I have come to realize God meets people where they are.
When I was growing up, the concept of “finding yourself” was a popular idea. I thought I needed to go out into the world to find myself, and that’s what I did. I launched myself on that journey, even before I left high school.
I remember the old adage that the wind can’t carry a ship that is at anchor, or a ship at anchor can’t be steered (or something like that). That became a guiding principal, and I have given that guidance to my children. You have to get up and move, even if you don’t know precisely where you are going.
I think it’s generally good advice. It has held me in good stead. If we wait around for the perfect opportunity to come our way, it may never come. We even find wisdom along those lines in Proverbs (16:9)(NASB):
The mind of a man plans his way,
but the Lord directs his steps.
When I set out to search for truth as a young adult who had squandered his teenage years in reckless drinking, drug use and risky behavior, I thought the truth was “out there”. I just had to search for it and find it.
In more recent generations, the conventional wisdom might run along the line of finding the truth within. Oprah Winfrey and other popular prophets of modern wisdom would say we don’t need to go searching for the truth because the truth is within us.
In my latter days now, as a journeyer who moves a bit slower, I have come to see things slightly differently. Neither paradigm rings true. I think we can find the truth “out there”, and we can find truth “within”, but neither paradigm is completely accurate.
I certainly don’t want to make light of the search! We need to orientate our hearts toward “finding it”. We need to value the truth for its own sake and be willing to let go of anything that runs counter to it – even if we don’t like it, even if the truth doesn’t look all that attractive to us… even if the truth is hard.
At the same time, the truth isn’t necessarily “out there”, and it isn’t “within” either. I am (you are) not the arbiter of truth. “My truth” doesn’t mean anything in the face of reality. We don’t talk about “my scientific truth”, and we shouldn’t talk about “my spiritual truth” – if we are really interested in truth at all.
People say, “I found God”. I used to say that too, but the words always sounded a bit off as they stumbled off my lips. Sometimes, we can’t find exactly the rights words to say what we mean, so we settle for words that are not adequate. Not quite right.
I took a job selling books door to door at the age of 19 and ended up in a foreign land… Jonesboro, Arkansas. As a Midwesterner, nothing about Arkansas was familiar to me, and in that alien world, my “journey for truth” ended (and began).
I might say, “I searched for God, and I found Him.” More accurately, though, He found me. Maybe He needed to get me out of my comfort zone into unfamiliar territory, away from my usual distractions, in order to get my attention.
I realize now that I didn’t need to go anywhere to “find” God.
God searches us. He searches our hearts. Not because He doesn’t know our hearts already. Rather, in the searching, as we yield to Him, he helps us discover who we are.
He knows us intimately. He knows my thoughts and the desires of my heart. He knows the words I speak before I even say them. I can’t go anywhere that God isn’t there. (Psalm 139:1-6)
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
At the same time, my thoughts, my desires, the essence of who I am inside me is not God. God is with me where I am, but I should never confuse myself … or anything about me … with God. I can’t go anywhere that God is not with me; but God is God, and I am not.
God says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in….” (Rev. 3:20) We don’t find God; God finds us looking His way; and sometimes He finds us and draws our attention when we aren’t even looking at all.
Like the Shepherd leaving the flock to seek out the one sheep that is lost, God seeks us intimately and personally. God is love, and love seeks the good of others.
Because God is love, however, He will not thrust Himself upon us. He won’t coerce or force us to seek Him, or to want Him, or to respond to His knock on the door. He is ready, willing and able, though, to respond when we open that door – as long as we are willing to let Him in.
On that point, I say, “Beware! He isn’t a tame lion.” (Echoing CS Lewis) Don’t be naïve to think that you can have God on your own terms. It doesn’t work like that. Frankly, I am here to say you wouldn’t want Him on your own terms.
For one thing, He wouldn’t be God. A god that we take on our own terms is nothing but an object we use for self-fulfillment. There are many of those gods that will give us the immediate fix that we want. Why would we ever want a real God who will want to tamper with us, if self-fulfillment is all we want?
If you are looking for a god you can control and call on when you want your fix or need help, don’t go opening the door that God is knocking on!
More importantly, though, God knows you better even than you know your own self. He formed you in your mother’s womb. He breathed life into you and made you into a beautiful facet of His image that is wholly unique. He knows who you really are and who you were made to aspire to be, because he made you for that purpose.
Why would you want to mess with God’s masterpiece?
Yes, God gives you the ability to captain your own ship, but God knows where you will end up. He knows the rocks that lie under your waters. He knows the place to which He wants to take you – the paradise you always dreamed of, even if (in the dreaming) you can’t quite make it out. He made that place for you, and only for you.
Jesus said, “The Father has prepared many rooms….”
Tim Keller speaks of the New York Gossip columnist who knew stars before after they were famous. After their desire for fame and fortune was achieved she observed that they (all of them) were more miserable for having achieved their dreams.
Jordan Burroughs, perhaps, the greatest American wrestler who ever stepped out on a mat, and won an Olympic gold medal – the pinnacle of amateur wrestling achievement, the highest goal of his life – speaks of the emptiness that crept back in when the adrenalin and applause faded. He realized there was nothing left to dream. He had accomplished all he dreamed of doing.
The emptiness that you feel as you try to satisfy yourself with all the things you think can fulfill you is only a signpost.
Most of us will never achieve our dreams and goals, which allows most of us to hold out the illusion that those temporal dreams and goals can really satisfy us. Those who have achieved them tell us it ain’t so.
We have dreams within us we can’t really define, so we do the next best thing. We reduce them to material accomplishments and goals. In pursuing them, though, God can establish our steps.
As we find life is ultimately meaningless without Him, God shows us what our dreams are really made of. That they are fulfilled only in Him. God put eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11), so we will dream, and in dreaming that we will come to realize our dreams begin and end with God.
In this short video Kyle tells the story of how God knocked on His door and he responded. He wasn’t even looking for God. He was an atheist, but he was looking for “that thing” that we all want. He was also honest enough to know that the things he sought for fulfillment were not “it”. That honesty lead to depression that led him to the brink of suicide.
Confronted with the reality that none of the things he had tried were enough, and though he didn’t believe in God, he made God a challenge, “If you really exist, show me!” He put his life on hold and spent his days smoking weed and watching “Jesus shows” on YouTube.
I don’t recommend this way to “find God” – other than the utter commitment (or abandonment). In fact, our “finding” God is not the point, as I have already tried to suggest. We have to come to the end of ourselves to “find” God standing there… knocking.
Again, God finds us. We don’t have to go anywhere in particular, because God is already there. He knocks on our doors where we are. That is just where Kyle happened to be: in a funk, at the end of the line of the things he tried for self-fulfillment, smoking weed.
But, he engaged God, and he did it honestly. He invited God to open the door, and God did. God met him where he was:
If you found Kyle’s story interesting, you might like to listen to the stories of other atheists. Many of them had intellectual, emotional or moral obstacles to belief in God, but they followed the truth where it lead them. There are hundreds and thousands of these stories. Each of them is as unique as the next because God is an intimate, personal God, and He meets us where we are. (You can watch people tell more Journeys to Faith here.)