My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!
It’s the late 1970’s, and I’m sitting on a bench at a bus stop in Southern California. Although I was raised in a Christian home, I had walked away from God and had begun a long fall over the cliff with sex, porn, drugs, and alcohol.
A guy walks up and sits down next to me. He appears to be in his forties; his clothing doesn’t give me the impression he has much in the way of financial resources. He turns to me and says, “I’d like to ask you a question. Do you know Jesus?” His question throws me, but I quickly recover. “Sure, I know Him,” I mumble. I knew I was faking it but didn’t want this guy preaching at me. “Great, you just made my day,” he replies. There is a look of peace and kindness in his eyes. For a moment I want to say more, ask him for help, but let it go.
Five years later, I’m deep into the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll lifestyle. I’m walking in the parking lot of a large outdoor amphitheater to see a rock concert with a woman I was living with. She’s dressed in revealing clothing, which gives my ego a boost. About 100 feet from the entrance to the amphitheater, we approach two men who appear to be in their late twenties. Both are carrying Bibles. As concertgoers approach them, the two guys look them in the eye and challenge them to turn away from sin and to God. I glance their way. There is an intense look of fire in their eyes, yet they’re not screaming or coming off like crazies. A sense of shame, or embarrassment, momentarily washes over my girlfriend and I, and we hang our heads as we hurry by.
Fast forward to 1992. I’m married now. Six years earlier I’d walked away from the party lifestyle and had been groping my way toward God. I’m still struggling with porn and masturbation and am a depressed, confused, mess trying to figure the Christian life out. I’m in the mountains in Southern California at a men’s retreat and Chuck Colson is the guest speaker. Colson had served in the white house as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon, then ended up in prison when Watergate blew up. God grabbed Colson’s heart, and he went on to be a force in the evangelical community, starting Prison Fellowship and speaking in churches and other places all over the world.
That Friday night in the mountains, Colson spoke with such passion and fire that every man in the room, including the pastor who was facilitating—and me—were in tears.
I wanted what the man at the bus stop, the two guys at the rock concert, and Chuck Colson had. They had uncommon strength, a deep well of peace, the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:10—and fire. They were living their lives out in the open with impact and purpose. These weren’t merely religious churchgoers or nice people; they were the real deal.
To my sorrow and frustration, I had no idea how to get what they had. That kind of life and power seemed out of reach for me, the porn and masturbation addict. When I compared their lives against my pathetic state, “hypocrite” rang in my ears.
My struggles with lust were always right in my face. Porn causes depression, apathy, brain fog, selfishness, emptiness, and a rock-hard heart. I was always critical and bitter. I hated what I was inside. Not the stuff of a spiritual warrior. I figured that if I could break free from lust I might have a shot at being like one of them. The problem was that I made “not sinning” my focus and aim for life, and it didn’t work; it missed the mark.
I had internalized the idea that the Christian life was about reading the Bible, praying, being good, and doing good works, and spent a lot of time and effort in those areas. Still short of the mark. My prayers were mechanical and self-absorbed, “God, forgive me, help me, set me free…” Me, me, me. Learn your verses and get your doctrine aligned to what we’re told it should be. Still empty. The more I tried to be good, the bigger of a mess I made. Doing it in the strength of the flesh is always doomed to failure.
More failure, discouragement, depression, and porn.
What I know today is that my aim was off. I was starved for life and love, the kind that would reach the deepest core of my soul. Knowledge wasn’t enough.
John Eldredge writes:
Typically, many Christians are taught a system of knowledge or performance, or a mixture of both. Those in the knowledge camp put the emphasis on getting our doctrine in line. Right belief is seen as the means to life. Desire is irrelevant; content is what matters. But notice this – the Pharisees knew more about the Bible than most of us ever will, and it hardened their hearts. Knowledge just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you are familiar with the biblical narrative, you will remember that there were two special trees in Eden – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. We got the wrong tree. We got knowledge, and it hasn’t done us much good.
My main diet had been the knowledge tree, and I was dying inside.
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Finally, in 1999, God opened my eyes that I was starved for Him, and He invited me to go after Him with everything. That “all your heart” part is critical. Religious people rarely seek God, and certainly not with fire and passion. I surely hadn’t up to that point. Their focus is often on being good, learning the Bible, and looking good, which, as I know from personal experience, is a miserable existence because we have to keep the illusion going that we’re a good Christian.
After just two weeks of a no-holds barred, all-out adventure to go after hard after God, He filled my heart with a powerful burst of love, joy, power, and peace. Now, finally, I have life brimming inside. I have to keep feeding that life and starving the flesh and have the same battles as everyone else, but I’m no longer working from an empty tank.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Jump to 2006. I’m taking several cases of my first book, The Road to Grace, to a storage unit. A homeless guy is living in the unit next to where my books are stored. I drop my books off, then leave. Several days later, I need to go back. “Lord, if you want me to ask that homeless man to lunch, let him be there,” I pray. He’s there; sitting in his storage unit, shuffling through his possessions. “Hey, you want to go to lunch?” I ask him. His jaw drops, and he accepts. We go to lunch, and I listen as he pours out his life story, with plenty of F-bombs and other spicey words along the way. I don’t care, I’m just there to show up and see what God wants to do. I point Him to Christ, and we say goodbye.
Two years later, I run into him at a church. He’s cleaned up and has a look of peace and joy in his face. He tells me that God used me in His life when we went to lunch. I can hardly believe it.
Life, love, peace; God’s power. Isn’t that what we’re really after? Have you found it? Or is your aim off the mark, as mine was? The great news is that God is patient, and merciful, and He gives life to those who want Him and are willing to drop the religious act.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
1 Timothy 1:7
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