I was a curly-headed five year old standing in my kitchen, popsicle stains on my cheeks…and I told my parents I wanted them to pray with me to ask Jesus in my heart.
Truthfully, I don’t remember much about this encounter, but they like to recall that instead of saying “I believe you rose on the third day,” I said, “on a Thursday.” They didn’t correct me, my heart was right, and Jesus knew what I meant. Since that day, I’ve never taken back that declaration, and thankfully, my theology and historical accuracy has wildly improved. ;) It’s been over twenty years of praying, carrying my Bible around, singing worship songs on Sundays, and living a faith-centered life.
I love Jesus...I’ve always loved Jesus, and even on the days when I don’t like him so much, I can’t stop loving him.
The relationship we have, and the grace he’s given me, is what propelled me into my “vocation” (though it’s weird calling it that, as it feels like something there isn’t a word for), of pouring my life into his Church, its people, and those who haven’t become family yet. I’m a fourth generation pastor, with the gift of having deep roots and a legacy of faithful believers to draw from. I haven’t lived a charmed life void of suffering or struggle, but I have been given a blessed one, one I couldn’t earn but steward and celebrate with gratitude. For me, the Gospel is the long and short of it. It’s the whole thing. My beginning and end.
But I’m here, typing these words because I want to be honest about a few things.
Following Jesus is hard.
I don’t always have faith for the journey.
My flesh and sin nature win a lot of the time.
I experience doubt and fear that God isn’t who he says he is.
I get complacent and stuck.
I often judge people and call it “discernment” instead.
I want my messages to be impressive and for my youth group to be cool.
Sometimes I worship like people are watching.
I can turn this whole pastoring thing into a competition.
And the list goes on.
The truth is, even after all these years, even after all the Sunday school classes, the biblical studies degree, the pastoral license on my wall, and the worship playlists on my Spotify account...my humanity resists God. Sometimes, I don’t want what he wants for me, and in all the “doing” I can struggle with the believing.
Anyone else? Does anybody out there know “all the stuff” but along the way, stopped inviting the stuff to transform your life? Does anyone else struggle to read their Bibles or love their enemy, or remain faithful to a community? Has anyone else gone through such sorrow, you wonder where Jesus was in the breaking? Anybody ever do all the right things on the outside while your heart envies or disqualifies another? Anyone feel like the Enemy of your soul has your NUMBER and kicks you while you’re down?
The Christian journey is not for the faint of heart.
We’ve heard it described as the narrow road that few take, and what I’ve seen is that even fewer stay on it when the going gets tough.
As we struggle, without missing a beat, the Enemy serves up this gross lie that we’re the only ones “failing” at this faith thing, and we start to believe that faking it, phoning it in -- with Jesus and with our people, is a long-term solution to the ache inside. Because we’re just so afraid of letting people down. Looking in the mirror. Surfacing the darkness in our hearts. Getting healed. So we act like we don’t have an ailment to begin with, and we keep getting on our platforms, we keep saying the right things, we shove down the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and the divide...between us and our Maker grows wide.
It’s time to come out of hiding.
Hear me today...you are not the only one who struggles and if we are never honest about where we ACTUALLY are, we will never get anywhere else. If you’ve hit a wall in your own ability, knowledge, strength, experience, gifting...GOOD. Those things were never meant to carry you across the finish line anyway. Only grace can. Only God’s strength in your weakness can. Only intimacy with him, in our vulnerability and in his forgiveness, can.
I felt compelled to share this, because just this morning, after my daughter’s 5am feeding, I decided to stay up and spend some much needed quality time with Jesus in my kitchen. The sky was still dark and the house was quiet. I read some passages in Matthew, listened to a few worship songs on my phone, and in the stillness...felt God closer than my skin. I cried with my head in my hands, relieved that reconnecting with my Maker was just that easy. I needed a fresh touch from him, and like he always does, he reminded me that what I desperately longed for is always made available to me, I just hadn’t reached out for it. I was trucking along in my own capacity, allowing myself to be in a dry place for too long, when God was calling out my name. It wasn’t profound or complicated...I just needed to return to what I knew and let him speak something fresh into my heart. It was as simple as calling a friend when you miss them.
Those few moments with the Lord infused my whole day with a new joy, perspective, and peace. And that’s the beautiful thing about it…all we have to do is honestly show up and he does the rest.
It’s okay that it’s hard. It’s okay to admit you’ve been far off, but don’t let that keep you from drawing close. He’s safe. He already knows. He loves you as he finds you. The closer we get, the more his insanely beautiful love changes us from the inside out...making us new, and taking us deeper. Cast your fear aside and don’t let the lie of rejection or feeling like an imposter keep you from being cleansed and set free. Stop letting complacency keep you from the new thing God wants to do. Just open up those Scriptures. Wake up before the sun and get on your knees in the quiet. Sing that song that spoke to your heart years ago when your faith was young and reckless. Sit across the table from someone on the journey and ask for a shoulder to lean on. Take a few moments to inhale and exhale with Jesus...exhale fear and inhale his peace.
It’s hard, but I’m realizing we make the road back to him harder than it really is.
All of my “confessions” earlier in this post are our confessions...the confessions of humanity on this side of heaven, and they don’t exclude us from the widespread reach of Christ’s death and resurrection. No matter how far, how ugly, or how real the departure felt...nothing can put you in a “does not apply” category with God. I just need to say it: stop being so dramatic. Trials are a part of life but drama is a choice. Don’t buy into your own hype and believe for a single second that this thing is over for you because sometimes you’re not good at it. God isn’t mad, just lock eyes with him again, and get back to it. The door is never locked, and there is always a seat at the table.
Come out of hiding. Close the divide. No more pretending. No more pity parties. No more dismissing what God is really getting at. When we get real, we get closer. We grow. We become. We step into the divine and glorious purpose he has for each of us. My flesh struggles, I often forget what I know, and I need the grace of God every single day. There isn’t a day that my best covers it. I need Him. I want him, because him in me is better than just me every time.
So friend...that’s all I want to say. I just want you to know that the struggle is real, but you don’t have to stay there. I just want you to know that when you’re honest, when you take steps towards Jesus even when you’re feeling disenfranchised with yourself, the Enemy gets bored and moves on. The light gets brighter and the burdens get lighter.
I am praying for you. I love you. I see you. I am rooting for a deeper, stronger faith to bud within you TODAY. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Jesus is real and alive, and coming back soon...and I want to be ready. I want us to be ready...not cowering in shame, hiding our nakedness, or ignoring his voice...but out in the open, confident where we stand, hands extended to walk with him.