My Most Important Relationship – He Is First
Oh, here we go. Another relationship story. Let me catch you right there. This one is different. Perhaps it’s one you can relate to. Perhaps it will stir something inside you the same way it has with me. What I’m about to share is my most significant piece of writing and honestly one that has brought a level of vulnerability I had never been able to get to before.
This is not your typical story that begins with a loss of someone dear or fight against drugs. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other battles against failures, addictions, and fears. There are also many more evils being confronted. This is just not the normal journey you may hear about in someone’s journey back to Christ, back to God. This is my testimony about my path to find Him.
Finding Him. That was probably the hardest obstacle I faced with all of this. I didn’t know how. I thought there was a script or something to do it, a how to list. What I didn’t realize was all I had to do was open my heart. He had already found me. He was right there all along.
“Do not fear; God holds your hand.” – Isaiah 41:13
Early on in my journey back to Christ my girlfriend and I had just left church. We had a difficult conversation about our faiths. To this point I had already told her that I wanted to make this commitment to my faith because I wanted to do it, not because she wanted me to or because of her. Our relationship had grown as strong as you could ask for in a relationship to this point and in so many core foundational ways except the most critical one. It had not put Jesus at the center. So here we were at a juncture of growth in our relationship. She flat out challenged me. She told me she wanted the person she committed her life to be a spiritual leader.
That hit me hard. I was really left in an unknown space. I didn’t know my direction. I felt exposed. I felt scared. There was a great sense of sensitivity. I had grown to love her so much. My heart felt she was the one for me. I felt I couldn’t fail her. I did not want to. I had to figure this out. I have to give her the credit for giving me the spark. However, I also knew I had to do this for myself. It was actually way more important than failing her. I had to grow the flame myself. I had to create a relationship with Jesus and that relationship had to come first before any other.
Where was I? This is the question that plagued my mind. How do I find my Savior if I didn’t know where I stood?
I suppose I need to explain some backstory of where faith and spirituality have been in my life until this point. First off, I grew up in the First Presbyterian Church of Pipestone, Minnesota. There was hardly ever a day of Sunday School and Church that my family missed. I remember my mom being very disappointed if we did miss. The church had a very good community. So many people were always there to help my family during tough times. They helped raise my siblings and I. The church was filled with loving disciples that instilled so many values and qualities that are close to Jesus.
From there I was confirmed in 8th grade. I learned a lot that year about God and about being a Christian, however something dropped off as I went into high school. I felt like I had made it. Boy, was I wrong but that is something I’ll get to in a bit. Church just seemed like an obligation and this idea that you weren’t a great Christian if you didn’t go. I really actually missed the message. I prayed all the time. I was connecting, right? My prayers weren’t a conversation past asking for guidance for the ones I loved. I even missed learning how to do that. Mainly through it all I missed learning how to love Jesus and understanding truly what he had done for me and the rest of us. I suppose I didn’t know how to open my heart.
For the many years to come I became a wanderer. I’d try different churches. I’d go and I’d take the messages in but I probably left it all at the doors of the church to a lot of extent. My relationship with Christ was like the one you’d have with someone at school or a job but once you left the building you were not really connected to them. It was a part-time friendship. It was lukewarm. It wasn’t like my relationship with my girlfriend where I was always thinking about her or considering her. Somehow, I was limiting myself from being able to give the love to the one who mattered most, Jesus. Once again, I either didn’t know how or refused to commit. I was afraid to be vulnerable. I was afraid of how I’d be viewed by others when it truly didn’t matter how they viewed me, only that I was accepting God’s love and surrendering to him.
My twenties were difficult in many ways, just as they are for most. I had to learn a lot of things the hard way. I made a couple big moves, one to Colorado Springs and then another to Chicago before returning near home to Sioux Falls. There was a lot of instability. I had to make new friends, figure out new jobs, and learn my surroundings. There was a lot of loneliness and trying to find my place. It was very challenging. I faced a lot of days where I simply had to tell myself to push forward. Looking back, I guess I could say there was always something missing, a foundation or a security. I had values but too often I think I just went along with opportunities because they seemed limited and I was trying to find myself in these new environments. It was tough. I fought to stay true to myself but also determine what was right for me.
