“This fog is terrible. Can’t see a thing,” my brother muttered as he peered into the gray darkness. The road was barely visible in the beam of his headlights, the winding mountain road seemed to go on forever through the dark trees and murky darkness. Occasionally, we would see the dim taillights of a vehicle ahead of us, which gave some depth perception to the haze that blanketed the road.
It was November, 1997, and I was riding in the backseat of my older brother’s Mazda pickup. My sister was along too, and we were headed to Pennsylvania to attend a youth conference. Actually, I wasn’t even riding on a ‘seat’, really. My brother loved his music, and he’d removed the backseat of his pickup in order to fit in a giant subwoofer box. 😀 There was a space beside the box for one person (me!) to squeeze in. My knees were in my face the whole trip, but other than that it was quite pleasant, really.
We drove for hours through the foggy night. Finally we drove out of it, and then made it to our host’s home. It was dark, the family was all in bed. We tiptoed up to our rooms and fell into bed. In the morning we ate an early breakfast and headed to the church. The parking lot was filling up as we drove in, and I was nervous to meet all those strangers! My mom had taught me how to meet people though, and I’d had lots of practice from all the churches we’d been to. But I still didn’t enjoy it when I walked in and the foyer was a crush of strange youth. I managed to hang up my coat and squeeze through the crowd to to the sanctuary. My sister was 2 years older than me, and her personality was more outgoing and friendly. She led the way to an empty bench. Directly behind us sat two girls – clearly sisters – and we’d barely sat down when my sister promptly turned around and introduced herself to the older girl. I shyly introduced myself to the the pretty younger girl seated next to her; never realizing that we would end up lifelong friends! (we now attend the same church and she is still one of my best friends and one of the prettiest people I know!)
Anyways. Getting long-winded here…
So we spent a week at this conference, along with 400 other youth. We listened to two sermons every morning, had prayer groups in the afternoon, and choir, then another sermon. In the evening they opened it up for a family meeting where we again listened to a sermon.
I soaked it all in! I took copious notes, I shared my struggles with my prayer group, I re-committed my life to God. One speaker in particular really captured my attention. He was a tall, kind-eyed man from South Africa. He had a way of speaking – a way of using stories and illustrations – that I had never heard before! He spoke about being hid with Christ in God. About the Holy Spirit. About counting the cost of discipleship. He asked searching questions, and thundered warnings. He told funny stories and laughed with us. He also prayed. His prayers sounded like they were going somewhere. I hung onto every word.
Another speaker, white-haired and much less dramatic, spoke softly but gave me new ideas. He talked about victory over sin, living a life filled with the Holy Spirit, and practical christian living. He also gave me a gift that would unlock the biggest blessing in my life to date. He gave me this little book by A.W. Tozer. Now, Tozer is not light reading for a teen who never finished 8th grade! I had to read and re-read some of the paragraphs multiple times to understand what it meant. But that book was where I finally learned what it meant to have a real relationship with Jesus.
“Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to “behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. At first this may be difficult, but it becomes easier as we look steadily at His wondrous person, quietly and without strain.Distractions may hinder, but once the heart is committed to Him after each brief excursion away from Him, the attention will return again and rest upon Him like a wandering bird coming back to its window…
When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is “Thou God seest me” (Genesis 16:13). When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in,heaven has begun right here on this earth.” -The Pursuit of God
After youth conference, I went home and read a little piece in that book every night, along with readings from the Scripture. I read the book several times. It was eye-opening. I decided that this was it. I was tired of my failing, floundering attempts to live right. To please God. This new life that Tozer talked about – this was amazing! I was in for the long haul. None of this half-hearted Christianity, no more laziness of heart; I was ALL IN!
The first test came quickly. I worked on my father’s sawmill, and I hated that job. It was boiling hot in the summer, and freezing cold in the winter. I remember walking out to the sawmill one dreary wet day that winter. It was cold and damp and miserable. Normally I dreaded the job so badly that I would feel sick. But today, new-found faith firmly in hand, I was feeling almost cheery! I decided that if Tozer could fix his gaze on Christ, so could I! And so I began praying as I worked. I prayed silently – just ‘thinking’ prayers, but of course those kind are as good as any. I prayed for everyone I knew of who needed prayer. Then I prayed for myself, all my stryggles and questions and besetting sins. Then, as it was still early in the day, I started just talking to Jesus. I told Him how I felt about the weather, what my dreams were, how I wished I could serve on a mission… my mind wandered, (just like Tozer said!) but each time I would bring it back to talking with Jesus.
Now, stacking lumber is a rather mindless task. Hard, yes, but repetitious and brain-numbingly boring. So I did a lot of daydreaming. And in the days that followed, I still daydreamed a lot. But each time my thoughts would wander to frustration or anger or discouragement, I would start telling Jesus all about it. At first it felt awkward and stiff. But after a few days it seemed natural to tell my new Friend all my deepest thoughts and fears.
And so I began to grow in my relationship with Him. As I cried out to Jesus for deliverance from my sins, and found a safe refuge where I could pour out my heart – I started gaining victory over my besetting sins. I was no longer angry about everything; I could tell Jesus! I was no longer depressed; I could tell Jesus! I wasn’t ‘fixed’ overnight, of course. It was a gradual growth, just like a tiny seedling growing, stretching toward the light, drinking in water and nutrients. So I started to grow; little by little, so imperceptibly that even I didn’t realize it.
I continued reading my Bible, soaking it in large portions at a time. I devoured it! I prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, I asked God for victory over sin, and, most importantly, I now believed He could give it to me! I also started feeling unsure about the church I was a member of. Why had I never heard these things before? Why did they focus on outward appearances, yet left the heart issues go untouched? Why were rules held above all? I was confused, and unsettled about it, but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted everyone to know about this new life hidden with Christ in God. I did try to talk to my parents and friends about it, but some brushed it off as conference enthusiasm, and others didn’t understand what I was talking about at all!
Come back next week and see how I left the Mennonite religion.