It rarely starts out for the right reasons. You know, following Christ. It didn't for me. God can do anything, right? So that makes it easy to want things from Him, especially before we realize how small we actually are.
A lot of times, we come to Christianity viewing it with the lens of what we're gonna get from it (read more: The Salvation Obsession). There's the "prosperity gospel" thing, where you give your money to the organization of the church and you're told you're probably eventually gonna get rich, otherwise you haven't given enough money. Or there's the "I'm in a pinch and need something" thing, where God only really exists for us when we're desperate but gets put on the back burner the rest of the time. Or there's the "I want those crazy superpower thingies you guys are calling 'spiritual gifts'" thing, where... actually that part is pretty self explanatory: we want to be able to do miracles. Cool beans, man!
We usually approach God wanting something, even though that isn't exactly the right reason. I did. My approach was... interesting. Story time.
I had the hugest crush on this girl in high school. She was popular. She was pretty. She was... a high school girl, and I was a high school boy. No way she would have ever given me the time of day.
I went to a Christian school. A tad (read: a ton) legalistic, but still. So I knew things and stuff about the Bible. These guys were the kind that believe miracles stopped happening after the apostles. Not an actual biblical teaching, but I digress. Actually, no I don't. At one point, we studied the letters to the Corinthians. Fascinating stuff. Then we started reading about spiritual gifts. Really fascinating stuff.
What's more fascinating to a high school boy? Girls.
At the time, I hadn't been to church since elementary school. Frankly, I didn't know what I believed, and I wasn't being engaged where I was previously, so why go there?
Why, you ask? Well, girls, of course! So I started going to this girl's church when I was a freshman. I was making the right choice for the wrong reasons. Again, I ended up in a place where my faith wasn't exactly being engaged. So I figured if I wanted to understand God, who He is, and whether or not to believe in Him, I should go straight to Him.
Somewhere along the way, being the kind of guy that believed that the Bible clearly says God uses miracles, I figured if God wanted to get my attention, He would. Now, even though I'd known about Christian things my whole life, I didn't know what I believed or how to get answers. But I knew how to pray. So I did.
As I heard more about it, the concept of "God's will" fascinated me. You know, it's the idea that God expects us to do certain things, for our benefit, and they will bring honor to Him as our Father. So I started to ask Him about it. That's when it happened.
He got my attention. It was odd, but enough. I dreamt of putting staples in a stapler one night. It was maybe a day or two later that every detail I remembered in the dream lined up with reality.
Okay, I know, that seems insignificant, and to dream of something I'm likely to do at some point anyway, makes the whole thing seem even less significant. But it wasn't the content or any message that made it significant. It was the simple fact that God got my attention by showing me what He could do and that He did want to reach me, and how He planned to reach me in the future.
I know, some of you might not believe in miracles, and this is probably all gonna seem crazy. Imagine how I felt. :P
Months later, though, I had a much stranger dream.
So, this church sent its youth to this annual conference in Louisville, KY. One particular year (August 2006, I think), the last night that we stayed at the conference, I had this odd dream:
I was in a dark room, large, to what extent I don't know. Lots of people were in this room. Walking through the room, I found a place to sit, kind of like a bar at a restaurant, a bit more illuminated than the rest of the room. Everyone went about their business, but I was on my own. I didn't notice her when I first sat down, but the girl I mentioned before was there. She appeared preoccupied, isolated, sad. I wanted to ask her what was wrong. Then she noticed me. She didn't say anything. Just looked straight at me. Then I became afraid, and I didn't know what to do. As the dream faded--and this is the part I have trouble remembering--I was either overcome with an idea, or I heard a voice (I think it was the latter), saying, "The is the place where you must decide." When I awoke, I felt as alert as if I had never been asleep in the first place, which sets this dream apart from every other dream I'd had up to that point. I wasn't afraid. But I knew this dream was different. God had my undivided attention... so I thought.
Let me reiterate: we've established that up to this point, most of my good decisions were for the wrong reasons. So when an emotionally immature high school boy likes a high school girl, is seeking to know the Lord but doesn't yet if he's honest, and has a dream about her, he is bound to interpret it in such a way that it suits his agenda. I was already horrible with girls to begin with. Imagine how much of a lunatic I sounded like telling her about the dream, and how I thought it meant God wanted us to be an item.
