The secret side of the Christian experience is a really big deal to me. I’m not sure I would be doing what I’m doing today if it weren’t for something God whispered to me during a quiet time in college. I’ve shared this story in a prior book. So I’ll spare you the details. Bottom line, when I was a junior in college, I was in my closet praying. Literally, in my closet praying. Since I “wrestle with” so much of what Jesus taught, this seemed like a reasonable trade-off.
So during college I created a prayer closet under the stairs in the basement of my parents’ house. One morning, as I was praying, I told God how committed I was and how I would do anything and go anywhere and marry anybody. Okay, go anywhere and do anything. I just wanted to be used. Right in the middle of my sign-me-up-for-anything diatribe, a thought popped into my mind that was so strong it was like a voice. The thought went something like this: You cheated on two exams your freshman year and … The “and” related to a prank that went terribly wrong and resulted in a terrifying evening for a family I knew—still makes my stomach churn to think about it. Bottom line, I had never owned up to it. Honestly, I was afraid I might be arrested. Besides, I was in high school when the incident took place. These memories were so shocking I literally stopped praying and looked around the closet. Sure that it was the devil trying to distract me, I closed my eyes and went right back to it. But all I could think about were those two dishonest grades and the family that I had sinned against.
Gee, I hope my kids don’t read this … like my kids would actually read one of my books.
For the next several months … yes months … every time I got on my knees to pray, I couldn’t pray. I’ve never heard God’s voice. But the message was unmistakably clear. Before we go forward, we have to go back. Overactive conscience? Nope. I’ve never struggled with that. It got to the point where I felt that my potential for future ministry hung in the balance of how I would respond to that not-so-still, not-so-quiet voice screaming in my head. So I retook both college freshman classes during my junior year. There was no point confessing. There was nobody to confess to. I retook the classes and paid for them myself. And eventually I drove over to the office of the man whose family I had terrorized and confessed. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. All because of a quiet time. Some reward, huh?
Actually, the entire episode did wonders for my faith. God saw me praying. He loved me enough not to lead me forward until I first went back. That’s a lot of love.
I bet you have your own story, don’t you? I bet you’ve heard that not-so-still, not-so-quiet voice as well. And as disturbing as it was, acting on what God told you did wonders for your faith, didn’t it? Wouldn’t it be great if all the teenagers, college students, and single and married adults in your congregation had devotional lives that put them in a position to hear from God? Imagine what would happen in our churches. If that level of personal discipline and focus is to become the rule rather than the exception, we must weave this value into the fabric of everything we do organizationally. Here are some ways we’ve attempted to do just that.
Stanley, A. (2012). Deep and wide: creating churches unchurched people love to attend. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.