Dreaming in Red

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” —Luke 18:29-30

Before I went to bed a couple nights ago, I read Luke 18.

That night, I dreamed that I did a YWAM DTS (or something similar) this year. Or at least, I started one. I returned to college shortly after it began, troubled that I was putting off graduation still further. I didn’t want to wait another year to get my degree. YWAM could wait a couple months.

Someone in my dream confronted me about my reasons for leaving. Was I sure God didn’t want me to be there at that time? I hemmed and hawed about wanting to be done with college. After all, five years is already a long time.

I don’t remember exactly what the response was, but it was something that challenged me and made me uncomfortable … something that reminded me that God can and does interrupt our best-laid plans, and that that’s okay … and awesome.

It wasn’t until I woke up that I made the Luke 18:29-30 connection, and found it incredibly thought-provoking (and cool) … and consequently sat down at my computer to write down a slightly extended version of what you’re reading now.

Would I be willing to change my plans in response to a call from God? Would I be willing to forgo my spring break Colorado road trip, or stay in Indiana after I graduate, or do a DTS in the States, or even delay my last semester of college?

I’m not saying that God is calling me to do any of these things, but this dream definitely brought that Scripture home in a new way. Some of the above things are things I have long taken for granted: Of course I’m moving back west after I graduate. Of course I’m graduating in May 2011. Of course, of course, of course. I say I want to do whatever God calls me to do, but if I’m setting limitations, even small ones, on my future … am I?

DTS: The Spark

“I’ve discovered a heart for missions,” I wrote in my last blog. And it’s true, even though I don’t quite know what to do with it yet.

Growing up, mission trips intrigued me, but it never worked out for me to do one with my church. And throughout high school, I never worked up the courage to jump into one sponsored by a missions organization.

A couple spring breaks ago, though, I went on my first missions trip. It was a week-long jaunt to Mexico with the local Lions Club and a group from my school. We were there to meet a physical need (eyeglasses), not tell people about Jesus. A different sort of missions trip, but a good one.

Sometime during my college career, I decided that I would like to go on a non-school-related missions trip after I graduated, but beyond that, I didn’t give the idea much thought.

Until this year.

One of my friends did a DTS (Discipleship Training School) with YWAM (Youth With a Mission) earlier this year. These five-month missionary training schools are at the heart of YWAM’s mission: “to know God and to make Him known.”

I was reading my friend’s blogs about his DTS experience right around the time God was working on my heart. That sparked something in me. I wanted an experience like that — a time to focus completely on God with people who were doing the same thing. It sounded wonderful.

So, the  last couple months especially, I’ve started investigating DTS options … but because there are so many schools all over the world, it’s been overwhelming at times. I know that whichever DTS I do will be life-changing if I open my heart to what God is doing and let Him mold me, but I also want to go where God wants me. I don’t want to be a follower and just go somewhere because someone else went there and had a great experience … but I also don’t want to be too proud to follow if and when it’s God’s will.

But I have some time. I won’t be starting until late 2011 or early 2012.

With God, All Things Are Possible

When I started college four years ago, I expected the new place and the new circumstances to change me. I also thought I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

My last blog described my recent academic upheavals. Now I want to write about the spiritual ones. 2010 has been a landmark year in so many ways, the most important of which revolve around my relationship with God. I’ve wanted to write about this topic, really write about it, ever since last spring, but back then I was too busy and over the summer I was too lazy. Now is the time.

On September 1, 2006, my first Friday as an undergraduate, I started a journal. Over the last four years, I’ve written over 100 pages in it, mostly in times of emotional highs and lows. This evening, I read through all 100 of those pages. It was a very revealing experience. The main thing I came away with was that I spent most of the first three-and-a-half years of college wanting to be closer to God, wanting to have a “faith of my own,” but never really doing anything about it other than writing in my journal every few weeks or months. And so I stagnated.

My mom would encourage me to read my Bible and pray. It seemed like a Sunday School answer to me then, and I virtually ignored the counsel, thinking cynically that it wouldn’t “do anything.”

And yet, I wanted to make my faith my own. I wanted to change and grow and be real with people. But as the years passed and my journal writing became more repetitious, I started to wonder if I would ever change.

I would get fixated on all the little things I didn’t like about myself. I could see cracks and holes and inadequacies in almost every area of my life. How could I possibly go from this chronically broken person to someone who was at least on the right trajectory?

I wanted a big, life-changing moment to jolt me out of my aimlessness and into a purposeful faith that was my own. Oh, there would be blips in the flatline that was my life – a challenging chapel speaker, an excellent sermon, a desperate prayer during a time of discouragement – but I wasn’t pursuing God, not really. I was pursuing an image, an end to insecurities, more friends, the approval of my peers and my professors. I sure didn’t like where I was at spiritually, but I didn’t do anything about it – namely, fix my eyes on Jesus.

That was then.

Last spring, I found my new major classes helpful and informative and interesting, but it was Contemporary Christian Belief that changed my life.

Contemporary Christian Belief (Contemp for short) is a class every student at Taylor has to take. But I was excited for the class, especially after I found out what we would be reading.

In a nutshell, it was a philosophy class that centered on apologetics – the defense of the Christian faith. Our main textbooks were two excellent books – The Reason for God by Tim Keller, and Reason for the Hope Within by a collaboration of Christian philosophers, edited by Michael J. Murray. I read many intellectual arguments for Christianity and probed many of the hard questions.

As much as these readings stirred my mind and my heart, what made the biggest difference in my life wasn’t an argument at all. It was something very simple, something that I had always been told but hadn’t really pursued.

I learned that the Christian’s surest reason for belief is experiential knowledge of God, above and beyond all the intellectual reasons. I learned that the more I seek after God, the more I pursue Him and desire to know Him, the more I will know Him. Here’s what I wrote in my journal on April 9:

Instead of worrying and thinking about all the things in your life you don’t like, and how to change them (or despair that they will never change), lean on God. Talk to Him about everything. Get to know Him. Essentially, that is what prayer and Bible reading are – a sincere heart seeking after God. Anyway, by knowing God, the burden of all those worrisome things is transferred to Him, and He will begin to mold me.

This realization began a gradual process of growth that was different from all the transient spiritual highs that had preceded it. Instead of focusing on changing myself, I was focusing on deepening my relationship with God … or at least starting to focus on deepening my relationship with God. Since then, I’ve sought to “live my life as a prayer,” to dig deep into the Word, to earnestly seek after what – and Who – really matters.

It hasn’t been overnight change. There is still so much room for growth. But now I know the secret. I’m trying to seek God not as a means to an end, but as an end in Himself. I have a lot to learn, but now, at long last, I know I’m facing the right direction.

Where am I now? I’m in the second month of what’s looking to be my best school year yet. (Okay, I should probably remove that “yet,” since this actually is my last year). I don’t know what I’m going to do in the long-term, but I’ve discovered a heart for missions and a discontent for living the typical suburban middle-class life with a 9-5 office job and all the trappings. I want to live for God wholeheartedly.

I have a lot of decisions coming up, some rather soon, but above and beyond future concerns, I’m so grateful for what God has done in my life this year. It’s amazing, knowing what can happen when you put God at the center of your life. It’s going to be quite the adventure.