Where do you find God?
Do you find Him in the Bible? In your bedtime prayers?
Do you find Him in a cup of coffee, or a cup of tea? Maybe you find Him in a song, or a book. Maybe you see Him in a sunrise, or a waning moon.
Maybe you find Him under a layer of dirt, or under the crushing waves of the ocean. Maybe you find Him in the noise, or in the silence. In the crowd or in isolation.
Maybe you see Him best on the mountaintop, or maybe you find Him in the valleys. Maybe you’ve seen Him in the desert, or played with Him in the beauty of a waterfall.
Maybe you’ve seen Him in a storm, or in the beauty of utter stillness. In the beauty of falling snow, or in the dusty streets of a rural, impoverished village.
Have you found Him in a friend? How about in an enemy? You’ve probably seen Him in a leader, but how about in one of your followers?
The morning? The evening? The dead of night?
Do you find God in the much-needed relaxation of a vacation? Or maybe you’ve found Him in what feels like the mundane day-to-day.
In a healing, or in the process before?
Maybe you find God in the celebration of a prayer answered, or in the honest venting of frustration at answers delayed.
There’s a billion places you could find God. That’s one of the great things about Him. What to one person might be a casual, every-day happening might spark the greatest revelation about Jesus someone else has ever received.
In my opinion, one sign of maturing in Jesus is learning how to adapt how you find Him.
When I was in my teens, the most consistent place for me to find Jesus was by myself in worship. In my room listening to “Delirious?” albums, in my parent’s basement strumming on a guitar, or wandering in my moonlit backyard with a ukulele. I found God on many of those nights.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still think personal worship times with Jesus are absolutely irreplaceable. But that isn’t usually the way that I connect to Jesus on a deep level anymore.
These days, worshipping with a group of people, memorizing a Bible verse (who knew that could be so good? Seriously, try that instead of your daily chapter sometime), or sitting at Starbucks with a grande Cinnamon Almond Macchiato and journaling thoughts and streams that I myself don’t even understand are the main avenues that I find connect me with Jesus like nothing else.
I suppose my point is this:
Try something new.
Steep yourself a cup of tea and hide away in your room for an evening. Go for a walk out in the falling snow, maybe even without your phone. Take up gardening. Write down all the ways you’re frustrated with Him. Write down all the ways He’s come through for you in the last year. Write down all the things you’re believing Him for. Step into that thing you’ve always felt both pulled towards and terrified of. That might be the place He meets you.
Embrace the storm, and learn how to let the waves propel you instead of crush you. You might just find Jesus wandering around on those same waves.
Here in the Middle
So. Life. That happened.
If my records are correct, my last blog post was April 1st. That’s 183 days and 29520 seconds from the time of this writing, in case you were curious. (Turns out, I was)
There are a lot of things that have kept me from writing a blog post during that time.
My entire, now even further-spread out family got together during the summer, so you know I wasn’t about to sit down to write for two hours with 16 little nephews and nieces running around.
I was privileged to be in the weddings of two really great friends. That takes some time.
And of course, with summer always comes general business of trying to make the most of it, and usually that involves being outside more than being in.
But, if I’m honest, none of those are reasons are the big ones. There’s been a lot more that’s preventing me from blogging.
Without question, this past half year has been the hardest season of my life. Despite being distracted by just trying to keep my head above water some days, when I did find the time to sit down and try to write, it’s been really hard to figure out what and how to write about things. Turns out it’s really hard to gain perspective enough to write about a season that you feel like you’re just blindly stumbling through.
So that’s the first big reason I haven’t blogged recently. Like a maze of corn, it’s a lot easier to describe the way through it to people once you’re out on the other side, and, though I’m writing now, I still don’t think I’ve made it through yet.
One of the great things about God is that He never wastes a season. I have a long list of things that He has taught or is teaching me through this season, hard as it’s been. But even more than the conscious things I’ve learned, I absolutely believe that in the years to come I will discover things that God built into my life during this time, even if I wasn’t aware of them at the time.
