*Excerpts used with permission from a college sophomore’s journal.
I sat in church last night, worship flowing all around me, when I suddenly realized I did not mean one word of what I was singing. It was the last Wednesday night of my sophomore year, and there I stood in the second row singing, “Give me one pure and holy passion, give me one magnificent obsession, give me one glorious ambition for my life, to know and follow hard after you.” Those words were a knife to my heart. I finally begin to listen to the words flowing from my mouth and I was shocked at the hypocrisy in them.
Sinking into the chair, I buried my face in my hands as shame washed over me. I could not even pray. The words of believers around me flowed over me, twisting the knife deeper in my heart. I longed to stand and join the others in song, but to do so seemed a mockery of my God. So there I sat… trying to figure out what had happened.
My time with Jesus used to be the sweetest, most fulfilling part of my day. He used to be my greatest love and source of happiness. Now I just feel empty and alone. And I don’t know how it happened. A person doesn’t just wake up one day in a life of sin, separated from God. It is a series of choices that slowly drag us away. Thinking back, I cannot pinpoint that first wrong decision. It makes sense that if I could fix the first wrong, everything would be okay again. Not so, I am afraid. I have to find a way back work through all the … stuff… I have allowed between me and God. I simply must find my way back to where I used to be with God.
So, I’m embarking on a journey… my journey back to God.
DAY 1: CONFESSION
So, what should my first step be? I dread the answer, but the Bible is clear. Confession. Admitting that I am wrong. Dealing with all the sin that stands between me and God. Here goes: I have a problem – I am consumed in sin. One or two sins may be more prevalent, but I am caught up in sin as a whole. I have resisted that confession for months now. I have chosen to live separated by sin from my Creator. I feel the gap. Every time I enter the doors of the church. Each time I voice a prayer. Each time someone asks what God is doing in my life, and I have to make up an answer. I feel the gap. There is an undeniable emptiness.
Do not misunderstand me, I am not saying that my sin has turned sour. I still enjoy it – quite a bit. That is the problem. I enjoy my sin, yet I need God. I chose sin over an intimate relationship with the God of heaven and earth…. Oh, God. Forgive me!
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
DAY 3: REPENTANCE
I know I said I confessed my sins two days ago. And I listed them and begged forgiveness. But I see now a lot of it was about me. There was no grief over my sin to keep me from returning to it again and again. And I just realized why – I have avoided confessing my sins to God because I disliked the humbling nature of groveling before a perfect God. I tried to fix myself and get around actual confession. I would reach a point in my sin where I knew that something had to change, that I could not continue on this path. But without repenting of the sin I tried to force righteousness by my own strength. Of course it failed! So I gave up on the whole righteous living thing altogether.
But today it hit me how sins have hurt my Savior. I can’t believe what I’ve done… to Jesus, who sacrificed himself to pay the penalty for those very sins.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” Psalm 51
DAY 14: PRAYER
I prayed today, the second consecutive day that I have started my day with prayer. Do not get the wrong idea – I am not saying that I fell to my knees as soon as the alarm went off. After I was ready for work, had that wonderful first cup of coffee, and was weaving my way down the highway toward the office – I prayed.
Now that I’ve repented, prayer is not just words anymore – it is conversation. A clear conscience makes a phenomenal difference in my prayer life. The ceiling has opened up and my prayers feel as if they dwell in the presence of Almighty God. Even the content of my prayers are different. Prayer is no longer only entreating God for my needs. It is prayer, conversation, a discussion, a beautiful exchange. Asking is involved, but there is so much more than that – it is a pouring out and soaking up of souls.
The more I learn of Him, the more I desire to know of Him. This is how God draws us to Himself. He does not grab or pull, He simply reveals a part of Himself and we are captivated. Fourteen days of work and in an instant I am utterly enamored with my Savior.
