In the early spring days of 1972, I began to wrestle with God regarding the ownership of my life. I was twenty years old at the time and what I am about to tell you happened forty-five years ago. Four years prior to this 1972 wrestling match with God, in the spring of 1968 as a sixteen-year-old Junior in High School, I had invited Jesus Christ into my life as my Savior. In the spring of 1972, God began to press in on me. Life was great with Jesus as my Savior. But now the question came. Who would be my Lord. Would it be HIM? Or would it be ME?
Young, full of life, filled with the Spirit of God, learning how to read, study and even understand His Word, gifted in music, a songwriter, unattached in terms of marriage or even a girlfriend, still living under my parents’ roof, I was as free as a bird!
“What do you want from me God?” I asked.
“Everything.” He replied
And so the tussle began. Yes I wanted to be God’s. I wanted to belong to Him and serve Him. But how much was I willing to surrender? Part of me? Most of me? Or all of me?
If you have been through this struggle, you understand the weight of the decision. If you have avoided it, then, well, you have only cheated yourself.
So, I wrestled with God for several weeks, probably two or three months to be truthful. “If I give You my all God, that means that You will choose my spouse, my life partner. That means You will choose my career, my work, the place or places I will live. That means You will own my car, my wages, my music, my ideas, my plans, my dreams, my future … yes YOU will own everything.”
Wrestling, contending, grappling, tangling, yes, God and I went at it for a good while. And then, one evening driving home from a gathering of believers, driving in the dark as I rambled down I-495 and then I-95 South toward home, I yielded.
“OK,” I said, “You can have it all. You can have whatever You want. You can do with me as You please, send me to where You want me to go, marry me off to the bride of Your choosing, take me down whatever career path You have for me, send me to Africa, to inner-city Detroit, to China, whatever. I’m not going to fight You anymore. Whatever pleases You, that’s what I want.
And that is when/where the planting occurred, the vision became real, and life in Christ truly began to become meaningful for me.
“Bumpy Difficult Road Ahead” read the sign. Oh not a physical sign in the roadway. This was a sign now planted in my heart, a word of preparation from my Father for difficulties to come. “These next years of life son, will be your seminary. These are the days when I am going to teach you how to seek Me, how to know Me, how to trust Me, how to wait upon Me, how to hear My voice.”
And so it began … A twenty year stretch of my life filled with great upheaval, turmoil, pain, heartbreak, disappointment. Oh it wasn’t all dark. I had the companionship of a wife, the joys of fatherhood, many friends, many good times.
Yet, external forces beyond my control pressed in on me constantly. I cannot provide specific details here. They are too personal. But I was afflicted with great trial.
“I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”
(Psalm 119:75 ESV)
I had no path of escape from the great weight of difficulty God had laid on me. It was never His plan, for a number of years, to deliver me. And I understood that. I understood it from the beginning and I knew the darkness was coming. And I knew when I sat in the midst of that dark place that He had placed me there and that He would keep me there until He achieved His purpose. Yes, my Father had set me in a place where He could work on me. Breaking, refining, sanctifying. These were my Lord’s aims. Would I rebel? Or would I participate in the process?
Well I did both of course. And I would like to think that the bulk of my responses were the correct ones – though not all.
I fought depression and despair, off and on, for many years. My course of action became praise, worship, and praying in my prayer language. Lots of it. Hours on end sometimes. And waiting on God. Quietly, still, in a comfortable chair I sat, struggling to divest myself of every self-generated thought. “The name of Jesus, the blood of Jesus,” my spirit and my thoughts focused and attuned themselves toward heaven. “I want you Lord, just You. Nothing else will do.” God’s presence became my hiding place.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
(Psalm 84:1-2 ESV)
These activities strengthened me greatly on the inside. My spirit-man became very active and very strong. I reached a point where I could discern the difference between my soul and my spirit. This is a very good capability to have for one who walks with God.
The great external pressure ended in 1990. And then, for three more years, I wrestled with bitterness. Those close to me in those days saw it and put up with me. Then, after more warfare, the bitterness faded and I became free.
Since the liberation, twenty-four more years have come and gone. Today, I am happier than ever. God is bigger to me than He has ever been before. I recognize His daily mercies, His ongoing grace, and His multitudinous blessings.
I intentionally used the word “happier” in the paragraph above. You see, from the moment I surrendered to God on that dark-night’s ride home down I-95 in the mid-summer of 1972, I have never pursued my own personal happiness as a goal for my life.
Happiness eluded me for much of my adult life. Oh I of course experienced some happiness here and there. My life was not 24/7 misery mind you. I have many wonderful memories from those years. The pain from those days is now only a faint memory. I have forgiven those who hurt me. And I have no complaints. Not one. I only fault myself for not being a better participator with God in His sanctifying work. But personal happiness has never—well since 1972—been my goal.
Since that day, so long ago now, my lifetime pursuit has been God’s pleasure. What pleases God? That’s how I have tried to live my life. I’ve failed at it countless times. But by His grace, I have gotten up and continued on.
In the summer of 1972, God planted a vision in me—a vision of His will, His purpose, His plan, His pleasure, His higher calling. That night, the pursuit of doing His will became the primary objective in my life. But it was more than just an objective. It became a force and it grew to become the vision that has kept me from perishing. That is the vision to which I have held these last forty-five years. And by His grace, with many set-backs and start-overs, I have trusted the process, the sanctifying, dross-burning, old-nature-shedding process that God ordains.
Life with Christ on this earth is an endless wrestling match. From the moment we say yes to God, to our last breath, He is, in some form and with seasons of rest and reprieve, after us to relinquish the control of our lives over to Him.
If you are still pursuing your own happiness, if that is your number one objective in life, you are missing the mark entirely. You are shortchanging yourself of God’s best. Take it from a guy who set out long ago to shed himself of his own lordship and pursue the will, the pleasures and the Lordship of His Maker and Redeemer. Almost half a century later, both the Father and I are still in pursuit of one another. I pursue Him because He first pursued me. I will never be fully surrendered in this life here on earth. But with His aid, I will keep pursuing.