My Spiritual Journey

This, in Christian terms, is my “testimony” I’ve translated it into more common speech, which I hope will be of help to people who are seeking a place to start.

My personhood is where I’ll start. My family was a father and a mother and two older sisters, with extended family still largely intact. At home, I was scheduled, given quiet time to be on my own, and given limited time in front of a screen. I had fairly consistent parents who disciplined not just actions I did, but also called me out on attitudes I held.When I reflect on my childhood, I felt safe, loved, and full of respect for my parents. They took me to church, where my discipline as a child proved useful in making me very well liked in the Homeschool Co-op and Baptist Bible Belt communities I found myself a part.

The selfishness was in me from the beginning. I can retrace places in my heart where I acted out of selfishness and was punished, and my pride caused me to make un-punishable error after self-destructive decision. I wouldn’t check my work, I would find ways to twist things to my own advantage, I would use the good behavior and things I did right to make me more prestigious in the eyes of people so that I would be praised. Silly boy. My Mother I’ve long understood has been much more caring than I, and my Dad knew what it was to be led by something greater than him.

Now that I have started with the setting and the problem, when I was 5, I prayed to ask Jesus to become my Savior, which basically means I knew I had done bad things, and I wanted to go to Heaven one day. But this hasn’t felt like the biggest part of my spiritual journey.

One of the big moments was around 7 or 8 years old: a moment when I made a promise to God, and refused in my heart of hearts to break that promise. I had lied to my parents about cleaning up my room, and lay awake that night unable to get past the promise I had made to God that I would tell them, so I told them. That was a pivotal moment when my heart decided that God, or at least my integrity before Him was the most important thing.

I got baptized around 12 years old, and for some reason it was around this time that I felt an acceleration in my spiritual journey. I started journalling, after the pattern of MYST and Riven, complete with the number system. Dad, who claims to have been led by God for many years (not that he has ever claimed it. He hasn’t really needed to claim anything to me), told me that God uses men who journal, so I journaled. He also told me two things that have greatly shaped my life. He encouraged me to pray two prayers:

  1. Give me a heart completely and utterly devoted to You.
  2. Speak to me in a way I can understand you.

To a reader, it may seem like the deck was stacked pretty heftily in God’s favor as far as shaping who I was going to believe in. Granted, I was steeped in Bible verses from the AWANA program, and my Dad almost always had a Proverb for anything he was doing, but I started pursuing it for my own sake. I dabbled in systematic theology, listened to the Bible on tape, Christian artists. When it came to sealing the deal for the direction of this spiritual journey, I had one main thing I can point to.

As I journaled, I became fascinated with the idea of what true manhood means: what it means to be a real man. I read John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart” and it really got me excited about the battles to fight, adventures to live, and beauties to rescue. It gave my heart room to fly. I wanted to be mature as a real man so badly, and I knew I would have to leave my childishness behind.

A climax to this initial stage of my spiritual journey where I think I was completely convinced was thanks to Norm Wakefield, of Spirit of Elijah Ministries. His tape series of Equipping Men, had one particular lesson that brought me to my knees.

In his lesson “In Search of Happiness,” Norm explains that a person will try everything he can to be happy, except just Jesus, and Jesus only is the only answer. In a moment I saw my idolatry, and my fleshly pride. I saw my sin utterly, and I confessed to the God who I believed was real how I had been trying everything to make myself happy, instead of looking to Jesus alone to meet all my needs. Basically, I turned over full control of my life to God at that point. From that point forward, I wouldn’t want to do anything, make any decision unless it was what He wanted me to do. In Christian terms, Jesus became, “Lord of my life.”

I believed God wanted me to do vocational ministry in some way, though I’m not entirely sure what kind. My Dad continued to call me out to manhood, especially to being like Jesus. He gave me some books which continued to shape me into College: Refiner’s Fire Volumes I and II, and The Existence and attributes of God Volumes I and II. After those two books, Christianity had taken on a very interesting characteristic. I would compare it to colors: the Christianity that glows amber. It’s Christianity with a smell to it. It reverberates with the heart, mind, and soul in ways that only melted and broken hearts can. This vein of Christian tradition has taught me to prioritize God as a person, rather than prioritizing doctrine, tradition, or expressionism. (Blue, Purple, and Yellow respectively). These are subjective terms, but the point is that through my journalling, my listening for His voice, and the writings of those who had been with God, I had a pretty steady grasp in my heart of the God whom the Bible attested to.