As much as there are times that I’d like to yell at God for the brutality that has been these few months, I know that I am learning things that I likely couldn’t learn any other way. What’s more, this time of craziness is probably at least a little bit my fault anyways; I distinctly remember driving home from work sometime last year simply praying that God would make me more dependent on Him, and on another occasion asking that my Faith would “burn” more. I had just meant that I didn’t want my Faith to grow stagnant or become a comfortable, fake Faith, but I suppose this is one way of answering that prayer.
So that’s the second big reason I haven’t blogged recently: it’s simply hard to pick a topic. From bitterness to love, resentment and frustration, there are simply too many things that have happened in the last while to write about in a single blog post. I’ve been learning to focus on the excitement of an unknown future instead of the sadness that letting go of the past can bring. I have experienced a deep uncertainty in how to properly navigate some situations. I believe I have gained a greater humility and empathy. I have learned about trust. I have learned about relationships and expectations. I have learned about the gap between intent and impact.
So how do you choose from the list? I’m not sure. That seems to be a bit of a theme for me lately.
But I finally decided that writing about a small sliver of the nature of God that I feel I have learned about (or at least gained a greater appreciation for) is probably a safe bet. So let’s give that a go, shall we?
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
If you’re a Christian, and have been for more than a few months, you probably have heard this verse. If you’ve been a Christian for a year or two, you’ve almost certainly read it in your own devotions, and heard Christian songs written about it. If you’ve been a Christian most of your life, it’s likely you’ve memorized at least parts of this passage at some point in your life.
And, if you’re like me, you just start to gloss over some of this stuff.
“Right right, Jesus is super everywhere. Got it. Also, why would I ever intentionally go to hell? That seems weird.”
Yep. I think we all start to do that.
So let me try to share one thing I feel I’ve learned about God during the past half year:
He is committed.
Hardcore. Naively. Dangerously. Nonsensically. Surprisingly. Unfathomably.
In this season, there have been days of complete and utter uncertainty. In my self, in the choices I was making, in what I was feeling, in how I was responding… You name it.
And I don’t mean to be overly dramatic or especially mysterious by not sharing details, but I honestly wondered if I was just off the deep end. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe the emotions I was experiencing were completely out of whack. Maybe I was the problem. Maybe the choices I was making, even right then and there, were the wrong ones, leading me down the wrong paths, leading me to a fiery, crash-and-burn ruination of my life.
Ok. Maybe that is a little over-dramatic. But it is how I honestly felt in those moments.
I wondered if these would be the choices that others would look at in sad amazement, wondering how someone like me could have handled the circumstances so badly. I felt like there was about a 50% chance that the things I felt were normal, natural responses to the circumstances that most people would experience, and about a 50% chance that I just didn’t get it, didn’t understand, and couldn’t ever understand. That this was a hurdle others had jumped over flawlessly, without a second thought, and one that I wouldn’t ever be able to climb over.
Again, this might seem (and might be) somewhat over-dramatic, but I remember thinking that there could end up being a stigma attached to being associated with me, at least on a deep level. After all, you don’t really want to be known as the guy who was best friends with that one who went crazy and started making bad decision after bad decision. I remember thinking that a smart, safe choice for anyone close to me would be to step back a couple feet and watch at a bit of a distance until it was clear which side of the crazy I was on. I certainly didn’t know.
And then, I looked up.
And He was right there.
Just like He’d been the whole time, holding me tight against the oncoming waves, strengthening me in ways I hadn’t even recognized.
My Best Friend, the Faithful one, Jesus.
It actually felt wrong. This wasn’t a safe place for someone to be, close to me, least of all someone so perfectly pure as Jesus. I might be steering this ship down a waterfall for all I knew. A “smart” move for Jesus, a choice that would protect His reputation, would be to leave me until it my fate was more stable, until the train I was engineering was back on it’s rails.
In some ways, it surprised me that He was still there. It shouldn’t have, but it did.