I pushed through those times. There were a lot of battles within my head to stay positive and not fall into the self-defeating and self-sabotaging holes. It took a lot of determination from within and a lot of connection with many great friends but I made it. There was a lot of anxiousness and humility I had to endure that demanded a lot of mental toughness. Something started to happen through a lot of those dark periods. I started to gain a lot of confidence in it all. I made new friends in each place. I fought through the mental challenges. I withstood the difficulties of financial hardship and grinding to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, I held onto my Christian upbringing by prayer, though not consistent at all, that only featured gratitude and blessings over the ones I loved. I was very thankful for the people God put in my life. However, while I met some good friends and even got involved in a church I once again missed the important part. I didn’t stay diligent and deliberate with my connection to God. I put more on my human relationships than I did with Him. I didn’t take time to get to know Him. The other thing I did was I held a lot of pride for getting through many of those times. Why? I was afraid to find out that some of the things I did would not be approved of in God’s eyes. My righteousness was in myself rather than in Him. I was establishing a sense of identity but it wasn’t through Him.
Now, when reviewing the past is it as clear as making conscious decisions not to truly seek God? No, it is not. Did I intentionally try to find myself the way I did? That’s not as easy as yes or no. Honestly, I don’t think I was exposed enough to understand what it meant to have a relationship with Christ. I was never stripped down to be vulnerable and create that connection with Him. My failure, however, did come in the sense that I didn’t seek the education or counsel that could help me get there. Maybe I was fearful. It’s very difficult to open up about where I stood, sins and temptations I faced, or where my shortcomings are. In reality, that’s a level of exposure we are all scared of. To get to that point takes a lot of courage. No one wants to know how little they really are, especially someone who fights their own insecurities and seeks acceptance in their life. Yep, I’m referring to myself, the person who is confident enough to share their story yet faces a lot of doubt every time I write. To know how little I really am is truly the most beautiful part of this testimony.
Up to this point in my spiritual journey I had learned more about what love is and I’m not talking about romantic love. I’m referring to a universal love, a godly love. I learned about the love referred to in 1 John 4:8, “For whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” God is love. That is powerful. I began to understand how to be love but what does that mean? I’m seeking to be a person of love but I was unclear of how it all ties together. I needed to know God. I needed to know His son.
There I was. I was challenged to grow spiritually. When I referred to my testimony being a bit different, this is where that comes in. My seeking of God and creating a relationship with Jesus, the one who saved me, was about understanding how He played a role in my life when I wasn’t close to Him. More importantly, it was about how he was pulling me closer to Him now and into the future. What was about to blow my mind was that I was never doing it alone. He was right there and I just needed to turn to Him. The burden of relying on my own strength through all of life’s tribulations was about to be liberated because it is impossible to have that kind of all-universe strength. Who wouldn’t want that weight off their shoulders?
I knew this journey was not going to be easy, obviously since I wasn’t even sure where to start, but the awakening I was about to receive was about to be nothing short of several buckets full of water in the face. Back to the point of where to start, I had to come to terms with some of my life’s journey and what I knew and didn’t know. When asked what was bringing me on this journey back in my faith one of the things I sought understanding in was how was God playing in my life. Honestly, I didn’t know much. I knew about Biblical values and living a good life but that’s empty, or without purpose. Maybe I’m selling myself short on what I knew but the key is I wasn’t very conscientious about God every day, nor was I seeking Him.
My first few times at this new church my girlfriend had been to before and asked me to go to with her were difficult. I walked in and everyone had their own Bible and journal with them. That was something I didn’t grow up with in my traditional church upbringing. Immediately I was like, “whoa, this is serious!” I was intimidated to say the least. Naturally, I was instantly comparing myself. I felt so out of place. How could I connect with the people in this church because they knew so much more? How could I open up where I was at? It felt like joining a team and knowing you are an intramural level player playing with pros. I knew I was so far from where they were at. Not only that but the pastor preached in a way that stripped you down to being naked spiritually. Of course, I was in a place of discontent and weakness.
