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“...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us…”
– Hebrews 12:1
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that
I desire besides You.”
– Psalm 73:25
When I was in high school, my life seemed like that of a normal, healthy, active Christian teen. I had all of the ingredients that make up a modern-day young womanʼs life: friends, guys, dating, popularity, and a bit of God thrown in on the side. I had every reason to be happy and fulfilled. I was enjoying the pleasures and attractions of the world, experiencing all the excitement of friends and dating and parties, and yet still maintaining my good standing with God. I knew that someday I would go to heaven, and in the meantime I was having fun and living as much for myself as I possibly could without forsaking my Christian faith. Life was good – or at least, it was supposed to be.
But there was a growing emptiness inside of me; a sense of discontent and restlessness that never seemed to fade, no matter how loud I turned up my music or how many friends I surrounded myself with. Whenever I laid in bed at night, I felt a still small voice within my soul, beckoning me away from the frenzy of the world and calling me back to Himself. I knew God wanted more of me, but He felt so far away. And I had no idea how to draw close to Him.
Softly, tenderly, He began to call me to Himself. I began to long to know Him, to give my life fully and completely to Him. I began to awaken to the fact that the only solution for the empty void within my heart was to yield my life completely to Him.
My life was so full that I couldnʼt imagine how I would ever find more time for my spiritual life. Every day was a whirlwind of classes and homework and activities. On the weekends, I devoted all my time to catching up on sleep and maintaining my demanding social life. I crammed every spare moment with parties, movies, concerts, football games, dates, youth group get-togethers, and shopping with friends. This was the normal, healthy, expected life of a girl my age. I had never questioned it. The fact that I was involved in so many activities and constantly surrounded with friends had always been my “great Christian witness” – proving to the world that just because a young person was a Christian did not mean that he or she couldnʼt survive on the fast track of the typical American teen.
I felt Him gently speak to my heart, “Leslie, stop try to fit Me into your life – instead, build your life around Me.” The words were convicting at the deepest level. The more I looked at my life, the more I began to realize that friends, guys, and career pursuits completely dominated my time. I had been trying to fit Him in here and there, whenever I had a spare moment. Though a lot of my time was spent with Christian friends doing Christian things, He was not the center of my world. I called myself a Christian, but my life was not built around Jesus Christ – it was built around myself.
And yet I had no idea how to build my life around Him. At first glance, there seemed to be hardly anything that I could cut out. Abandon my friends? Withdraw from my activities? Skip out on my school and career goals? Shut down my dating life altogether? How could I make decisions like this and expect to live a normal existence? Patiently, my Lord opened my eyes to a new understanding: If I wanted to be His set-apart princess, I should not expect to live a “normal” existence ever again. He had so much more in mind for me than the expected pattern for todayʼs typical young woman. And He wanted to teach me a completely new pattern for every area of my daily life.
One night, I knelt beside my bed. “Lord, I have been calling myself a Christian, but living for myself. Now, I surrender my life completely to you. Take every single dimension of my life – and make it a reflection of Your nature, Your pattern.” And one by one, I began to lay down each practical area of my life at the feet of Jesus.
Laying Popularity Down
Even though I knew that being obsessed with popularity was not honoring to God, I had an addiction to being surrounded by loads of friends. I wanted to prove to myself and the rest of the world that people liked me and wanted to spend time with me. Thus, I surrounded myself with as many friends as I possibly could. Yet when I stepped back and really examined those friendships, I was surprised to realize that the majority of them were not true friends. They did not really know me, nor did they have a desire to. I was simply another voice in the midst of their gossipy chatter, another body squished in the backseat of their car, another ear for their jokes and secrets, another workout partner, or another shopping buddy. Though many of them were so-called Christians, they did not lead me closer to Jesus Christ – many times, they pulled me away from Him. I found myself wondering why I felt the need to devote my time to maintaining these shallow relationships.
I discovered that my reasons were based around the assumption that if I did not have plenty of friends my own age, I would not be normal and healthy. I would be isolated and alone. I would be strange. I would forget how to relate to society. I would be on my way to a remote and depressing hermitʼs cabin in the woods for the rest of my life. But the gentle voice of Christ, drawing me to intimacy with Him, began to challenge this ingrained assumption. Wasnʼt He far more important to me than being considered normal? Even if it meant that I never had friends again and became a social outcast, with all my heart I wanted to build my life around Him. So I withdrew from my circle of friends. They hardly noticed I was gone. Surprisingly, I found that I did not miss them either.
God was amazingly faithful to meet my needs for human companionship by bringing true friends into my life, friends who were pursuing Him in the same way I was. They were friends who understood my commitment to building my life around Christ, and I did not have to spend huge amounts of my time or energy maintaining the friendships. They were not always friends my own age. Some of them, shockingly enough, were actually right in my own family. Others were godly adults in my life, much older and wiser than me. They were people who I never would have thought of as potential friends. They were not typically the “normal” friends a young woman today is expected to have. But they were the most supportive, encouraging, like-minded companions I had ever known. They led me closer to my Jesus Christ. They helped pave the way for intimacy with Him in my inner sanctuary.
Laying Down Future Dreams
From a young age, the “way” to do things had been ingrained in my mind, and I had never questioned societyʼs pattern for success: make top grades in high school, be career-minded from the age of fourteen, get into a good college, graduate with honors, find a high-paying job, make a lot of money, buy a nice car and big house, and most of all, steer clear of ending up in the homeless shelters! I became goal-oriented and ambitious, and I was committed to living the American dream.