See, what I learned about God is that I can’t get away from Him, even if I tried. It’s never been me hanging on to Him; He’s always been holding fast to me, and He doesn’t let go when the seas get choppy. In the places where it doesn’t make sense, where it’s surprising to find anyone willing to walk with you, He’s right there, happy to be involved in your process.
He is utterly and ridiculously committed.
Sure, He’ll be with you when you soar on the winds of heaven, but if you decide you wanna run your life to the ground and beyond, to the closest thing to hell you could get yourself to, He’s still within earshot. If you throw yourself into the seas, certain to be drowned, He’ll be swimming right along next to you.
And let me say this: even without God, I was never alone. I do have friends and family willing to walk through anything with me, and another thing I’ve learned in this process is that I’m bad at using that help. It’s something I’m working on it.
I also don’t think that I’m any real danger of irreversibly breaking my life anymore. That’s a comforting thought.
But even if I was in that kind of danger, even if my deepest friends and all my family decided I was simply too far gone, too broken, and too ruined to associate with, even if I was taking the ridiculously blessed live God had given me had and throwing it away in my hurting state…
Even then, I know God would be with me.
His proximity to me is in no way related to the quality of my choices.
He is just close. Always close. Always, always…
Can’t go back to the beginning... Can’t control what tomorrow will bring... But I know here in the middle... Is the place where You promise to be
So there’s this song called “Good Good Father.” If you’re in Christian circles, you’ve likely heard it a lot. It kinda swept across churches all over the place in a very short amount of time, and has become a mainstay for many of them, including my own church.
To be honest, I’ve never really loved the song. I mean, I love the message it’s conveying, but somehow it’s never really “grabbed” me, if you will. Perhaps it’s the simplistic musicality that somehow bores the musician in me or something, but it’s just never been on the top of my list for worship songs.
So of course God, being the humorous God that He is, decided to use that song as a vehicle to speak to me on two separate occasions during our morning services a few Sundays ago.
I’ve referenced in previous blogs that my relationship with God has been hard lately. Very strange, and difficult to understand; certainly unlike anything I’ve experienced before in my “Spiritual journey,” if you will. So when I feel like I get something from God, it’s like a breath of fresh air, reminding me that, yes, God’s still real, and still does care about me, even if I don’t feel that every day.
All that to say that what I felt God communicate to me a few weeks ago both excited and challenged me in the same instant. Let’s dive in to the first thing:
I am someone who has grown up going to church and learning about Jesus. At the very least, I am extremely good at playing the part of Christian, and doing what is expected of a “good church kid”. Whether or not that translates to real life change is a separate concern, but the point of it is that a big part of my identity up to this point in my life has been in my ability to love God. That is intrinsically attached to me and even, I think, to my sense of self-worth.
But in this season with God, I feel like I am not very good at loving God. I don’t “feel” it like I have in the past. I am still doing the Christian things that I’ve done in previous seasons, and I absolutely still have moments with God that are breath-taking, but they are more the exception than the rule.
So what does a church kid do when part of his identity is found in something (“loving God”) that he no longer feels good at?
If I heard God right a few Sunday’s ago, it’s to change where I find my identity. I think instead of identifying as a “lover of God,” I need to instead simply identify as “loved by God.”
That is constant. That is steady. That is something as unchanging as the stars at night. That is something that will not waver in the storms of life, or when life just feels different than it ever has before. It will not waver in distractions, or failures, or relational difficulties.
To quote that afore-mentioned “Good Good Father” song,
“I’m loved by You. It’s who I am.”
And maybe that’s really the only identity that matters. Maybe part of the purpose in this season of me feeling like I’m not good at loving God is Him stripping away that part of my identity that, though comforting up until this season, is actually unhealthy.
It reminds me of John, who wrote one of the four eye-witness accounts of Jesus that are in the Bible (known as the “Gospels”). In referring to himself in his writings, he frequently swapped out his name in favour of the title that he apparently attributed to himself: “the disciple that Jesus loved.” (John 13:23-25, 19:26-27, 20:1-10, 21:20-24)
He didn’t declare himself to be the most obedient, or the most anointed, or the one who loved Jesus most. He didn’t even declare himself to be most loved by Jesus. He simply declared that Jesus loved him, and that seemed to be enough for him.
