I feel I have been more spiritually transformed over this summer than at any other point in my life. And I got to thinking about that recently, and I was like, at what point does that end? Because I feel like every six months or so I sit down with someone or I write a blog post about the amazing things God is doing in my life and heart and how they are the most significant things to date so far. Surely at some point that should just drop off, right?
And I’ve decided, no. I don’t want that. If I’m not dead, God’s not done with me. My prayer a few months ago was this: Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, God. (Psalm 51:12) And boy has He ever. And I sure hope He continues to do so all the days of my life. If this Gospel thing ever becomes old news, or I move on to something else, or if it ever loses its intensity – put a fork in me because I’m done. God is shaping my heart and my life ever more and more like His. I hope that never gets old. I hope every year I will be able to say with confidence, God is currently teaching me the most significant spiritual lessons I’ve ever learned. Because every day, I want to be closer and closer to God.
But that’s all preamble. That’s not even what I really want to talk about. I have long been obsessed with this verse Paul wrote to the people in Ephesus about God’s love: “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.” (Ephesians 3:19)
Just yesterday as I was getting ready, I started thinking about the tipping point of when God will finally give up on me. “Oh that AJ’s a worthless cause – I dumped him like radioactive waste.” And almost immediately, I felt like God stepped in and began to wage war against those thoughts: “I bought you with My blood, at what point would I ever give up on you?”
I was completely worthless to Him when He stepped in and rescued me … and not much has changed. It was never about making me worthwhile but it was always about God delighting in me and me finding my ultimate joy and satisfaction from God. And what brings ultimate satisfaction is knowing that God really loves me, the broken mess I am.
And honestly, the best way I have found to remind myself that God loves me is to go out and show it to other people. When other people start telling me all the reasons they feel like they can’t be loved by God, I look them in the eyes and I know. I just know. They are so unbelievably loved by God. I love them. And God sent them to me because He loves them. And when I look at their list, I just want to yell, why don’t you understand that God still loves you? Then I compare their list to my list … and I’m like. Oh. Now I get it. Now I know what God’s reaction to my list must be. “Oh you think I won’t love you because of that? No, no, no, no … AJ, AJ, AJ … I love you so much.”
So if God loves me, that brings up something else. I can approach God with confidence even in my sin and shame and He will listen to me, and He will do what’s best for me. I can have a conversation with Him. I call that prayer and I think it’s the foundation of a Christian’s spiritual life. I know plenty of people will say, but what about the Bible? And Scripture is essential to knowing God and helping to hear from Him, but the foundational Spiritual practice is prayer. I mean, where did we get the Bible in the first place? From a bunch of faithful people praying.
For the next school year, this will be the single biggest focus of my small groups. I’m going to teach students how to pray. Our prayer will be powerful, bold and effective. We will learn how to approach God even in our deepest fears and shame.
Speaking of ministry – let’s talk vision for next year. I have to remind myself of this every year: I’m not “hanging out” with 15 year old high school boys. I have a lot of my own friends and that’s just kind of creepy and weird. No, every Tuesday night I’m going to be at Rev serving as faithfully as I can to demonstrate the love of Christ in the lives of students. And how is love best spelled? Love has always been spelled T-I-M-E. I want God to use me faithfully to demonstrate and convince every kid that walks into my sphere of influence that God really loves them. And the best way for anyone to know they are loved by God is for them to be loved by someone else. How could I possibly experience the love of Christ except through other people? How could anyone?
Listen, here’s what we’re doing. We’re raising a generation of middle and high school students to know that they are loved and valued by God.
And this isn’t the wishy washy worldly idea of, “Well if you just believe in yourself, Johnny, you can do it!” That’s not helpful and it’s just not true. It’s like going up to some depressed person and telling them, “Stop being depressed, and feel happy.” If you’ve ever actually said that to someone, please just do us all a favor and never ever talk to anyone ever again, ok?