I would leave the services knowing I was in a very difficult spot. Not only the way I felt at church but also in trying to discover what I believed in my heart. I struggled to find a true desire. How do you find desire? You get to know someone and celebrate them for those things you love and find gratitude in them. This is exactly what I needed to do understand Jesus and create a love for him. As you can imagine, this was very difficult to communicate to my girlfriend. It wasn’t an overnight “Hey Jesus and I are best friends” kind of thing. What I began to realize about many in that conversation is they were where they are in their faith because they devoted time to get to know Jesus. They spent time being deliberate in opening their Bible and reading and finding other mediums that expanded their knowledge of Him.
One mistake I made when going to church was, I really didn’t know where any of these other individuals were in their faith. Maybe they were feeling the same way as me. Maybe they were fighting their own demons. The biggest mistake I made was understanding faith is a journey and comparing is letting pride get in the way. It’s a lack of self-inspection and not in relation to others. It’s competition to know “am I better or lesser?” In my case, me feeling lesser than the others or like I don’t belong. No one wants to feel like they don’t belong. That brings a lot of anxiety but that isn’t like Jesus at all. I didn’t know I am who I am in God yet. As I would pick up in a later service, I was allowing the enemy a doorway into my soul and that debilitates or paralyzes. That intimidation or fear of being rejected or that I was inferior was the devil working inside. Anytime one seeks to know Jesus more the devil preys. This is what was working in me. My cousin recently said to me, “Chad, do you know who the greatest ventriloquist is? The devil. He can take your own voice in your head and tell you things that create fear and doubt and anxiousness but because it is your own voice you believe it.”
2 Corinthians 10:5 – We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
That really hit me and has really challenged me to take my thoughts captive. Did I know at the time of these feelings in church what I was doing? No, this has been later discovery, later knowledge gained about Christ.
I pushed on. I continued to go to church and even got involved with a discipleship group. I continued to learn more, even if it was at a slow pace. I didn’t know it but something was growing inside. I was learning more about Jesus. I was learning more about the really difficult stuff that is the reason He died for us, the sins we all commit. This is when some more of that metaphorical water really hit me in the face. Maybe it was ice at this point. A big milestone in my path to understand what my faith meant was joining a day and a half summit gathering of men. The summit was about maturing in Christ. Maturing, not matured. This is a very important thing I learned because like any relationship, it is a journey and not a destination. My relationship is about maturing continuously with Him until my time is done here on Earth, a key piece in my growth with my faith as I move farther forward.
Part of the summit was set up to communicate in small groups where we come up short and what we struggle with. This is probably where that ice comes in. I had to somehow take off my armor and share with these strangers where I was at. Have you ever taken yourself to that level of vulnerability? To say it was a strenuous battle within is an understatement. At first being exposed at that level takes a lot of courage and many at the table struggled but the more each one of us opened up the more we could share and the more support we could provide to each other. This was a point where I can look back on and understand where atoning for our sins and holding each other accountable is extremely important but I wasn’t there yet. That was farther along in my growth.
Meanwhile, I still faced a lot of struggle with understanding Jesus’s sacrifice. The hardest part is I started to see how I was sinning because I was learning more about the types of sin. Try coming to terms with that and not feeling a sense of guilt or shame let alone communicate that to your girlfriend or others. Yep, extremely difficult. Once again it is feeling a deep sense of vulnerability. It was dealing with things in my heart that were suppressed and dishonoring. It’s the stuff I regret and had tried to just hide away. Also, naturally I felt a sense of inferiority again because these pitfalls can be very hard to let go of or bring to the forefront. It takes a lot of supplication and humility in asking forgiveness. You mean, God loves even me so much that he sent his only son to take these sins away from me? I’m sure everyone reading this has heard that before. The answer, yes he does!
This went along with many other questions. I think I even asked myself the question how can I just be forgiven for my sins? Don’t some carry more weight? Does it take more to have them wiped clean? Yes, they can be forgiven with intention. It’s a simple and complex as that. On the other hand, it meant getting better and not doing them again or using “asking for forgiveness later” as any justification to commit a sin. That’s the complex part, intention.