Yeah. That happened. Didn't go over so well. But I had convinced myself due to my desperate desire for companionship (which I didn't acknowledge at the time) that it had to mean we were meant to be, even though, you know, I had no substantial friendship with this girl, she was dating someone else, I was in high school and therefore had no means to take care of a family and therefore no business to even think about starting the relationship that could take me there. It was a mess. Maybe it was understandable how I could interpret it the way I did, but the mess that came of it proved I was wrong... at least in the interpretation and the actions I took because of it.
It wasn't until 2009 that things really started to change. The previous year, I had gone through a breakup and some terrible personal upheavals that led to me both purging my life of people who had a negative impact on me and making amends for wrongs that I had done, including the creepiness that was my interpretation of the dream, which allowed me to face the desperate state I was in, which I'd refused to acknowledge previously.
Still, despite the fact that I knew I'd handled things poorly, I knew without a doubt that the dream was a gift, and that God was going to bring me to a place where I'd have to make a decision. Exactly what that decision was, I was no longer sure. For so long, I wanted it to mean something that would bring me a girlfriend (and eventually a wife), which seemed the epitome of awesome in high school but in hindsight was nothing.
I was wrong.
His plan was much bigger than mine.
He was planning to change literally everything.
The end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 were tumultuous for me, to say the least. I began to separate myself from people who were psychologically harming me. It was a widespread severance of toxic relationships, including the one that tied me to a legalistic and false gospel preached to the congregation I had joined for the sake of impressing a girl. (I guess ultimately, my reasons made me equally toxic.)
For a year, I'd been attending this coffeehouse that was an outreach ministry of another small local church. A lot of musicians would perform at this thing. I was one of them. The pastor of that church reached out to me one night after a coffeehouse, not long before the upheavals began in my life. He said that if I ever needed anything, I should give him a call. When things fell apart, I did.
That's when I met them.
Not the fakers.
The real church.
The love of Christ. I found out that it was real. It wasn't some shallow instituted construct. It was actually... real.
That changed everything.
I no longer had to fear rejection because I knew I was accepted.
I no longer had to fear hate because I knew I was loved.
I no longer had to fear invisibility because I knew I was seen.
Everything changed dramatically, and though the process is ongoing, so much changed so quickly because I was exposed to true love, a love that I didn't understand when I was trying to bend God's message to me to fit my agenda.
After a couple of months, someone whom I'd become close to (and kind of sort of had feelings for at the time) was hurt by someone else close to her. When I saw her one night, I knew she was sad and full of thought. The church was dimly lit at that moment and I'd found a place to sit that was beside her, when I noticed.
Then it hit me... The moment had come.
Although at first, I faltered, scared and uncertain of what would happen if I asked what was the matter, uncertain that it was even the moment I'd been shown, I was given another try. I told myself I would find her and talk to her, you know, be a friend and show the same love I'd only recently known.
Our church ends with small groups. Hers hadn't yet let out when mine did, so I went outside to pray, to ask God if the moment I'd been waiting for had come.
I didn't expect Him to say anything at all, let alone the word, "Yes." In complete shock that the God of the universe would speak even one word to me, I could only ask, "So, now what?" He said, "Just trust Me, and I will take you where you need to be."
By the time I'd reentered the building, her group had let out, but she was nowhere to be found. I immediately started thinking of all the ways I could possibly screw things up. That's when He said, "Come back outside." So I did, replying, "Okay, I'm here... so, why am I here." He said, "You're over thinking this way too much. Just trust Me, and I will take you where you need to be."
It's funny how often in the Scriptures God repeats Himself to His skeptical children, and how persistent He is.
As soon as He said that, I heard a cry. Naturally, I looked around. It was very dark out, well past 9 PM near the end of March. The church property includes a large field to its right. In the middle of it, there was a light post. It looked like there was a bush next to it. Then it moved, and cried again.
Turns out it wasn't a bush. It was her. And yes, I have terrible vision, especially at that distance and in the dark. I was scared. God brought me this far, and I didn't want to let Him down (as if it were up to me, ha!) So I asked Him, "What do I do?" to which He swiftly replied, "You're overthinking again. Just go, go, go!" after which, I felt as though He were nudging me along like a friend who knew I was going to be okay even though I didn't know it yet, because I just started walking, but I was being propelled.
So I asked her. She said that she just needed to be alone a while. So I respected that. Told her if she needed anything, she had it, and my prayers.