“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!” Psalm 66
DAY 23: TIME
I have been slapped in the face with my relationship to God – or lack thereof. I do not love God. It breaks my heart to say it, but it is the truth. I like God, perhaps even fancy Him, but love? No. Love is borne of time, shared experiences, and commitment. I cannot even find ten minutes in a day to give God – we spend no time together. I am interested in God. But no more so than I am interested in sports, family, work, and hobbies. Actually, those other things receive far more time than God does. I have been a Christian for twelve years now and I have known God in the past. But I do not know Him now.
But I want to know Him. Well, in all honesty, I can say that I want to want to know him. I want to want to spend extended amounts of time with Him. I want to get back to that place where time with Jesus is my favorite part of the day.
God, today I ask that you give me the strength and desire to seek after you.
“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you. . .” Jeremiah 29:11-14
DAY 31: READING
I think I should start reading my Bible consistently, you know, like with a schedule. But I do not know where to fit it into my day. I am not a morning person. I have a routine that gets me dressed, fed and out the door – all with my eyes still closed. If I were to stop and read the Bible I would fall asleep. I cannot even carry on a conversation with my coworkers until a good hour after my coffee.
But I don’t want to have to squeeze God into my life. I want Him to be so forefront in my mind that my thoughts drift back to Him during the day. Maybe I can find time during a coffee or lunch break…
You know what, that is ridiculous. This journey back to God is about making him top priority again. So I’m putting down my journal in exchange for my Bible.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Colossians 3:16
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
DAY 45: FIGHTING
I didn’t fight. I was too busy rejoicing and enjoying life. I was distracted by my joy when temptation came. I was oblivious. Temptation and I are good friends – I cannot bear to say no to her. Sin blindsided me. I gave in. Now I feel like I’m back at the beginning. One stumble back into sin and my whole journey has been negated. I feel terrible – if I fell back into sin once, what is to stop me from falling again and again?
I’m disappointed in myself. But after a day of moping, it hit me that wallowing is keeping me from my journey back to God. After losing this battle against sin, I feel sad, and yet. … more experienced. More determined. Wiser. I’ve learned that I must be on guard. I am always vulnerable to sin. I will be expecting that now. I may fall for another smooth move, but not that one. I have learned my lesson: Get back on my knees, repent, get back in the Word, talk to God. Try again, at least you have less to confess this time!
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
DAY 54: COMPANIONS
One day Pastor D.L. Moody visited a prominent Chicago citizen when the idea of church membership and involvement came up. “I believe I can be just as good a Christian outside the church as I can be inside it,” the man said. Moody said nothing. Instead, he moved to the fireplace, blazing against the winter outside, removed one burning coal, and placed it on the hearth. The two men sat together and watched the ember die out. “I see,” the other man said.
That story took my breath away. And it made me realize my biggest oversight in this journey – I’ve been trying to do it alone. The Christian life isn’t something that we can do alone. Jesus created Church as the Body of Christ for a reason. I need godly people pouring into my life, helping me walk through the hard times and holding me accountable as I try to chase after God.
What soldier fights alone and never returns to his company to unwind, be refreshed and find protection? You cannot win the battle alone. I need godly believers with me in this journey.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power.” James 5:16
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12
DAY 71: ENDINGS
Two and a half months and I’ve realized that the spiritual disciplines weren’t just boring traditions made up by some old man with a vendetta against freedom. They are the foundation of a vibrant, intimate relationship with our Holy God. We will never have a victorious Christian life apart from God’s Word, prayer, repentance, worship, and church.
I feel like I have been searching for a way back to intimacy with God, when all the while, I have been holding the answer in my hand. It’s taken me months to sort through all of these Biblical truths, put them into practice and see fruit. I am unbelievably hardheaded sometimes. God’s Word was right all along, and if I had just obeyed, this process could have been a lot shorter. But at least I am here again, finally!
What have I learned along my journey? No sin is worth being separated from the sweet presence of God. No amount of pride is worth not immediately repenting of the sin. Nothing on my to do list is more vital to my day than time in the Word and in prayer. At the end of my journey, back in a place of intimacy with my Jesus, I can once again pray as David did:
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Psalm 42
*Excerpts used with permission from a college sophomore’s journal.