Speaking of His voice, I don’t actually remember the first time I heard Him “speak” to me. This is one of those mystical experiences that many of the ancient Christians attested to, and many of today in various branches of Christianity also experience. I know what it is to hear His voice because, this voice miraculously sounds like the Bible, and he says things that I do not yet know or understand. I’ve recently learned that there is more for God to say to people who are willing to take the time to listen, but it seems so few truly are interested in listening to Him. I’ve found precious few.

From there, College met a lot of trial and error as I tried to walk out this very personal faith on a campus of very doctrinally solidified individuals (PCA Covenant College) My heart’s fire was not dimmed though. However, I had a continual source of personal revelation of God: the Scriptures. This has been the most fundamentally important pieces of my spiritual journey. The more I studied the Bible, the more I got a clear picture of God, humanity, me, and Jesus. This religious text is far more than that to me, because of who I have felt breathing in it page after page, word after word. Like thrusting my heart back into the fires from whence it was forged over and over again until I am shaped more like my maker.

Anyway, as you can tell, I start to get passionately excited about this journey. It has grown sweeter. He keeps showing me how there is so much more to Him even in the Bible for people who truly want to know Him. He is real, and does ever so desire a relationship of close intimacy with those who are honest of heart.

This is probably one of the main points my testimony asserts: God is real, and really interested in intimacy with the honest of heart. I’ve genuinely wanted to know Him, and my spiritual journey has led me to conclude that He is real, and He has matched my desire with the purest responses of genuine love that keeps me changing to be more like Jesus.

Now that I’m married, a lot of things about God that the Bible said have made sense a lot more sense as I get to experience them in relationship with another human being. The Torah has given me a greater appreciation for the depth of human (my own) depravity and the depth of God’s goodness in response, and the power and importance of the Cross. This is where I find myself currently on my spiritual journey: married, teaching Bible to children, and growing in my faith by following God’s leading, studying the Scriptures, and journaling what I’ve learned. I also do a lot with music, but maybe that’s another story.

I hope this has been helpful to you, dear reader. It’s not a testimony of which I am ashamed. I am nothing, an insignificant proud guy who has learned to lay his life down for the pursuit of God’s pleasure in all my life.

Thanks be to God. He is absolutely amazing!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Prayer, Bible-reading, and Fasting: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Discipline

My dear sister in Christ,

– – We all are fighting many battles. We each have many victories and many defeats of which we can boast. To aid you in your plight, I have some thoughts on Spiritual Disciplines that I hope may be useful to a practical person such as yourself. May you find the blessing of a loving brother reflecting the love of the Big brother too both of us: Jesus Christ.

– – It may not seem like it, but Jesus can really identify with everything that we go through. On the surface, it looks totally different: Jesus was not a wife and mother of two adorable yet sinful children. The reason he can is because all three temptations to which Eve and Adam fell, are the same three temptations with which Israel was tried in the wilderness for 40 years. and by which Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days. The three roots of all the sin in our lives can be boiled down to these:

  1. Cravings–Selfish desires to satisfy the lust of our flesh.
  2. Mistrust– Not fully believing that God is good, or His word is trustworthy
  3. Rebellion– gaining power for ourselves, independent of God, submitting to anything but Him.

Adam and Eve both fell to these three temptations in Eden, Israel fell to these in the Wilderness, but Jesus in the Wilderness did not. This stage of Jesus life comes after Jesus’ Baptism, and he enters by the holy Spirit’s leading into the desert and he beats Satan’s temptations and leaves with the Holy Spirit’s power, which he cultivated in three practical ways: Fasting, Prayer, and the Word of God. These three practices have a specific objective to teach a particular State of being, which can counteract the State of sin into which we are born. These three practices have the potential by the Spirit’s aid to strengthen the Christian for any struggle he or she faces: whether tangible or intangible, visible or invisible, emotional or rational, external or internal.

Preliminary caution: Nothing can be done except by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Make sure He’s even on board with you, or you are going nowhere like a boat with sail raised and no wind.

