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I’m sitting here this morning with piano hymns streaming over Pandora. Right now it’s ‘tis So Sweet to Trust In Jesus by David Nevue. My Christmas lights are still up, my coffee is cold, and the house is peaceful as (for the moment), LB is playing downstairs and Ezra is sitting at his desk copying the 23rd Psalm. This month, we are working on studying and memorizing the Psalm.
How did I get here?
Often that question has a negative connotation. This instance of the question does not.
I remember times over the last decade where I found hymns to be very triggering…or even guilt-inducing. When I could barely open the Bible due to extreme exhaustion or a lack of desire. Spiritual disciplines were not a part of my life.
Over the last decade, I wanted more.
Or, more accurately, I wanted to want more.
2020 was very different. I probably consumed more Scripture and prayed more in 2020 than in, perhaps, the last five years combined.
I wish I could tell you how it happened. The 1-2-3 or A-B-C of how to get back to “that place” before the pain of a bad church experiences or trials of faith knocked the wind out of your spiritual sails.
But it wasn’t simple. It probably still won’t be simple for a while yet, but it’s getting there.
All I can do is share my story. Maybe it will go this way for you. Maybe it won’t.
Prayer for God to transform my thoughts and desires
Conviction to pursue God and consume His Word came predominantly through my church and my church family.
Sometimes it was that one church friend I have who is rather direct in asking me very uncomfortable questions like, “How is your walk with God?” and “How are you doing spiritually?”
More often, it was the deep teaching about my identity in Christ from Ephesians and the statement that there can be no outflow of good works if there is no inflow of consuming God’s Word and developing good theology.
That didn’t mean I didn’t cringe with guilt at the word “consuming copious amounts of Scripture” were uttered.
So, I reached a point on July 23, 2017, when I was sitting on the back row of a Sunday School class (to which we arrived late) about regeneration. It didn’t really seem like that big of a moment at the time. But my Pastor talked about how “God transforms us at the level of thought and desire.”
I grabbed my phone and typed out the following prayer on my notes app:
I didn’t desire God and His Word because I couldn’t get beyond my pain. But I wanted to. So I prayed. Not for the strength to muscle through another sermon or Bible reading plan.
I asked God to change my desires.
It wasn’t an overnight change. It’s been slow and subtle with a lot of ups and downs along the way. But that prayer unlocked those locked spaces in my heart where there wasn’t room for God.
The incredible resources of the internet age
Had I lived 100 years ago, my options for pursuing God would have been far more limited. I am so thankful to live in an age where music, podcasts, blog posts, apps, sermons, audio Bibles, Bible studies, books, and so much more are available – with just a few clicks of a button.
These things aren’t substitutes, per se. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have incredible value, especially in the life of a struggling Christian.
This morning, I looked back over my iTunes purchase history and found thirty-two apps that I had downloaded for myself over the last decade that had to do with the Bible, Bible study, or Christian living. And there was never a year that went by that I didn’t try a new Bible app.
Homeschooling has been a huge boost, because I’m finding I am far more willing to teach the Bible to my kids and put the Bible into THEIR lives than I necessarily was to pursue it for my own life. The great thing is that you can’t teach the Bible without consuming it yourself. We have Scripture in every curriculum we use except for one. It’s in our history book, our math books, and our language arts books.
My Pandora and Amazon Prime music accounts are full of playlists of Scripture songs, the music we sing at church, Christian lullabies, and more. When we run across a hymn study in our language arts or Bible books, I find myself hunting down YouTube videos of said hymns. But instead of being triggered, more often, I’m flooded with the memories…the words all come right back. Then, there’s the New City Catechism songs we listened to over breakfast for several months, the CD’s of which we keep in the car for reminders of the Biblical concepts.
I’ll be completely transparent in saying that I still don’t have “my daily devotions” or “quiet time,” as is traditionally thought of in regard to the spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible and prayer. But pursuit of God has been weaving its way through our days more consistently now than ever before.
I’ve found that I feel very accomplished and my mind wanders less if I write the Bible, rather than read it. I’ve started filling pages of blank journals with Scriptures. There are tons of Bible writing plans to be found on Pinterest, which makes it easy for me. I don’t have to think about what I have to write, I just work through whatever plan I’m using. (It doesn’t matter if I’m still working through my Advent plan in January.)