My first week of high school, I had been forced to sit through a lecture entitled “Freshman Seminar.” During this enlightening experience, Mr. Armstrong (a bulky JV football coach and part-time guidance counselor) attempted to scare us into taking our education seriously by explaining the ABCs of academic reality for todayʼs young American adult. Mr. Armstrong went on to inform us of the sobering requirements for getting into a good college. We stared at him with wide eyes as he raised his husky arms in the air and emphatically warned us that if we did not maintain a decent GPA throughout high school – especially our freshman year, which was extremely crucial to the whole plan – we had no prayer of being accepted into a good college, we would never amount to anything, and we were headed straight for the homeless shelter. I went home that night, armed with a huge pile of college brochures that had been passed out at the end of Mr. Armstrongʼs lecture, and carefully laid out my ten-year plan. And the older I got, the more attached I became to my own ideas of how my future should unfold.
But my Lord had something far better in mind for me. “Can you trust Me with your future?” He whispered. Mr. Armstrongʼs threats from my freshman year came racing back into my mind. If I let Christ have full reign over the direction of my life, my carefully-laid ten-year plan might be compromised. Irrational worries that had been planted years ago began to haunt me. The culture had trained me well; fears of what would become of me viciously attacked my mind. But the patient whisper of my Lord continued to tug at my heart. Finally I was ready to allow Him full access to my future plans, to do with my life whatever He desired.
The most important focus of my life now was to build my daily existence around intimacy with Him in my inner sanctuary. I realized it was nearly impossible to do this with my current schedule, so, with plenty of fear and trembling but also with plenty of support from my parents, I made the decision to finish my high school education at home. I was amazed at what happened as a result of that choice. Every day, before doing anything else, I was able to spend a long, focused period of time alone with my King. For the first time in my life, things that pulled me away from Him did not assault me throughout the day. The noise and distraction I had been so used to every day had disappeared. I began to hear His gentle voice even more clearly. I was able to build my life around Him.
Whenever a decision needed to be made about my future, instead of following the cultureʼs push toward money and success, I began to allow Christ to lead me wherever He wanted me to go. As I made my Lord the center of my days, I quickly found that my obedience to His voice did not destroy my education, career, or future, but only enhanced those areas beyond my greatest imagination.
Laying Down Romance
From the time I was thirteen years old, I had carried an unwavering pressure from the world around me to hurry up and “find that special someone” to spend the rest of my life with. I still desired to get married and have a family someday, and conventional wisdom told me that the longer I waited to snag someone, the less chance I had of seeing that desire fulfilled. My parents had been high school sweethearts; they met at a dance when they were fifteen (back in the days when everything had a black-and-white Leave It to Beaver flair). This, along with the sage advice of the other young women I talked to, pushed me to start searching aggressively for the right guy, desperately hoping to find him before I missed my chance. I became convinced that if I hadnʼt found him by the time I graduated from college, I was doomed to be stuck choosing from the “bottom of the pile,” like arriving at the tail end of a huge half-off sale and finding nothing left but random, useless articles of clothing that donʼt fit.
But God was asking me to surrender my future romance completely into His hands, by avoiding the usual places I went to meet and flirt with guys, letting go of most of my social activities, and walking away from the dating scene. I began to worry that if I was not “out there,” I would never meet someone. Visions of that lonely hermitʼs cabin in the woods began to haunt me once again. “Trust Me with your love story,” came His tender voice. “Allow Me to write each chapter of your future, in My own perfect time and My own perfect way.”
Handing the pen of my love story over to my Prince was by far the most difficult step He ever asked me to take. Though He had never been anything but faithful in all other areas, still I was plagued by the fear that this area would be ruined if it were out of my control. Surely He needed the aid of my romantic expertise! What about that popular saying “God canʼt steer a parked car”?
Didnʼt I need to rev up the engine for Him, get out there and make myself available to the opposite sex, and then keep a helping hand on the steering wheel as He drove in order to make sure He didnʼt crash the car?
“Trust Me, Leslie. Trust Me with all your heart; donʼt lean on your own understanding.” The message He spoke to my heart could not have been clearer. He wanted me to stop building my life around the pursuit of the opposite sex and instead build my life completely around the pursuit of Him. I was to concern myself not with finding human love, but with falling more deeply in love with Jesus Christ.
A young figure skater with the dream of winning an Olympic gold medal does not just read about skating, watch videos about skating, sing songs about skating, listen to advice about skating, and hang out with other skaters. She devotes her heart, soul, mind, body, energy, and time to skating. She gets up before dawn, practices tirelessly for countless hours, and spends every spare moment of her days, nights, and weekends on the ice. That kind of passionate, unyielding dedication is what Christ asks us to give Him. Donʼt settle for hearing about intimacy with Him, singing about intimacy with Him, or reading about intimacy with Him; really discover true intimacy with Him by building your entire life around Him.
Begin with the foundations of your life. Ask yourself these questions: What are the things that consume my time, energy, and attention throughout the week? In what practical ways could I restructure my life to center around intimacy with my Heavenly Lover? With an open heart and mind, ask Him to show you what aspects of your life are hindering your ability to focus completely on Him. With His gentle guidance, do whatever it takes to build your life around Him. It will not be easy – but soon you will discover a depth of intimacy with Jesus Christ you never knew was possible. And truly, there is no other way to live.*
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