Have you ever seen a movie that began by dropping you right into the middle of the action? Many times, after identifying the main characters and thoroughly thickening the plot, a date flashed across the screen. Suddenly, you were transported to a time before all the chaos began. Seeing how it all started gave you a clearer perspective of why the action unfolded like it did. The flashback gave you a frame of reference on which all else hung.
I began this Finding More series intentionally with what I believe to be the strongest foundation stone there is – the love of God. Internalizing how much we are loved must sink deeply into every fiber of our being before a pursuit of MORE can properly begin. Next, it’s good to know that no matter what we’ve done, we can be forgiven because of the overwhelming grace of Jesus. Yet, it’s friendship with the Holy Spirit that fuels our passion to continually want more and more of God.
With all that in mind, if this blog series was a movie, this would be the date flashing across the screen to help you understand my desire for MORE:
In 2008, Ron and I were serving in local jail ministries – him with the men and me with the ladies. It soon became obvious that folks without the Spirit living inside them don’t give a hoot about a list of do’s and don’ts. They didn’t care about the Steps to Becoming a Christian, or any kind of method for that matter. Providing pat answers, canned sermonettes, and isolated verses didn’t cause them to want anything we had to offer.
I became frustrated and consumed with finding just the right message that would encourage them to want to become Christians. The more I studied, the more I learned who the Holy Spirit really is. I got so excited that I couldn’t wait to share what I was learning with the kids in our church family’s Children’s Ministry. The more we talked about the Spirit, the more I felt Him moving through me, helping me lead that ministry.
I didn’t realize it then, but the Holy Spirit had been using every drop of my past experiences to create in me a desire for something better – something more than I could have ever imagined. However, for things to get better they oftentimes have to get worse.
While learning about the Holy Spirit excited me, it seemed that every new thing I learned strongly opposed my ingrained legalism. I had grown up picturing Jesus as a stern classroom teacher who wagged His finger at me when He said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15). We all know that breaking the rules makes a teacher extremely unhappy – and who likes the consequences of an unhappy teacher? The harder I tried to reconcile life in the Spirit with following all the rules, the more frustrated I became.
It took laying aside ALL of my beliefs and deciding to read the entire New Testament through the eyes of an inmate before the Spirit grabbed me around the heart with John 5:39-40, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” This was what those inmates needed! They needed to come to Jesus for life – and so did I.
I had known all the go-to verses to share the “Plan of Salvation”, I just didn’t know the Plan Giver. Paul’s words to the Galatians stung my soul: “I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3) I studied, read, and asked a thousand questions. I vetted my every belief and point of theology through the lens blown on and polished by the Holy Spirit. I trusted Him to give me a clear picture of the truth.
After six years of struggling, Ron and I both felt that our 35-year relationship with our church family was taking a turn. We talked with our church leaders about the frustration we felt, assuring them that we didn’t want to cause any kind of division. We decided to move slowly. We lived in a rural area, so our options were open in all directions. We knew that if moving us to another church was in God’s plan, He would simultaneously move both of our hearts to the same church if we patiently trusted Him. After a year of much praying and searching, we knew where we were meant to be. Leaving our church would be hard on many different levels: We still had family members there. Many of our dearest friends were there. Our children had been baptized and married there. Our grandchildren were baptized there. Ron had been a deacon, and I’d led the Children’s Ministry. But in our hearts and souls, we knew God was the One behind the move, and we’d learned the hard way not to argue with God.
As I look back at our meeting with the preacher to tell him of our final decision, it makes me smile to remember his question. He already knew the answer, but he asked anyway, “You just want more, don’t you?” We did, but we knew we still had miles to go to find it. Then, he asked another kind-hearted question, “What do you want me to tell people when they ask me why you left?” We told him to say that we would always consider them family, but God was moving us.
After putting my past to rest, being reconciled with God, finding the Jesus I had missed, and listening more intently to the Holy Spirit, I now relate to Jesus differently. Instead of seeing Him as the stern teacher with the pointed finger, I see Him as my friend who loves me deeply. Because of His great love, I GLADLY obey His commands just because I love Him. In other words, SINCE I love Him, I WILL obey His commands. They no longer feel like a burden, but a delight. He has filled me with His Spirit so that I can have the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control I could never enjoy without Him. I stay amazed that He foresaw the coming of 2018 and cared enough to prepare my heart to withstand the many attacks of the enemy. God put a new song in my mouth. Lord, thank you for setting me free. Help me proclaim Your goodness!
If this blog series was a movie, it might end, as most movies do, with all of us sailing lazily into the sunset toward even more of God’s love, Jesus’ grace, and the Holy Spirit’s friendship. However, please know that the waters flowing toward MORE are rarely calm, but they always lead us to the very best places – eventually.
Though the journey never ends, next week we will celebrate all we’ve learned together and push away from the Finding More dock. Thank you for being a part of the journey. Until next week … Happy Tuesday!