Have you ever felt like your own walk with God has been a long and winding one? Have you ever been plagued with difficulties and doubts, highs and lows? Mine is such a story. Recently in my blogs I've been talking about the philosophical and theological implications surrounding the word "hope". Today I am going to do something different; I'm simply going to tell you my story and how I came to live a life resurrected by hope.
I had a good childhood, with two amazing parents. My mother used to read to me from the Bible, and from an early age I was a believer in Jesus Christ. I always wanted to hear and learn more about Him. We used to talk about God for hours, and as soon as I could read, I was reading in the Bible. I know now the Holy Spirit was at work in those days, planting a seed deep within me.
But as a teenager, things turned horribly sour. I experienced a lot of abuse at school. I was bullied heavily. I was always getting in fights and I was in trouble constantly. I was lonely, withdrawn and depressed. I began to think ‘if God is so loving, then why would He let me suffer like this?’ I felt my prayers were unanswered and unheard. It wasn’t long before I became a very vocal atheist.
I started partying all the time, drinking, doing all kinds of drugs, and getting involved in one meaningless relationship after another. For a time, I was happy in this state. My existence was about the pleasure of the moment. But by the time I reached my early twenties I was burnt out and horribly depressed. Life had no meaning for me anymore, no purpose. I was having suicidal thoughts all the time; I just wanted to die and be done with it.
Yet when I sought to end my life, it was the Lord who saved it. One night when I was really down, I challenged God to speak to me. I said ‘if you exist, you better speak to me now.’ I pulled an old Bible off the shelf and opened it right to the Book of Ecclesiastes whose words open with “Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless. A chasing after the wind.” Reading it was like reading my own thoughts. There on the page, in the Word of God was the story of my life up to that point. I’d been chasing after the wind, living a life without God and without hope. So I accepted Jesus into my heart that night. I ceased my crazy lifestyle at once; joined a church and was baptized. There were even people who felt the Lord had placed a calling on my life into ministry, so I joined my churches leadership training program.
Now it sounds like my story should end here, doesn’t it? But this isn’t it. Like I said, my walk with God has been a long and winding one. By this point, God had led me out of my spiritual Egypt, but I hadn’t reached the promised land just yet. I still had to spend my time wandering in the wilderness.
I say this because even though I had accepted Christ in my heart, even though I was trying to heed His call on my life; the fact is I’d never really surrendered to Him. I had what I like to describe as my “Jonah Moment,” I suddenly decided I didn’t want anything to do with the ministry and I ran from the call.
So I had accepted Christ in my heart, but I was content to live with only a fraction of Him. I was content to put Him in the background rather than in the foreground. I spent those ‘wilderness’ years chasing after the wind again. I was focused on a relationship that would last for 7 years, a relationship that everyone I knew had advised me against. I was focused on my sales career, just to try to make increasing amounts of money and enjoy this lavish lifestyle I'd set up for myself and become accustomed to. I had very little time for God because I’d built up this whole new identity for myself. I was happy. I thought I was living this perfect little life.
But like Jonah, I had to have my ‘whale’ moment. And when that whale came in 2009, it swallowed me utterly. My relationship had been deteriorating for a few months. Well one night I walked in and caught her in the act; she’d been cheating on me. I was devastated and broken hearted. I never saw it coming. I had to move back in with my parents because I didn’t even have any place to go. And just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, a week after all this had gone down I went out for drinks with a well-meaning friend who was just trying to console me. Next thing you know I was pulled over for speeding and because I’d been drinking that night it wasn’t long before I was sitting in the back of a squad car and in handcuffs.
It was the absolute lowest point in my life. In just the span of a week everything had fallen apart. My life as I knew it...was over.
But in all of this, there was one big difference. In the past when I suffered, I ran from God. This time when I suffered, I ran to God!! As all of this was happening, I kept thinking of the words of Job “though you slay me, yet will I trust in you.” I claimed it as a promise. For days, weeks, I just kept saying those words over and over again. As I would lie in bed awake at night, unable to sleep: “though you slay me, yet will I trust in you.”
One night I finally reached a breaking point; I was overwhelmed by all the things that happened to me, I was on the floor crying I was in so much pain and I just asked God why? Why did You let all these things happen to me?
Finally, I just wanted to calm myself, so I picked up my Bible to do some devotions. I’d been reading the Book of Galatians, and I’d left off at chapter 2. Almost immediately I came to the words of Galatians 2:20 where it says “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who lives, but it is Christ who lives in me.”
There was my answer. It all became very clear to me. I’d never truly surrendered. I’d never truly died to myself. So this was it, I’d suffered my Cross. He’d stripped me of this life I’d been building for myself so He could finally live in me.
And like Job, He restored me. Here I’d been living all these years like a dead man walking, but He resurrected me from this scrap heap of life. When I’d lost my way and didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life and I prayed “Lord I will do whatever work you want me to do” He reaffirmed that long forgotten call into the ministry over my life and blessed me with an unprecedented opportunity at Ohio Christian University, where I just finished up my degree in Leadership and Ministry and graduated with honors just this past Saturday. I start seminary in the fall and have been blessed with a scholarship. When I lost the woman who I thought would be my wife, and I prayed “Lord if it is your will for me to be alone and never marry, so be it” He blessed me with meeting the woman who became my wife in May of 2012.. She is the love of my life and is the exact opposite of all the women from my past. She supports everything I do, she prays with me and for me, and when I’m in doubt she is the one who pushes me and makes me a better man.
And when I prayed for a new church to call home, He led me to the United Methodist Church. The mission statement of my home church, “responding to the reality of God” drew me in; and now I’m responding to the reality in ways I never would have thought possible! As part of my schooling I had the privilege of interning with my pastor for one year and to learn what it’s like to be in ministry and to even participate in things like worship leadership, preaching and teaching. With God's help, I am now pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church. I was also blessed to become a Stephen Minister there, to help those who are hurting like I was.
It is amazing when I stop and reflect on just how much God has transformed my life. Just a few years ago, I thought my life was over, I thought my life was ruined. All my hope was gone. But now He has given me a new beginning, a new hope, and a new purpose and is helping me to achieve things I never would have thought possible. I don't think I will ever know or understand why He has shown me all of this favor, but I know He is there, guiding my path. During my graduation ceremony on Saturday, when they called my name and I walked across the stage to receive my degree, I thought of the words of Jesus from John 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."
So as I write these words today, I can honestly say that the surrendered life to God that is so hard for us to do because we all want that control over our lives; is far better than anything we could ever do on our own. In surrendering, I became free. And when we allow ourselves to be crucified with Christ, we can be reborn in the glory and hope of His resurrection. I’m living proof of that.