“And I worked harder than them all, though not I, but the grace of God that was with me”
“By the grace of God, I am what I am.” -the Apostle Paul
About a month ago, I started a morning prayer vigil. I had talked about it with friends who seemed keen to start the week with an hour of prayer on a Monday morning. On the first day, no one turned up, or should I say, no one I could see. I sensed the presence of angels in the room. I don’t make stuff like this up. My normal preset for most of my life has been an unbelieving, fairly pessimistic, realist outlook on life. I’m not a flake that “feels things” all the time. But this morning, I can’t explain it, but there were angels in the room. And I had the most intense prayer session I can remember.
From this experience, I decided to make morning prayer a thing. Up early for an hour of prayer every week day, come hell or high water. For a long time-I’m talking years-I haven’t done early prayer. And there has been this recurring niggle, this sneaking suspicion that I’m conning myself out of a God-glorifying life. I would see scriptures about God “rising early ” and sending the prophets, or a psalm about “awakening the dawn” and feel a teeny pang of conscience, which I would pass off as “religious” or “legalistic.”
It’s interesting how this has developed. Years ago, before I even had a handle on grace, I had this intuition about laying hold of the Kingdom. As I read Jesus’ words about the age of the Kingdom, how forceful people would lay hold of it by force, I realised that I had a part to play in bringing His Kingdom to bear in the circumstances of my life. I told a couple of friends what I had seen. After that, I found myself unable to get up in the morning any earlier than with just enough time to get to work. I was fairly fatalistic at the time, and thought it was the enemy trying to stop me, but just kind of accepted it, not realising I could do something about it. Sometimes I would wake with the sense of God wanting me to get up and pray, but just kept on hitting the snooze button or dozing.
Then I had my first grace awakening, and the focus in my life shifted. I may talk more about this sometime, but for that time I was beginning to soak in God’s goodness, and see some real consistent results in answer to prayer. Then tragedy struck my life-which I may also sometime talk about, but during a time of grief and shock, I let go of the wonderful lessons I had learnt about relating to God. Slowly I drifted, and got close to shipwreck. For about 3 years, I found myself in the doldrums, with no clear direction, just going with the flow of life, certainly never rejecting my faith, but certainly not doing much with it either. My moral standards got lower. An incident concerning crude joking made me rethink my course of life. I was at a friends place playing a western shoot-’em-up card game called “Bang” (I don’t know even why I’m sharing this, but I’m just going to run with it). There were quite a few jokes going around the table, because someone would say “I’m going to bang so-and-so,” etc. I made a hilarious call which had the room in stitches, but then my friend’s teenage daughter rebuked me, “You would say that to me at my family table!!!” I’m not proud of this, and I won’t repeat the comment. It may or may not be as bad as you think, but that’s not the point. I had gone to far, and it wasn’t the first time during that period. I drifted into thought, realising that young, idealistic me who had given up everything to follow Jesus would have never thought it was ok to joke like this, and here I am thinking it is ok. That was my turning point back to serving God again. I knew I couldn’t change things instantly, but I committed to the process. I had let my thinking be so watered down, it would take a lot to turn around.
I started being interested in evangelism again, then found the friend group I was in were not ready for my thoughts on such things. I forgot-Christians don’t evangelise. Distance crept in, and I decided to move on. Wanting to move forward, but not really knowing how to, I had a several years worth of bad expectancy build up in my head and heart. I didn’t know if I’d really ever move far beyond the place I was, even though from the time I first surrendered to God, I’ve known I’m meant for great things (like everyone else who God touches=)
Then by chance (or God’s arrangement) I got involved with group who loved to worship. I also love to worship, and play my guitar. We had AMAZING times in God’s presence. During that time, I had thoughts like “I don’t know if I even have the right to worship and be doing this,” but fortunately I went with it. Even though I wasn’t obeying my conscience in everything (I highly recommend obeying your conscience in everything, btw), I just accepted grace to worship Him, without much of a logical process, just thinking, “If I keep this up, things will change. Having these God moments is going to influence me.” That happened, which a major point here. Accepting God’s grace to do something you don’t feel worthy to do will have a major impact on your life.