The moment had come. The decision had been made. Unbelieveable. I was in utter shock for a long time, and part of me still is. But even with the fulfillment of the dream, the story wasn't over. I'd just made a decision that God prepared for me in order to inform the rest of the decisions of my life--one decision in particular.
Summer came, and high school was done for me, forever. That June, she, I, and several of our other close friends went to a conference called The Rebelution. I didn't expect for things to go the way they did. Things were great at the beginning. I was with some of my closest friends, and my pastor. But when we got to the conference and started listening to the speakers, something changed. Cloud nine let out its rain, and me with it. I wrote this in my journal:
...I had always assumed I had the aforementioned love of God... but then the speakers started talking about not having expectations, and about persevering when the expectations we have become shattered. Fact is, without expectations for God or anyone else, you can't say you really trust anyone... and I've never been able to fully trust anyone, even God. And I knew He was the only one I could fully trust, and trust to give me trust and love for others.
This bothered me through lunch. [She] asked me what was up at lunch, but I told her I didn't want to talk about it. Somehow, she thought I had light in my life, when I only saw darkness. Where should've been hope, I only felt fear and despair.
Then the thoughts of my lack of God's perfect love, and the trust and hope that comes with it--all this began to eat at me. The session 4 speaker began asking for proof of God's saving grace [in our lives]...
That's when I lost it. I was so consumed with desperation and fear that I had no room to trust anyone, no room to have hope for eternity or any other part of my future, no means to love another human being.
It suddenly made sense that day, what decision I had made months before. I had decided to love in spite of fear, when I didn't even believe in love to begin with... and even then, I needed God's Spirit to move me into love. I couldn't do it on my own because I didn't believe in love, so how could I believe in the God who is love?
So that day, I decided not to do it on my own anymore. It had to be Christ at the helm, my best friend, Lord over my life. Confessing Him as Lord, I cast out fear as my master... well, actually He did the casting out. I was just done resisting. The cross was enough, but He reached out to me even beyond that to show me His love. If He hadn't gotten my attention with that dream, that decision months earlier, would He have gotten my heart? I don't know. He definitely could have by other means. But that doesn't matter now.
Everything has been different since. Fear still tries to reassert itself. Sometimes, it succeeds. Sometimes, it doesn't. I don't always listen to God, but I try. I'm not close to perfect, yet Christ is still Lord through my failures, and He is still reconciling me to Himself. That's all that really matters.
Even though I didn't start seeking God for the right reasons, He made that clear to me, showed me what they were, and turned me around so I'd be heading toward Him. He always wanted to give me the things I've needed, but I've not always been aware of what I need. When I've thought it was money, or popularity, or companionship, it was actually only His love that I have needed, and always need. Yet now, it is never outside of reach, because I know who is the God of it.
It's so easy to forget that no matter what good decisions we make, when we make them for the wrong reasons, our actions become increasingly corrupt with time. The dream that God gave me: I wanted it to be about me. I wanted it to be about finding the answers that I wanted, a way to obtain what I thought I needed, when I needed something vastly different and for completely different reasons. I thought I needed to have the love of a human being, even though our love falls short, but what I really needed is the One whose love does not run dry. I wanted to have control over my life. In the beginning, I didn't really want God's will. I wanted to get ahead of it. I wanted my dreams to be reality, not His.
Finding and doing the will of God, be it revealed by a dream or His word or His church, is possibly the most important part of life. I get that now. But how often do we seek the "will of God" as a means to genuinely serve others and Him, and how often are we only claiming it as a means to stay ahead of the curve, some misguided attempt get ahead of Him?
Are we humbling ourselves to the end of His glory and the reconciliation of ourselves and humankind, or are we trying to assert our own power over His, an effort that is destined to fail?
And it's not like He wants us to fail. And it's not like He made it obscure. He does have a specific plan for each of us, as evidenced by the dream He gave me, but also a general plan for all of us: love Him, and love each other, both genuinely.
But it's okay to not see the whole picture. That's His job. Our job is just to remember that, and trust that He is good, and love fully. He is faithful to complete the work He began in you.
No matter what you have in your heart, whether your dreams are from God or your own mind, whether your motives are pure or not, reconciliation through Christ is God's dream for us, and He is faithful to do that, regardless of where you are. It might not be exactly the dream you have right now, but brace yourself. It could change your whole life, and that is a very, very good thing.