If you had told me seven years ago I’d be standing here I would have laughed in your face.
It took seven years of DNows to land me here again, sitting in the Saturday night service, praying that God would ease the hurt.
But this time my own salvation isn’t on the line. No, I’m weeping over the souls here tonight who mirror my own seven years ago.
If you want the real beginning though, I could take you to the small room off the sanctuary before the service started where I was gathered alongside all the youth pastors, group representatives, band members, and small group leaders as our speaker for the weekend told us to pray specifically for our students who needed to experience freedom.
So one by one the leaders threw out names, situations, hurts and trials as we all begged God desperately to take hold of their hearts and draw them to himself.
That was when I felt my heart constrict, and I was launched back in time seven years.
I had always struggled with fitting in, with finding my place among the rest of the world. When I entered high school in ninth grade, it only got more difficult. I began to realize that as my local church pushed for more from me, for a deeper commitment, that my passions didn’t align with where the church told me I should be.
But I had been attending my entire life. Salvation for me was never about doubting God’s existence in the universe as much His existence in my life.
It was just that after experiencing heartbreak and trial and hurt again and again I was convinced there was nothing left in the world to make me happy again, to make me feel whole again. I began struggling with my own existence, because every day that year had felt like I was slipping through the cracks.
Suddenly my life was about me, my attendance at church was sporadic at best, and I had pulled away from the friends I’d known my entire life.
I can’t even tell you how I wound up at DNow that year other than it was something I’d always done, and it was assumed I would be there. But the first night my heart couldn’t have been further from the building, from the church, from God.
I’m reminded on weekends like DNow that God thrives on interruptions. These interruptions usually occur when we feel that everything is going according to plan, because often the plan we’re following is our own. God interrupts and tears up the road map we’ve drawn by hand because it isn’t where he desires to lead our hearts.
To be honest I’m not always okay or happy with that.
Part of growth as a believer is learning that God’s plans are greater than our own, that His GPS is led by love and truth while our crumpled maps are often paths to our own ambition.
As Saturday drew to a close and we entered the sanctuary for the second time that day, I already knew something was different. Appropriately titled, “cry night,” most Saturday night sessions are when the messages hit home, when they’re driven in with all the easy loving kindness of a baseball bat.
With the lights lowered and the band playing softly in the background, the speaker for that year explained God in a way I had never seen him. He explained life in a way I had never heard. For the first time I began to understand that a life in Jesus doesn’t mean a life free of pain.
He drew towards the invitation and gave an altar call. People stood immediately, ready to get their lives right with God. I just waited.
The speaker gave a second invitation, and I still sat. I had been down that road before, and I knew being peer pressured into making a decision wouldn’t get me anywhere but more lost.
There was a third altar call and he pleaded for us to get right with the Lord, for us to drop our chains and run into freedom. But I’m stubborn, and so I didn’t move. I didn’t even close my eyes in fear of letting the emotions of the night hit me.
I was a rock, and to be otherwise I felt a weak decision.
Then I heard it. The voice of the speaker calling out to those still sitting, to those souls who were still in danger, to those hearts struggling to let go of the past, of the pain and of the hurt, and suddenly I ducked my head because I couldn’t breathe anymore.
I couldn’t breathe because I knew it was my heart he was talking about. I knew it was my soul in danger. He made a fourth altar call but my legs didn’t move because I knew there was no turning back after I did. But finally I exhaled the breath I’d been seemingly holding for days and looked up, right into the speaker’s eyes because he was staring right at me. I heard a small whisper in my heart, which I recognize now as the voice of God saying simply,
The next thirty seconds I don’t remember because by the time my brain realized I was moving I had fallen down at the altar.
I gave my life to the Lord down on my knees that night, after four altar calls, after running from Him until my legs gave out, where He picked me up and carried me home.
In God’s word, He is less than tact in expressing how hard life can be. It’s quoted again and again, “In this world you will have trouble…” We use it as a way to express why we’re hurting, why bad things happen, and so often we forget to look past it to the rest of the verse.
“In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have already overcome the world.”
There’s a senior girl I’ve been blessed to have in my small group for several years now, and she is the epitome of a spiritual leader. She leads worship for the youth group as well as for the entire church and at only 18 is more attuned to God’s voice than most adults I know.
This weekend she approached me with a song, with a message, and fully led by God, told me God had given her this song for DNow, called Wildfire, and He was pushing her to play it during the event. With shaking hands clutching her phone, together we approached the band where she explained the story, the song, and her heart.
Just a few of the lyrics of the song, “If we have baggage then set us free. If we are dirty then wash us clean because you know us, you chose us, you call us as your own and Lord we’re dirty, undeserving, but you can make us whole.”
Because of her faithfulness and obedience, God blessed the rest of us by having her sing it to open the Sunday morning service. “So here I stand if I’m afraid then take my hand and lead the way. We’re calling fire. Rain it down in Jesus’ name ignite the fire and fan the flame, we’re calling fire.”
This season for my hometown, my community, has been full of heartbreak and trial. Coming together at this DNow was remarkably moving because I saw this body of believers continuously encourage those around them. Hands outstretched and hearts crying for God they put everything else aside and just worshiped.
This season hasn’t been easy, but because of it we’re stronger. Because of it we’re growing. Seeing these students stand firm beside each other, unwavering even in the face of their own lives was a remarkable experience, and it reminded me again and again of Christ’s sacrifice. I’m reminded of grace.
But I’m also reminded that because someone lifted my name to the Lord on this night seven years ago, I experienced freedom.
Because of Christ’s relentless pursuit of my heart, because of the consistent influences in my life from others, because of the chance that was taken on me, the grace shown, the discipleship by those around me…
I’m celebrating seven years of freedom in Christ.
Now until forever, God.
HEBREWS 6:19 SAYS,
“We have this HOPE as an anchor for the soul. A HOPE both sure, and steadfast.”