I have come to realize God meets people where they are.
When I was growing up, the idea of “finding yourself” was popular. I had the idea that I needed to go out into the world to find myself, and that’s what I did. 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 in any direction (or something like that), 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 that is 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.
So, when I set out to search for truth as a young adult who had squandered my teenage years in reckless drinking, drug use and risky behavior, I thought the truth was “out there” for me to find.
In more recent generations, the conventional wisdom might run more along the line of finding the truth within. Oprah Winfrey and other popular prophets of modern modern wisdom would say we don’t need to go searching for the truth because the truth is within all of us.
I have come to see the truth of the matter slightly differently than both paradigms. I think we can find the truth “out there”, and we can find the truth “within”, but neither paradigm is really accurate.
They are both accurate to the extent that we need to be looking for it! 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 of 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”, and I used to say that too, but the words rang a bit off every time I said them. Sometimes, we can’t find exactly the rights words to say what we mean, so we settle for the best words we can come up with.
In my case, I took a job selling books door to door and ended up in a foreign land… Jonesboro, Arkansas. As a Midwesterner, nothing about Arkansas was familiar to me, and that is where my “journey to God” ended (and began). So, I would 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 an unfamiliar setting, away from my usual distractions, in order to get my attention, but I realize now that I didn’t need to go anywhere to “find” God.
God searches us. 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 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 (like the Shepherd leaving the flock to seek out the one sheep that is lost.) We are always the one God seeks. He seeks us intimately and personally.
Because God is love, however, He will not thrust Himself upon us. He won’t coerce or force you to seek Him or want Him or to respond to His knock on your door. He is ready, willing and able to respond to you when you open that door – as long as you are willing to let Him in.
Beware, though, He isn’t a tame lion (echoing CS Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia). Don’t be naive to think that you can have God on your own terms. It doesn’t work like that. Yet, I am hear to tell you that 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 idol that we use for self-fulfillment. There are so many of those gods that will give us the immediate fix that we want. Why would we ever let a real God in who will want to tamper with us?
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 some facet of His image that is wholly unique to you. He knows who are really are and you can aspire to be.
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.
Time Keller speaks of the New York Gossip columnist who knew stars before they were famous and after their desire for fame and fortune was achieved, and she comments that they (all of them) are more miserable for having achieved their dreams. Jordan Burroughs, perhaps, the greatest American wrestler who ever stepped out on a mat, won an Olympic gold medal – the pinnacle of amateur wrestling achievement, the highest goal of his life – and speaks of the emptiness that crept back in when the applause died down. Only then, he didn’t know where else to turn. 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 a signpost for you of the need to turn to God.
Most of us will never achieve our dreams and goals, which allows 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 that can’t really define, so we do the next best thing and reduce them to material accomplishments and goals. In pursuing them, though, God can establish our steps. God can show us what our dreams are really made of. Our dreams begin and end with the God who made us.
In this short video Kyle tells his 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, and he was honest enough to know that the things he sought to fulfillment in 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 as the way to find God. In fact, our “finding” God is not the point, as I have already tried to describe. Rather, God finds us. 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 obstacles to belief in God and explore how their commitment to following the truth where it leads cleared those obstacles out of their way. But there are hundreds and thousands of other stories. Each of them is 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.)