Up to this spot on my path, I am still trying to pick up speed but when I look back I recognize many pieces of growth. I had learned a bit more about what it means to ask forgiveness, my deliberation in my prayers, and an internal sense of desire that was not about my relationship with my girlfriend but one with Christ. That fear of opening up with God was lessening a little more and strengthening my relationship with Jesus. It was small but gaining traction.
Another confrontation that was churning in me was the idea of praise. I’ve always struggled with the idea of praising someone. It has a little bit to do with being apprehensive towards authority. I’ve always felt like those individuals present a sense of power that can be oppressive. I was clearly in the wrong in this understanding of God. He doesn’t want to oppress me but to love me. It took me finding clarity in what praising Him meant. I thought about things like how I had praised athletes for their abilities over the years. Here I was being hypocritical and honestly, idolizing them. I surely could praise God for His love, His joy, His peace, and all the things that are good that he brings to me and the world. Instead of praising those athletes or individuals for what they do I learned that I could praise God for giving them the ability to leave us in awe. I could praise Him for showing me many of the beautiful parts of the world over the years. His work is around me everywhere and there is so much to praise and one of the absolute ways to do that is appreciating it all and thanking Him all the time. Just like when a sports fan gets caught up watching when an athlete is going to sign somewhere I have begun to watch Jesus and he has already signed his contract. He won for me and you, for us! Then he promised to return. How can I not praise Him?! That defiance I felt started to wither away.
Throughout all of this was a new discovery that faced the core of who I had become and found a lot of confidence in the past few years, my identity. I was beginning to face a lot of questions regarding who I was. This is stuff that I thought I had come to terms with to a fair degree during these years. Here I go again. Another scary thing to face and quite frankly, did I want to face it? I had been through an identity crisis or two or several throughout my time and it is not fun. All those doubts and fears are so prevalent during those times. I know this was a painful spot in my spiritual growth and one that possibly almost stopped me dead in my tracks and turned away. Was this person I became doing things for the right reasons? Was I seeking to see the world the right way? Were my habits and way of living every day honoring God? Was the love I was giving to my relationship and others a Godly love? These are the questions that were challenging every bit of me and ones I had to understand more about to answer.
To make my next step in this journey I had to grasp my identity and really understand its source. That source being in Jesus. My identity is in Christ. Accepting this was the most important piece. From here my relationship with Jesus could grow exponentially. I could truly start to understand Him and God and the Holy Spirit within me.
A few months ago my friend Dave and I were playing a pick-up basketball game. The day had featured some of the most fun games of basketball I had played in a few years. Then all of a sudden I was on a fast break and Dave went to throw me a pass and the pass missed a bit. While I went to brace to retrieve it I was plowed over by another player. To the floor I went in a heap as well as the Anterior Cruciate Ligament in my knee. I had never faced an injury like this before. I knew how these things turned out from my involvement in sports. It meant a surgery. I was nervous and scared of what was to come. This moment is pivotal because it took my friendship with Dave to a new height. Dave checked in on me to see how I was doing but looking back it’s clear the tear was God saying, “Chad, it’s time for you to come closer.”
About a month after the injury I reached out to Dave to come to the church he preached at. He is an associate pastor and sure enough the day I attend he is preaching. The sermon was predicated around Luke 15. It couldn’t have been more fitting. I related so much to the story. For those who are not familiar I encourage you to look it up. It is about Jesus leaving the 99 sheep to seek the 1 lost sheep. I identified a lot with both the 99 sheep as well as the 1 sheep. This is where I realized that the confidence I had gained going through my earlier years was a sense of self-righteousness. It was not a righteousness through Jesus. I also realized that I was that 1 sheep and Jesus was seeking me. I was that dumb sheep wandering weak and helpless. I needed my shepherd and he was right in front of me. Dave mentioned in the sermon, “Jesus finds us all, whether it is the lost or the prideful and self-righteous.”
There it was! It dawned on me! He was right there all along carrying me through many of those tribulations throughout the years and now he was right there to bring me close and get to know Him. He was seeking me and I didn’t even know it. Looking back it would have been amazing to have knowledge of Him and to know Him earlier.