It’s a weird shift for me, this change in identity. It’s almost like I’ve been running a race against God, trying to make my love for Him somehow keep up with His love for me, like I’m out to prove that He made a good, logical choice in deciding to love me. This season feels like me finally giving up on that race, and in the process, realizing two things:
First, if you’ll follow the metaphor through with me, there wasn’t ever a hope of me winning this race. As I collapse on the ground in a fit of exhaustion from pushing my love beyond the breaking point, finally realizing that I simply have no more capacity to love, I catch of glimpse of Jesus. He isn’t even winded. He looks like he could run for another million miles. And, in fact, He can. This wasn’t ever a fair race to begin with. My losing was inevitable.
Second, it doesn’t matter. His love for me hasn’t wavered or changed since my energy and passion to love Him has faltered. I could be crawling, stopped dead, or even running in the wrong direction. It wouldn’t matter; His love is constant and steady at full throttle.
I need to learn how to let myself be loved by God when I have nothing to give Him in return.
So that was the first thing I learned that Sunday morning, that I need to learn how to find my identity in the fact that I am loved by God, as opposed to finding it in my feeble attempts to return that love.
The second is related to fear. Fear, if you believe the Bible, shouldn’t exist in a human fully opened to God’s love:
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” - 1 John 4:18
And yet, I fear. In particular, it has recently become readily apparent that I possess a fear of failure. I hadn’t really given that fact much thought, but on that same Sunday I feel like God highlighted and illuminated it for me in a thought:
There only two possible reasons for a fear of failure.
First, I can fear failure if I’m unsure of God’s love. That is, if I fail, I think that perhaps God’s love won’t be there anymore, or at least not to it’s fullest extent. It might waver if I really screw something up badly.
The second possibility is that I am not fully satisfied and complete in God’s love. I find at least part of my fulfillment and satisfaction in something else that very well might change if I fail.
I don’t think there is a third option. If I were both fully satisfied and fully trusting in the never-changing love of an eternal being that created me for His own delight, what could failure possibly do to me?
In some ways, I would become invincible. I would know that if I fall flat on my face in the most public and humiliating way possible, I could rely on God to come help me up, brush me off, and keep on loving me the exact same way.
To be honest, I’m still not sure which of those two lines of faulty thinking are responsible for my fear of failure. I suppose I am still going through the diagnosis stage of this internal medical procedure. But I know that God doesn’t reveal faults just to let them sit there; He’s working on it, and even though this this season in God is frequently frustrating and nearly always confusing, I retain excitement for what God is doing in me through it. Whatever I look like at the end of this, it’s going to be good.
So. That’s what the “Good Good Father” song helped teach me recently. First, that I need to learn how to simply receive God’s love better, regardless of my intermittent abilities to return the favour, and find my identity in God’s perfect and unchanging love instead of my flawed version of it. Second, that my fear of failure is caused by either a faulty understanding of God’s love, or by my finding fulfillment in things outside of it; likely some combination of both.
“Let me know that You hear me
Let me know Your touch
Let me know that You love me
And let that be enough”
Switchfoot, “Let that Be Enough”
I’ve realized that I am, by nature, a cautious person. I lean towards the comfortable known rather than the risky unknown. I avoid making commitments that I’m not 100% certain I will be able to follow through on. I prepend my statements with phrases like “I’m pretty sure…” where other people would be comfortable making statements in (at least seemingly) absolute confidence. I am generally ok watching people around me perform risky athletic feats that I don’t feel confident enough to attempt myself (though I’ll admit there have been a couple notable exceptions to that rule).
And I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this approach to life.
I have to take back over-confident statements less often than other people. I rarely have to try to explain why I stopped doing that New Year’s resolution-type activity I was so pumped about last week. I don’t usually have to bail on events with friends. I haven’t had myself humbled by spectacular injuries too frequently. But, while I think this approach to life works pretty well in the natural, it’s started to poison my Spiritual approach to life.