  1. Fasting. Jesus ate nothing for 40 days, and Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” In the Greek it is clear that he was not trying to get Jesus to doubt that he was God’s son. On the contrary, he was saying that since he was the son of God he had the power to gratify his own desires. However, Jesus humbly responds with the lesson that Moses told the people of Israel that God was trying to teach them in the wilderness for 40 years: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The key thing Jesus held to in his temptation here was radical DEPENDENCE on God. It is the only way we can beat this particular root cause of sin in our lives: we depend on God for everything. Jesus learned this lesson of Dependence on God through Fasting.
    – – Practical ways to do this. Fasting means 1. denying ourselves something precious to us in which we find great happiness and joy, and depend on for our very livelihood for a period of time, and 2. replacing that very thing with reading God’s word, talking with God, listening for God in silence, doing things for others and serving God, focusing all your energies mental and physical on trying to know God intimately, doing nothing until you hear God’s voice tell you to, etc. Example: Instead of eating a meal, spending time reading scripture. Instead of watching TV, praying, instead of listening to music, practicing silent waiting on the Lord to Speak. Any period of time that practically works for you: an hour, a day, a week, a month, as the Holy Spirit leads you.
    Again, the goal of this practice is to depend on God for everything, your sustenance, your sanity, your spiritual well-being. Not only will the fruit of the Spirit self-control be added unto you, but also the fruit of patience, and peace.
  2. The Word of God. In addition to Scripture memory, which we both have had and has served us well, there is an even greater importance on appreciating the whole Story of the Bible. G.K. Chesterton helped C.S. Lewis recognize the Bible as the True story meant to capture the imagination as well as the mind’s search for truth when he said this, “Christianity met the mythological search for romance by being a story, and met the philosophical search for truth by being a true story.”~Everlasting Man The Gospel story from Genesis to Revelation serves one purpose: to reveal God’s righteousness from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16) The Bible does not assume that we just assume God is righteous, it shows us how especially in the Old Testament leading to the Gospels. This way the Word of God reveals God shows us one thing “God is trustworthy.” When Jesus was tempted to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, Satan told him, “Son of God, God said he’d take care of you, so go ahead and jump.” Jesus’ response “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Indicates there was an implicit temptation of mistrust in Satan’s suggestion. Jesus however responds by saying in essence, “God has shown Himself to be trustworthy more times than I need. I will not test Him.” He learned this from reading the Hebrew Old Testament, and seeing the story of the Bible unfold to where he was. Through all he read, he learned radical TRUST in his father.
    Practical ways to do this: Reading God’s Word as a true story will give your imagination opportunities to wonder at God again, to take into your heart the same truths you wish for your own children to embrace. The Bible isn’t a collection of laws, but a story with laws in them, and that story reveals two main things: God is good, and we are rebellious. One resource I highly recommend is the Bible Project. They have Youtube videos explaining the Bible themes, Books of the Bible, Hebrew words, and more all in engaging, animated videos which kids from 4th Grade and up can appreciate. I recommend their Video series on the Torah (The first 5 books) and their “read through the Bible” series on each book of the Bible, and also reading the books of the Bible trying to trace the story line from Genesis to Revelation.
    Again, the goal here is to teach you the same radical TRUST Jesus had in His father by seeing how God has dealt with the world up to this point.
  3. Prayer. This is the big one, and I am glad to hear how you have already incorporated this one into your life so much! When Satan tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world, if he would simply fall down and worship Satan, there was only one way Jesus could say no to that temptation. DEVOTION: a love for God that would rather have Him than anything else. Fasting, and reading God’s Word foster this too, but there is something about the intimacy and communion of prayer, rivaling marital copulation in love shared. Prayer is where we meet with God, know God, love God, and are met, known, and loved. E. M. Bounds wrote a book, “Power through Prayer” explaining these principles that prayer is where a Christian derives his power. The secret to this is two fold: on the one hand, we are made in God’s image, and the more time we spend with the one whose image we bear, the more our broken image is remolded and reshaped into His likeness. (Example: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story the Great Stone Face.) But on the other hand, God is love, and this love can only be shared and expressed in a close intimate encounter and continual DEVOTION to the beautiful God whose beauty melts the heart of stone with His pure love.
    Practical ways to do this: “Pray without ceasing.” I like to apply this by making God a part of every conversation: not talking about Him, but talking with everyone as if God is standing right next to you. Talking with Him about everything. It takes practice, but it becomes super easy the more intimate and excited you get when you recognize how He is feeling, acting, and thinking toward others around you in any given moment in time. Also, setting aside time to keep Him as the main thing. Everything else in the world will vie for your attention, and every responsibility will chain you up unless you make the choice deliberately that God is the the most important person in your life, and you would rather have Him than ANYTHING. Finally, praying with people so that it becomes not only a personal devotion, but a mutual encouragement to share God’s love.

One final thought: Please do not pursue the practical at the expense of the personal. It may be my personality coming out here, but I believe there is a personal root to everything. I encourage you to follow these practical steps wherever you can, and do not forget that He’s right there personally available for all of it. Expect to fail and learn to depend on God even in your failures.

May God bless you, my sister, and I hope that we both may mutually grow into the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. God’s peace be with your spirit.