I turned 30 yesterday. In light of this milestone, it caused me to reflect on the last 30 years. I have lived in six states. I have lost my father and two grandparents. I have traveled to four different continents. I started a business and watched it fail. I graduated college and now I am in seminary. I have been a janitor, pizza delivery driver, roofer, entrepreneur, and computer programmer. I have experienced the joy of great friends gathered in fellowship. I have experienced the bitterness of watching my life fall apart and being impotent to do anything about it.
I grew up following a different religion, but when I was 16 I was invited to a revival service at a little Baptist church in the area. I only went because I had a crush on the girl that invited me. What I encountered was far more than I ever imagined. I had been taught about God and Jesus as a child, yet I had never been taught the reason for Christ appearing in flesh. That night, October 4, 1994, I understood. Humanity had broken their relationship with God by sinning in the Garden of Eden. They believed they knew better than God. And I understood that sin existed in my heart. I had lived my life in defiance of God and I was angry at Him. God tore through all my pride and excuses and I stood there spiritually exposed. I was a sinner and my eternity was destined for Hell. The wonderful part of the Gospel is that Christ did not leave us in this horrible situation. He loved us enough to humble himself to take on the form of a human and suffer the punishment we deserved by dying on a cross. Because He took our punishment, He can offer forgiveness to us. That night, I humbled myself and asked Jesus Christ to forgive me of my sins and change my heart.
The last thirteen and a half years have been up and down. Things did not get easier after I became a Christian, but I could turn to Christ for wisdom and peace in the bad times. The other interesting thing is that I still have the old me living inside this body. I am not in bondage to that old way of life but he is still there.
I look back on my life and see times where in pride or stupidity I went my own way. God allowed me to go and sometimes I succeeded and other times I fell flat on my face. Either way, those times were always empty. Each time, I would eventually understand that I was following after my own desires and not those of Christ. Once Christ stripped me of my pride and foolishness, I would turn back to God and begin to follow Him again.
I also look back and see times where I know I have been exactly where He wanted me. Even in those good times, there have been sleepless nights and questions. I have been in seminary for two years now. I have no better idea what I am going to do when I graduate than when I started. I know this is where God wants me, but for someone that likes to have every little detail planned out, I do not have to say how frustrating this is. At some point, I will give up and learn to trust that God knows better than I do.
I expected that once I finished college, I would get married and start a family. Eight years later, I have failed to have anything resembling a relationship. However, I have had opportunities to go places and do things that would have been harder had I been married. In all the heartache and uncertainty I know He has a plan for me, whether it is marriage or singleness.
My freshman year in college, I surrendered to God’s call to spend my life in missionary service. I began the process after college to go and serve for two years overseas. Yet as I went through the process, I did not have a peace about it. Looking back, I do not know if I was not mature enough spiritually or if I made excuses not to go. What I do know, is that calling is still there. I have tried to run from it and I have tried to shape it into my own idea, but it stands there unchanging. How it will materialize in my life I do not know, but as Paul wrote to the Philippians, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
God used two different illustrations this past week to remind me that He has not given up on me and is still working on me. The first was a group of trees I saw this weekend. These trees were planted by the city probably 10 years ago. I remember driving by them after they were planted, thinking, that those saplings were not very impressive. Fast forward 10 years. I was driving along the same stretch of road, but instead of saplings, I saw full grown trees in full bloom. Their branches had ventured out in every direction and were covered in leaves and flowers. They provided ample shade to anyone that walked beneath them.
After seeing those trees, God impressed upon me that my life is like those trees. There are areas in my life that I am just now beginning to see growth. Those are areas God began growing in me 13 years ago. There are still other areas that I am frustrated with because I do not see any growth. Yet in 10 years time I will be able to look back and see the growth that Christ has produced.
The second illustration is actually evidence of the growth. The other day I was talking with someone who in the past, I could not stand to be around. My pride reared its head again and I just did not get along with this person. God pointed this out and He would not let it go. I realized that I was going to have to change or be stuck where I was. Over several months, Christ just worked in me day after day. It forced me to pray more and more because I knew I did not have the strength on my own to do it. So as I sat, talking with this person, God reminded me that this change that occurred in me was supernatural. By myself I would have refused to love this person and would not have associated with them. But the power of Christ working in me has changed my heart and allowed me to love someone that I once thought was unlovable.
I do not know what the next 30 years will hold but my prayer is that when I look back I will see many other areas that have bloomed and are bearing fruit. And when my life comes to an end, I want to say like Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”