That grace started to bring results. I deleted the Youtube app of my ipad which I had been using to chain-watch for about three hours every night. Later, on a friends recommendation, I stopped using Facebook, which for me was really just a time waster, a distraction from thinking, not a tool for communicating. I will never have a personal Facebook account, (email / skype / phone are just fine for catching up with friends) although I may use it for spreading the word at some stage.
Dropping these things, as well as contact with some cool people, headed me on a straight path of growth, but as things went on, I have encountered difficulties. Difficulties surrounding unbelief and how I view myself, and to a lesser degree, about how I view God. Although I knew grace is the way, I had no structure in my belief, and no real confidence to do what I felt God calling me to do.
I got baptised. Yes dunked under water, in the ocean. It was freezing, near the middle of winter. When I say freezing, the air temperature was probably around 8 °C, and the water temperature about the same. I had been dunked as a child, but I never experienced any change of life through the baptism. Then when I turned around at 20, I actually turned to God as He called me. I don’t know why I didn’t get baptised then. I think it’s just been one of the traits of my life, procrastinating, not facing things. It doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, I went under the water this time, into the freezing cold. My body jolted, but not because of the cold. I came out of the water feeling warm, and the person who baptised me felt warm all of a sudden, too. I felt love come down. Before this I knew God accepted me. Now I felt it. I knew I was not under the law, now felt that grace, and felt that I am part of the Body of Christ. More happened here but I don’t have time right now to write about it.
Now what I am finding is this concept of grace enabling me to let go. It’s not just letting go of the temptations, the lusts, the pet sins. Those things are relatively easy to see for their destructive natures. What is harder to see, and therefore harder to let go of are the ideals, hidden motives surrounding good things, and striving for outward success in the Christian life. Healings, miracles, and being a part of another person’s salvation experience are all legitimate, good things to pursue. Or are they? And herein lies the problem. It’s easy to see that pursuing a lust is sinful. What could possibly be wrong in pursuing a greater expression of God in my life? The problems is when I am pursuing the expression, and not God Himself. The healings can become a boasting point, a real idol in my life. So meany ulterior motives come up around ministry it’s not funny. But we can’t not do these things either. People genuinely need to be saved and healed. The world needs to be won. And so the temptation comes to push God aside in favour of doing His work. And yes, you can do God’s work without God (see Matthew 7:21-23). What I have been doing for so long is pinning my hopes of self-worth on what I do for God. This means that God is very limited in how much He can bless my work. I haven’t been able to break through the fear barrier, because it hasn’t been perfect love motivating me. So I let go. After listening to hours and hours of Dan Mohler’s teaching, I have begun rebuilding my structure of thinking on grace and faith, letting go of my ideals and the self-serving motives attached to them…
So maybe your not convinced you have to let go of good things. I’ll prove it for you. Who was Abraham’s child of promise? Isaac. Who had to live for Abraham’s destiny and calling to be fulfilled? Isaac. Who did God ask Abraham to place on an altar and kill? Isaac. God asked Abraham to place his entire destiny and God-given purpose for living entirely in His hands. Abraham believed God, so he just went and did it, assuming God would raise him from the dead, because God is good like that. If we believe God, we can easily place into His hands the things we hold the dearest, because God is good at giving things back to us in better condition than when we gave them to Him. But if we aren’t trusting God, then we have to do all that bitter striving stuff, and keep making excuses for our unspiritual behaviour.
If you want more Scriptural example, please ask, I’d be happy to furnish you with them, but for now, I must finish this post.
What I have found, that putting down all my ideals, the striving to be that full-on Christian, just doing my spiritual disciplines to Him, making relationship more conscious and intentional, I am seeing myself do probably 20 times more for the Kingdom than previously normal. I am up early, to bed late, writing, encouraging, finding doors to touch people opening up without me even trying. I am experiencing it normal to have the Holy Spirit touch people through me. I have heaps of energy. I’m beginning to live the life I dreamed of and always felt so distant from. It has come through prayer, grace and extremely importantly, letting go of striving for the life I always dreamed of, instead striving to know Him more. God always wanted to take me here, but I was trying to get there without Him, or using Him as a means to my ends. There’s still a lot to be worked out, but I am well and truly on the path. Grace has results if you let it help you let go and let God.