Israel as part of a tour group led by the pastor who had performed the marriage ceremony for Virginia and me so many years before. Early in the tour we came to the Sea of Galilee, near the site of the Matthew 13 event. As I stood on the shore of the sea, I remembered my vision of Jesus and asked my pastor friend if I could share that experience with the tour group. Wanting to encourage the group, I shared my vision as well as details about the crises that had preceded it. I told them what I had learned from my experience: “When facing difficult circumstances, don’t pull away from the Lord. Instead, press in for a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ.” Afterwards, two pastors in the tour group came up to me and told how meaningful my testimony had been for them.
When I received a vision of Jesus Christ, it encouraged me greatly because I was so needy and desperate at the time. But Jesus may not reveal Himself in a vision. That seems to be an uncommon experience, and I personally know only one other person who has had a vision of Jesus. But as we press into the Lord, He will reveal Himself through His peace and His love. Of that I am certain.
What does Jesus want to reveal about Himself in your current situation? Press into Him to find out.
Trained as a biochemist, Loren E. Hatlen, Ph.D., is the author of Setting the Captives Free, extensively covering the topic of deliverance. Loren brings to his subject an analytical perspective, a solid working knowledge of the Bible, and compassion for people. He and Virginia co-authored a book, A Marriage Made in Heaven, relating the miraculous way God put their marriage together.