See, I have a good job, a house, and a church family that I love. I give a decent amount of time and energy into furthering “The Kingdom of God” (to use an uber Christian term) which is, in general, extremely rewarding and not something that I would trade for anything. My life is pretty well set up.
And in all of this, I started to settle. I started to think that maybe this is all God really has for my life, that maybe this little bubble of comfort is fine. I started to become satisfied with where I was at.
But, thank goodness, God has never been one to let His followers lead a normal, cautious, safe approach to life. Throughout history, He has called people to lead crazy lives of reckless risk. It’s not hard to find examples; from Abraham (called to leave his home and give up his son) to John the Baptist (lived in the wilderness and dressed in camel’s hair) to the disciples (who were simply called to give up their livelihoods and follow this random Rabbi named Jesus), God clearly isn’t all that interested in our living a normal, predictable life.
So God started to poke me, prod me, and pull me into something a little different, a little bit beyond my comfort zone. And it freaked me out a little bit.
Ironically, though my greatest fear in life has always been missing out on what God wants me to do, I am also scared to step out into something new.
I don’t think the primary fear driving this hesitancy is giving up material comforts (though that is undoubtedly a factor). No, the larger fears are that I’ll step out into something only to find out down the road that it wasn’t what God was calling me to after all, or that it’ll be too much for me and I’ll fail. I’m scared that I’ll bite off more than I can chew, or that I’ll get in over my head; pick your favourite metaphor, the bottom line is that my biggest fear with new things in God is that I will find myself floundering around in something far bigger than I can handle. I don’t want to overcommit myself.
But I’m starting to believe that, in God, being in over your head is actually an absolutely fantastic indicator that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. What better way to learn trust in God than to be placed in a position where you have no choice but to trust Him? When there is no plan B, no safety net, no possibilities outside of God… That might just be the only worthwhile place to be when you’re following God, because it actually means that you need Him.
I want to need God, and I fear that my current life needs Him very little. It’s a terrifying thought to me that I might be able to live a Christian life in which I am “safe” from a day-to-day need for God. I never want that.
So my prayers of late have been a little different.
I’ve been asking God to take me in over my head.
I’ve been praying that God gives me a greater spirit of risk that deadens my fear of failure.
I’ve been praying for a humility that allows me to serve whole-heartedly in whatever place I currently am, combined with a confidence in God that prevents me from being intimidated away from anything He might call me to.
I’ve been praying for a recklessness in my obedience to God that starts to mimic the recklessness that God has consistently shown throughout time in His pursuit of humans.
I’ve been asking God to show me those things that must be given up in order for me to be able to do what He is asking me to do.
I’ve been asking God to re-awaken those dreams that He gave to me and that I have let die, or at least sleep for too long.
Safety is overrated. Comfort is overrated.
I want a life of adventure. If that means danger and hardship, dirtiness and weariness, and unbelievable sacrifice, so be it, as long as it also means that I’m where God wants me. Because I trust God enough to trust that His plan for my life is going to be better, regardless of how risky it is. It will be worth it. Obedience to God’s call will be worth it.
It Only Gets Stronger
“It only gets stronger
It only goes deeper
My head’s underwater, but somehow
I can finally breathe
It only gets stronger
It only goes deeper
My heart is on fire, and this love is
Setting me free”
- “It Only Gets Stronger,” Jeremy Riddle
This blog post starts awhile ago. At a youth conference called “Encounter.” In November.
Yeah, yeah, I know my blog writing has been lacklustre as of late. Turns out, buying a house gets distracting. I’m sorry. Let’s move on, shall we?
So, Encounter Conference. It was good, in a lot of ways, but there was one thing I pulled from it that I think has stayed with me more than anything else. I got a reminder that I have a lot further to go in God.
It was the last evening of the conference, and a Pastor from Australia who has become one of my heroes in the Faith was leading the session: David Hall.
Aside from being flat-out hilarious (particularly within the leadership sessions), the most remarkable aspect of David Hall is how he “flows” with the Holy Spirit.