That sermon and many to follow have begun to strike me internally in very profound ways. I was growing. My relationship with Jesus was growing. The most distinct moment that took place for me in this journey would truly put those questions of my identity to rest. It was one that showed me I didn’t need to question who I was, but simply be conscientious in my intention and to praise God through my actions and be thankful for the happenings of life and this earthly kingdom.
This moment came at a morning gathering of a handful of guys from church, a discipleship group. That morning I shared many of my questions and things in my life. One of the guys referred to a Bible verse about how God knows truly who we are and the things we have done yet still loves us. That was incredibly powerful for me. Wait, he accepts me for who I am? Yes! We all want to be accepted and His acceptance is the greatest gift of love there is. His love goes beyond measure.
Following this we took some time to meditate on the discussions that morning and all of a sudden, I felt a very warm sensation flow through my back. I’m sure every single hair was standing. I truly believe it was Jesus putting his hand on my back to say he was there and will guide me. I felt like the evil of my insecurities and fears were pushed away. It was like how you feel when your parents console you as a child but much deeper. It was a reassurance that He will never let me down.
This place in my spiritual voyage was a tremendous accelerating point for me. I had come to understand so much more what it means to connect to Jesus, to foster a relationship with Him. It’s so far from being perfect or complete and never will be. It’s like any relationship, it takes work. To make sense of His love for me, for us is remarkable and has shown me how to love Him in ways I never knew possible. Knowing he is walking beside me all the time is incredibly comforting and makes me want to grow my relationship with Him more. It’s like having a best friend you love to the highest degree and one you know will never leave. It’s a level of intimacy that is eternally rewarding.
The maturation I have gained in God has filled me with a level of patience that I know is only available by His grace. It’s helping me to see that is not possible for me to be perfect and freeing me of that anxiousness and restlessness that the earthly presence causes within me. I can only try to live like Jesus and by surrendering the self, myself, to Him I’ll be okay when I don’t meet that high standard. I will not know all the answers but he’s showing me experiences to learn from. By putting my trust and truth in Him I can find the kind of gratitude that fosters joy. I feel the most important thing He has helped me begin to learn and understand is love and that starts with His love for me and you. There is no sense of inadequacy. The critical part is simply accepting His love. As I have shared, that is easier said than done but don’t let that turn you away.
As I go forward I have a lot to learn, a lot. However, I’m starting to find my truth with my relationship with Jesus. I’m becoming a deeper believer. I’m finding security in Him. My identity and self-worth is protected and needs no question because it is in Him. It is not in worldly things like my job, the car I drive, or what team I’m a fan of. If it is, I know that is not Him working but the evils of the world. It often takes me taking a step back and asking if I am loving Him first and foremost. My conviction for praise and prayer and repentance is growing and it excites me to see it grow. It does take a constant reminder that by being timid I get nowhere. It’s why I feel moved to share this all with you. It’s taken a leap of vulnerability but that has opened my heart to a greater love.
C.S. Lewis famously said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” The greater love that only Jesus can provide is one that, while it requires that daring vulnerability, our hearts will not be broken.
This testimony has been back and forth between God and Jesus but that is because it is the realization that they are connected. Because of Jesus I can connect with God and God gave His son to pay the ultimate price for you and me and by accepting that His Holy Spirit can work through me. It has been about freeing from that self-righteous person I found myself to be before, the one who thought by doing good I was doing enough. Doing good and ultimately loving others is very important part of spreading God’s love and Jesus’s Good News but I can now begin to see the why. What I am doing is empty if I continued not knowing who I am is in Him.
For someone who has built a life around relationships I’m finding that my most important relationship is with Jesus and He is first. This is how I can take another step in my maturation in my faith and let the Holy Spirit work in me, and in this case share this testimony with you and many others. I have a long way to go and this is me telling my story. I don’t know the same amount about Jesus as the person sitting next to me at church nor do I need to compare how big of a believer I am to that person. That is completely irrelevant to Him and missing the most important part, to accept Jesus and know he loves me for who I am in Him. What a great friend and brother! I look forward to getting to know Him more!
Galatians 5:22 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become concieted, provoking and envying each other