Encountering Jesus is a Game Changer
I am by no means an expert…on anything really. But what I am confident of is this: Encountering Jesus has the ability to elevate your life in a way that is beyond your wildest dreams. Jesus wants a close and meaningful relationship with each of us right now, even as we do the laundry, as we go to work, as we play with our children, as we pay the bills. All the time, every day.
He wants to forgive us and console us, to play with us and make us laugh, to talk through things with us and give us direction. He wants to use us through His Spirit to reach others, to be His hands and and His feet. And Jesus doesn’t want second place, after our job or our spouse or our favorite coffee drink even. He wants to be first, and He’s earned that right. He died a brutal death just for the opportunity to be close to us.
If you are like I used to be, you are rolling your eyes and ready to quit reading. Maybe the word Jesus, and you were done. I get that. I do. I’ve been where you are. In time, I hope you will see that I can relate to you and that you will keep coming back. Even if it seems weird, even it seems far-fetched, even if it sounds too good to be true. Just give it a try. It’s not an accident that you are here.
The concept of a close relationship/friendship with the Creator of the Universe was completely lost on me growing up.
Still, it boggles my mind at times. But I am careful not to let my awe bleed into doubt as Satan would like. I just accept that I can’t even begin to grasp the enormity of it, and continue to celebrate it anyway.
Growing up, I was a good girl. I was in my church pew every Sunday for 40 years. I prayed, usually at meal time, and I tried to be a good person. I thought I was doing an ok job, you know, like I didn’t murder or cheat or lie or commit adultery. If I sped it was never more than like 5 or more over, which we all know doesn’t technically count as speeding, and I always put my grocery cart back in its slot unlike those people who just leave them front wheels propped up on some random curb.
I hoped I would go to Heaven because, well, the alternative was kind of, well, yikes. And I believed God loved me but honestly life had been so unkind that the sentiment had kind of lost its meaning. “God loves you,” to me was a trite saying like “bless you” when someone sneezes. Have you ever actually prayed that God bless a person when you say that after a sneeze? Well, maybe you did, but that never even dawned on me that those two things would go together. Anyway, I digress.
Sexual abuse, hypocritical religious people, traffic jams, marital problems, loss of loved ones, health problems…all of life’s hurts, big and small, have a way of slowly but surely eroding our spirit and constructing a wall around us until we no longer feel anything. We find ourselves merely existing in our man-made prison cells thinking we are protecting ourselves, but instead we are shutting ourselves off, from life, from God, from everything.
In time, we couldn’t hear God’s voice if we tried. Our surroundings slowly fade from vibrant greens and blues and yellows to a consistent dull grey. We find comfort in the predictability of disappointment. At this point, we question if God really exists much less loves us. In this condition, which I’m afraid is the norm nowadays, we couldn’t experience God if He was carrying us on his shoulders. We are numb.
I spent most of my life in one of those man-made prisons.
And even worse, I didn’t know I had placed myself there. I thought life had or God had. He certainly wasn’t coming to my rescue or so I felt. I believed a loving God existed, but that was the extent of it. To me, he was more like an observer in the sky keeping tabs on me, like Santa with his naughty or nice list. I knew what list I wanted to be on so I tried to be a good person, but it was all so…meaningless and empty.
It was 2010 and my little sister had just passed away. She was only 31. Depression swallowed me up, and I begged God to let me die. I didn’t want to leave my kids, but the pain was too big. God put me here, I thought, so the least he could do was end my misery.
As a last ditch effort to save myself, I decided I would go back to school, to find a career where I would use my suffering to help others. Surely, God would bless that and it would provide the relief and healing I so desperately needed. I toiled and labored and researched and attended classes and applied for graduate programs and read until my head was spinning.
One day, while I was sitting at my computer trying to find the career path that would solve all of my problems, I heard a voice. It said: “Amy, you are on the wrong journey.” (Duh, I already know that, voice.) “Yours is a spiritual one; then I can use you.” What?! Who said that? Wait? What is a spiritual journey? What college offers that? Hello?! Ugh, that is of no help! Can’t you see I’m a spreadsheet person? I need specifics! Don’t go, please! Silence…ugh, I’m on my own. I’ll never figure it out. In time, I forgot about the cryptic message.
About a week later, I ran into an old friend. She told me about a program she was in called Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step Christian group. “When does it meet?” I asked her. “Tonight!” she replied. “I’ll be there,” I said. (http://www.celebraterecovery.com)
Walking through the doors, I thought, here we go, another futile attempt at healing. They have no idea what kind of obstacles I have faced. They would shutter if they knew how angry I was at God and here we were in a church! Nevertheless, I began a step study, an in-depth self-discovery process the program offered. The questions challenged my beliefs and feelings towards God. I will never say I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ as they do, I thought to myself. First of all, that’s weird to say out loud. And second of all, that’s just weird.