If you’re new to this concept, it is admittedly a little strange. He generally starts out by tossing out some small nuggets of Jesus goodness (relatively non-weird) before getting to the fun part.
Basically, he calls up random people from the crowd, prays for them, and asks the Holy Spirit to come on their lives with power. And strange things happen when a physical, human body comes in contact with the power of the Holy Spirit. The material world meeting the Spiritual packed full of power tends to have interesting results.
If you’re familiar with the Bible, it’s not a new concept. Acts 2 is probably the most obvious example: it includes such craziness as unexplainable sounds “like a rushing wind,” “tongues of fire,” and people dismissing them as being drunk, but all of that is simply a result of being “endued with power from on High” (Luke 24:49).
Anyways, weird things happen when David Hall prays for people too; primarily, they involuntarily fall over backwards, and lie on the floor for awhile. Like I said, weird.
And I think it’s normal to be a little bit skeptical. After all, it’s super dramatic, and I think almost everyone in the crowd wants to have this crazy experience where they can say they got prayed for by David Hall and fell over as a result, so when it starts happening, there’s always a little part of me that questions whether or not people are faking it.
But as David Hall was walking around knocking people over, I felt like God asked me to just open myself up to the anointing that David Hall was carrying, to feel whatever power the Holy Spirit was allowing him to work through, even if he didn’t pray for me directly.
And, despite my skepticism (and at the risk of sounding dramatic myself), I instantly felt something. Something beyond the explainable. It didn’t knock me over backwards, but I’ve been around Jesus and the church long enough to recognize it as God’s presence. And it made me realize the power of the Holy Spirit that David Hall was carrying. It was tangible, and readily impacting the physical realm in the form of people being knocked over backwards.
Now, I don’t say all of that to elevate the conference or David Hall. I only tell that story because it’s an example of what Faith heroes do, at least for me:
They remind me.
They remind me that there’s more. There is always more. Whatever “level” I have reached in God, whatever authority I have walked in, whatever power I’ve been given, whatever measure of God’s love I’ve experienced, it’s really just a small taste. There is always more. It only gets stronger. It only goes deeper. There’s no end to this ocean of discovery called God, even for someone like me, who has spent his whole life going to church and learning the aspects of the Christian religion.
Now, I’m not saying we should take our eyes off of Jesus in order to talk about how fantastic these high-profile Christians like David Hall are. That’s not what I’m about.
But I also know that I am thankful that people like David Hall, Bill Johnson, and Brian Houston exist. They are a tangible reminder that I haven’t arrived. The path keeps stretching on further, and seeing people like that further along the road prods me to keep walking when I’m tempted to settle in and get comfortable where I am now. Rather then discouraging me by outlining the gap between my Faith and theirs, seeing others that far with God inspires me to walk a little brisker, and dive a little quicker into the things God is calling me to.
In short, my Faith heroes pull me onward in God, deeper and deeper and deeper, calling me to never be satisfied despite never having an end in sight.
Along this same line of thinking, I feel grateful for good Christian songwriters. Not just the ones who happen to be good at music and who are also Christian, but Christians who are deep, and have earned every lyric they’ve written because they’ve lived it.
People like Jeremy Riddle, Jon Foreman, Joel Houston, David Crowder, and Amanda Cook are not just gifted musicians and song-writers. They are humans completely sold out for Jesus who have lived life, good and bad, and have been gifted with the ability to write songs through every season that brings encouragement and inspiration to people like me.
And that’s what I want to become. I want to be someone that other Jesus-followers look to, not to elevate me or put me on display, but simply as an example of what happens when you are sold-out for Jesus. I want to pull everyone I come in contact with a little bit closer to Jesus. Regardless of where they are on the spectrum, from hardcore atheist to longtime Pastor, I want people to walk away from an interaction with me challenged to find out more about God. I want to be the kind of person who can be fighting through their greatest discouragement and yet still somehow be an encouragement to others.
When I cross from the temporary into the eternal, I want to be as far as I can possibly get to with God in the short time I have.
I simply want to go deeper. Because, I am confident, it only gets deeper.