By this point, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to assume that we have all experienced some degree of disappointment at least once in our life. That disappointment is typically accompanied by pain and sadness, and occasionally real emotional and mental damage and scarring. A disappointing experience often times leave us feeling burned by the people or organizations associated with that experience.
Unfortunately, our disappointment can come, not just from other humans, but also from misunderstandings between us and God. And this is exactly where I found myself during a Spring Break retreat with my youth group my sophomore year of high school.
A close friend of mine and been living in the world of casual sexual encounters and drugs for a little over a year at this point. And for that same window of time I had been asking for God to change her heart and show her how much more he had to offer her in his love than what she was living in.
However, my friend’s circumstances and mindset not only weren’t improving, but seemed to grow more apathetic and hopeless with each day that passed. And so, one night on this Spring break retreat, the despair and confusion as to why God didn’t seem to be doing anything to help my friend overcame me. I began to believe and accept the voices in my head telling me that God didn’t actually care about me or my friend and that my prayers didn’t matter to him. After all, if those things weren’t true, wouldn’t I have seen God do something by then?
My decisions from that night sent out ripples in my life that made a significant impact on many areas of my spiritual life, most of which I was completely unaware of. When I accepted those lies, they created a barrier between God and me, preventing me from growing closer and more intimate with God. I was deceived into believing that learning things about God was the same as truly knowing who he is. I virtually abandoned the practice of prayer. I would rarely pray on my own or for others and even when I did, I had no belief or expectation that anything would happen. For several years I carried on in this place of apathy toward God, believing that he was little more than apathetic toward us.
Fortunately, God’s love for me did not see fit to leave me in that place. One night, after Bob had finished speaking at Wesley during spring semester of my sophomore year of college, I felt God begin to download thoughts of truth into my mind. He was telling me things like, “I am here. I do care. I am listening. I have not given up. Be my partner in prayer.” I got out my journal and stating pouring these thoughts out on paper. All these thoughts were accompanied by a sense of love, warmth, a desperate longing, confidence, comfort, and certainty that were not of my own creation. When I had finished writing, I looked and saw a page full of statements of truth straight from God’s heart regarding how He viewed my friend from high school, how he viewed me, and the partnering relationship that prayer is meant to be.
In that moment with God, all the years of doubt, frustration, and bitterness were washed away and the wall that had been built up to keep God at a distance was completely destroyed by the truth of who he was and how deep his love is for us. God showed me that he cares way more for me and the people around me, than I ever could, or even imagine. He also revealed that prayer was not some obligatory task for Christians to check off from time to time. Instead, prayer is the channel through which God genuinely desires to partner with us to see things change in this world (Ezekiel 22:30).
Another foundational truth God instilled in me that night was that he never gives up on us, even when we give up on him or ourselves (2 Timothy 2:13). God had been pursuing me from that one night on that spring break retreat, and he was not about to stop pursuing my friend.
Looking back on how that one night at Wesley has affected my life and beliefs about God, I am overwhelmed by a sense of how good and faithful God is. When the wall I’d built up between God and myself had been broken down I was freed to step into a new place of deep hunger and passion for intimacy with God and prayer. I began to intercede on my friend’s behalf again, and continue interceding for her to this day. God renewed and redefined my understanding of so many false things that I had come to believe. I now walk in confidence of God’s goodness, love, devotion, intimacy, involvement in our lives, his listening, he does respond to our prayers (Matthew7:7-8), our prayers are powerful and effective (James 5:16), and that our desires matter to God’s heart.
If you have ever been in the same position I found myself in, back in high school, or are currently in that place right now, I hope you will be encouraged by the truth of who God is from my experience with him. God desperately wants to see our lives and this world transformed into the likeness of his heavenly nature and wants that process to be an intimate partnership between himself and us. And if you are still waiting to see God move, be encouraged by the truth that just because you don’t see anything happening in the physical world, doesn’t mean that nothing is happening in the spiritual realm (Daniel 10:12-14).