Eventually, I grew more accustomed to the worship music this church offered at the meetings, and I knew a few people who attended the church so I gave it a try one Sunday morning. It couldn’t hurt, I thought. My family had been out of church for two years because we just couldn’t take it anymore. It all felt so monotonous and meaningless and it took us nowhere.
Saying this new non-denominational Christian church was different from what I was used to was an understatement. And it was uncomfortable, but I felt something there that I wanted…desperately.
My family stayed at home. It was unchartered territory for sure. People had drinks in there! And there were like big flat screen tvs on the wall!? And something I can only compare to disco lights that I hadn’t really seen since my roller skating birthday party in 5th grade. I continued to barrage the pastor’s wife with my questions and frustrations about God and His obvious absence from my life at times when I desperately needed Him. She just listened and nodded her head.
During one particular CR lesson, we were asked to pray for something for an entire week. This will be pointless, I thought. I had already tried prayer. I prayed that God remove my pain for 20 years, and He did nothing. Feeling a bit ornery, I decided to take them up on it. They’ll see, I thought. I asked God to help me feel grateful for something my mom did for me growing up. Intellectually it was easy to think of things to be grateful for, but my protective wall of anger didn’t allow me to feel them.
I believe it was day 4 that it happened. I was in church with a friend in Dallas, mumbling through the prayers, when seemingly out of nowhere I felt a rush of gratefulness flood my body. And then I heard a voice say: “She may not have gotten it perfect, but she taught you I existed.” “Uh mah gawd,” I whispered.
“Ya’ll, it’s real. The whole God prayer thing.”
“It’s real. I’m not kidding. He can totally hear us,” I announced when I got back to my step study group. Turns out, they already knew that. A missed memo for me, I guess. The first of many missed memos actually.
It was the greatest revelation in my life up to that point. It changed me inside and set me on a brand new path, one filled with hope and discovery. If I can talk to God, now, while I’m here on earth, well that’s a game changer. And if I was the one blocking Him out because I know He never had His phone on mute, then maybe I didn’t have the right to be angry with Him for abandoning me here with no guide book, nothing. Maybe the Bible was more than a dreadfully long book with tiny font. Maybe He can speak to us through those pages. Maybe, just maybe, I have never been alone and was too numb to feel Him, too angry to experience Him.
As the worship music hummed in my ears each Monday night, I could feel a warmth and it seemed to be flowing through the top of my head down to my toes, filling every empty space. I cherished those moments. I craved that energy. I wanted more.
One evening a friend invited me over to talk because she could hear the discouragement in my voice. “Amy?” she asked. “Yeah,” I answered. “Have you ever asked Jesus to come into your heart to be your Lord and Savior?” she asked. Awkward! “Um, no, I…I mean no…I have not,” I stammered. “Would you like to?” she said with a bright smile. “Um, yeah, I guess, I mean, sure,” I mumbled, my face feeling flush. “Ok, then,” she said, taking my hands and cupping hers around them, “then repeat after me.”
I did as I was told figuring it would be rude to say no and wouldn’t hurt anything if I did it. Besides, I figured, you can never be too covered in this area, right? Nothing seemed really different. There were no thunder claps or big rainbows sprawled across the sky, but I sensed something did happen that night, something big, because in time I would begin to see a new person emerging where the old one had been. And one day, I recalled the voice. It told me my journey was spiritual and here I was—on a spiritual journey!
I am still reveling in the revelation that God is here with me as close as the clothes on my body, probably closer.
I am still awed that He can and is communicating with me, sometimes in subtle ways and other times in surprising and awesome ways. Sometimes He interacts with me multiple times a day and sometimes a week might pass without me recognizing it. And in those weeks, I am anticipating Him, excited and expectant as to how and when He will reveal himself to me again.
He never ceases to amaze me by the things He does for me, and if I wake up and go to Him first thing, I spend the day “playing” with Him, searching for His love notes like a child on a magical treasure hunt. And yes, I am still doing laundry and unloading dishes and driving kids to and fro and sometimes pulling my hair out, but my spirit is somewhere else, somewhere peaceful and happy and content, making what is happening around me more tolerable, more enjoyable, more doable.
I’m not gonna lie, as magical as that place is, it is incredibly easy to slip back into the daily monotonous grind, partly because of our weak and sinful nature and partly because Satan is constantly trying to lure us out. It’s as if we are walking along a slippery slope and the only way to stay on the peaceful path is to continually clutch God’s hand.
This place of spiritual contentment is available to us all the time, every day.
And we each have the opportunity to be on a treasure hunt of sorts with God. Each hunt will look different as God will cater it to fit the desires of your heart. “Delight yourselves in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalms 37:4 (ESV) Our styles of interacting with God will look different as we have varied personalities. He will custom design His relationship with you. It will be uniquely yours.
One thing that won’t vary is that He is there waiting to lavish His love on you and He will never fail you. His calls are answered 24/7. You can count on it. “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deut 31:8 (NLT)
And guess what I can say now? I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, y’all!
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