But that’s exactly what the world does to students. “Oh you feel worthless and hopeless? Stop feeling that way. Just beleive in yourself.” Hey, buddy, if I believed in myself I wouldn’t have this problem! No, listen, this is what we’re doing: We’re demonstrating the love of Christ in the lives of students who go through their whole entire days hearing about all the ways they don’t matter. They’re “just” kids. They didn’t get the right grades, or they’re not taking the right classes, or they haven’t thrown enough touchdown passes. They are too nerdy, too much of a jock, too smart, too dumb, too ugly, too fat, too clowny – too whatever.
And then well meaning adults come into your life and tell you, “Hey, stop feeling that way.” Thanks for that helpful piece of advice.
But that’s not what the Church is called to do. The Church is called to tell students, “You are loved and valued and prized. Not because of who you are but because God loves you and values you. And regardless of how you feel, God always loves and values you.”
Every kid is underprivileged when it comes to knowing and understanding this exceptionally good news. The world says that you are not enough and the Gospel says He was. The world has an all out war on the Gospel. The world says, “Strive! Do without ceasing!” and Jesus says, “It’s finished!” It strikes me that the more the world fights against the Gospel to make it old and stale, the more appealing the Gospel becomes. It’s like God has held this ice cold glass of water out for us this whole time, and to fight against it, Satan has gradually been turning all of culture into this big desert.
We may persuade ourselves that we don’t need the glass of water. But when you drink it – oh wow.
When I die here’s what I want my life to have been about: I want to hold that glass of water out for every generation from now until I die. That will look a hundred different ways, but right now we spell love T-I-M-E. I hang out with high school guys and we talk funny things and sometimes we talk serious things. But most of all, I’m helping people experience the love of Christ. I’m helping them figure out the amazingly good news that God is real, that God is for them, and God cares about them. And I hope that will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Look, I hope one day I get to honeymoon in Cabo. I hope I get to take my wife and kids to Disney World. I hope I get to visit Australia and Greece and everywhere else on my bucket list. I hope I get another new car after this one. I hope I have enough money for my retirement, and enough money to leave to my family when I die. I want more ski trips, more 14ers, and more fun in my life. I do not believe in asceticism, and I don’t think that’s the Gospel. (I think it’s anti-Gospel)
But when I’m on my deathbed, I don’t want to look at photo albums of pictures and say, that’s it. That’s what I lived for. I want those things to be part of my life – but when I look back I want to look back on all of the people God put in my life. And I want to say that I did everything I knew to do to show them the love of Christ. My life may have contained a lot of really cool stuff and experiences – but it was about loving people really well.
And you know what? When I’m on my deathbed I’m not going to do any looking back. I’m going to look forward to heaven. I’m going to look forward to heaven, and I’m going to look forward to dozens if not hundreds of people I love that I loved well on earth, and I will love even better in heaven.
Most of those people I haven’t even met yet. Many of them may not have even been born, yet. But I know God will bring them into my life at just the right time, as He has done so faithfully so far.
That’s the vision for my life. That’s what I’m pursuing. It’s what I’m going after. And if I ever let go of that, I might as well be dead. If I ever decide the loving people as God has loved me thing is too hard, I might as well die then. Because my life will be over. I think that’s what Proverbs 29:18 really means when it says that where there is no vision the people perish. If I lose my God-given vision for my life, I might as well stop living. Because, what’s the point?
God didn’t love me because I am just so gosh-darn lovable. And I don’t love people when they are lovable. I love because God first loved me.
And to love people in any way similar to how God loves me, I need God to live in me. I need His Holy Spirit, and I want His power and His strength, and His FIRE in my life.
I used to read the Bible and pray and do devos and all the stuff you’re “supposed” to do … because I thought I was supposed to do it. But that’s a terrible reason to do anything.
I have been reading the Bible and most of all, I’ve been praying like never before because I got a taste for God working in my life. I got a taste for the fire that living in Christ brings. And I want more of it in everything I do. More of God’s fire in me and less of me.