I have started going through the alphabet in my head as I’m falling asleep, using each letter to silently recite the first first that pops into my head with that letter. This helps me manage my restless mind. I rarely make it to Z before falling asleep. A few times I have also completed this exercise on paper:
I still do Bible coloring, primarily in church to help focus my mind. Ezra also utilizes this approach to help with the fidgeting and focus issues in church, so we do our Bible coloring together!
I also started the year 2020 off on a good note by asking my mom to record a KJV audio Bible for our family. She has already recorded 14 books. Since November of 2019, I’ve listened to all of Psalms, Ephesians, and Mark; Job chapters 1-20; Genesis chapters 1-21.
Consistency in this area has not been my strong suit. But I’m okay with that. Confucius says, “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”
God says it better: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9)
I used to look back over the last decade and see a lot of failure. But I have a different perspective now:
I see the Bible studies and small groups I attended through the years. The hours of contemporary Christian music I listened to. The apps I downloaded. The audio Bibles I tried. The books I read. The books I started and never finished. The Bible journaling I tried. The podcasts and sermons I listened to. The prayers I prayed.
While it was a bunch of stops and starts, I never gave up pursuing God. There was always a pull back, something within me that said, “I have to keep trying.”
Maybe “trying” isn’t the right word. I’m not advocating a forceful pursuit of God out of a need to check the boxes or because of a sense of duty.
I’m talking about coming to God humbly (for the thousandth time) and saying, “Okay God, here I am, let’s try this again.”
Time has a way of reframing the pain you’ve been through and helping you see that not every part of a painful past needs to be thrown out. God can grow new things out of the soiled remains of trauma.
There are things I find myself doing in the way of pursuing God that I simply couldn’t force myself to do a few years ago. Now, those things come with ease. The only thing I can point to is time and healing.
The fellowship of God’s people
I was completely derailed in every way back in March when I broke my leg in three places and needed surgery. My weight loss, my Bible listening, my battle with depression, homeschooling…it all just sort of fell apart.
During March, April, and May I filled my mind with true crime books and binge-watched 17/18/19 Kids and Counting (weird combination, I know). The ups and downs of church operation due to COVID meant that connecting with other believers no longer happened. I felt like I was in a daze, completely disconnected from anything real or meaningful outside of my family.
When we were able to come back together to worship, the experience was beautifully unfathomable. After three-to-four months of the year happened mostly on my couch in emotional darkness, there was a light that filled my soul that hasn’t left.
There is no substitute for fellowship with God’s people in your life. None.
I know that many of my readers may find the idea of church uncomfortable. But if you are struggling in your faith, you NEED to find a group of Christians that can encourage you. A small group. An online Bible study. A text or Voxer relationship with a Christian friend. You need that in your life.
It’s taken me three days to prepare this blog post. In getting the images ready, I found myself distracted by organizing every single file of my digital existence in a new system, which took…a while. My body aches from too much time spent in front of the computer. I’m cranky and irritated.
This afternoon, I left the house to pick up some library books and medications. I pulled into Starbucks to spend a gift card I was given by a church friend. The drive through line looked long. (I think it might have ended up being faster in the long run.) As I stood in Starbucks playing a game on my phone for what seemed like forever, a song came over the speakers. It was the “chill mix” version of Lauren Daigle’s song Rescue. A line caught my attention, and tears caught in my eyes.
There is no distance that cannot be covered over and over
THAT was what I meant when I was talking about perseverance.
There was a distance between me and God. I know, in a theological sense, God was always near. God has never stopped pursuing me, and never will. But sometimes it felt like the distance in my heart was too far to cross.
I will never stop marching to reach you
In the middle of the hardest fight
There’ve been times the distance was covered and I met Him. Then I would feel the distance again.
But each time I chose to pursue Him back, the distance got shorter.
There is no distance that cannot be covered over and over
If I could leave you with one final thought it would be this: God has never stopped pursuing you, and never will. There is no distance that cannot be covered over and over. Pursue Him back, even if it means starting over for the thousandth time.