I used to think God had a Perfect Plan for my life.
There was this “amazing life” out there to be experienced, to be grasped, if only I could……figure it out? be perfect in absolutely every way? not “slip up”, be so spiritual I didn’t miss his voice? There was of course the conciliatory prize of “plan B” you know what I’m talking about. It was the mediocre reality of what happens when you miss the boat, when you couldn’t quite be perfect, when you messed up. I lived in dread of Plan B. I went forward for prayer at youth group, at youth events, at church, saying “I just want to know God’s will” I lifted my hands in surrender, I told God I’d do anything, go anywhere. I somehow thought that if I could just be perfect and amazing enough then a dazzling wondrous life awaited. I was told that if I was a super Christian, my light would shine and others would become Christians because of….what? ME? really? I thought that? I guess I didn’t articulate it like that at the time…but the heavy implications of that idea must made their way into my subconscious.
I started to have revelations of the beautiful love of Jesus between the ages of 10-13. Those hard going adolescent years were graced by some truly tangible moments that took place outside the context of youth groups, worship services or anything organised. They happened to me when I was alone listening to 10 year old Amy Grant songs, or with no prompting at all. I experienced the Jesus from my Sunday school lessons, and I fell in love with Him, and felt His love. I also had those amazing charismatic worship experiences at big youth conferences, where I felt the warmth and excitement of His presence, it made me feel, like I could do anything.
So the overflow of loving God is loving others. Yet somehow this simple concept became complicated in my mind. Titles like “world changer” and being “part of a generation of young people that WILL not succumb to this world” and “sold out” put the pressure on me somehow to pull it off. Yeah of course it was “God in us” and “His strength and power” and “by His spirit” but I don’t know…..somehow ultimately it felt like it was down to me to get it right. That’s a whole other thing…being right. Having to be right. Having to know it all. Having to have some edge of faith and ministry that no one else seemed to have.
I lived this reality out by going on a different short term mission trip every summer of my teenage years. These were certainly life changing summers that set my soul on fire, opened my eyes to just how big the world was and helped me encounter God is many amazing real tangible ways. This was long before the days of Poverty Tourism, it was before mission trips were cool and before the youth groups with matching t-shirts. I was considered pretty extreme in my local church for going and my parents criticised by other parents for “letting me” go. But alongside these life changing, eye opening, soul expanding experiences, there was some pretty unbalanced messages I received. It was never intended but I think many of us came away with a very works based gospel. We would preach a message of salvation by grace to the masses, but then back in our team meetings we’d hear messages about not ever dating or else we’d screw up God’s plan for whoever we were supposed to marry, getting rid of all our secular music, and making sure we spent an hour in God’s word every day, or else…..down the slippery slope we would slide to a “less than” life.
This was then exasperated once I got back into my youth group by having youth leaders who measured their success by what?how good we behaved? Were they were still dealing with their own wounds and insecurities? It didn’t feel like there was space enough for us to fail, lest it reflect on them, and they face the wrath of our parents or risk their paycheque perhaps. I think some of them had an overzealous desire to live out their second chances through us. So many told testimonies full of some pretty chaotic crazy stuff they had been delivered from. But I wonder if they somehow saw raising a group of innocent young people would somehow make up for their own sins? Could we vindicate them? Could we help them somehow make sense of their failings? Did they think they failed so we didn’t have to?? So we could learn from them?
Sounds strangely dissonant. Somehow the message of “Jesus paid the price so you can be free” was lost in the “I messed up so you now have no excuse not to learn from my mistakes”.
The message of forgiveness was of course there in the mix. Yet it always felt like an afterthought. Somehow the prevailing message I seemed to absorb was that if I really had enough faith, passion, commitment, zeal, love of God, love for His word, bravery, etc. then I would avoid all he pitfalls and sail through to the promise land.
I knew that God worked everything for the good…but somehow I added my own provisos, like “but it will never be as good as it could have been”, Now I think He is always working everything out for our good and it’s not some kind of quick clean up job, it’s just….what he does.
I knew my righteousness was not going to earn me God’s love, but I did perhaps wonder if I wouldn’t have a significantly better life if I managed to hold it together on the not sinning front. Now I know God’s love is all I need for every moment of my life however good or bad it is.
I used to think the point of my life was to have a relationship with God so I could find out what God wanted me do, then to be obedient and do it and experience some kind of fairytale ending. But Now I think that no matter what I end up doing with the rest of my life, the perfect pleasing will of God is for me to be in a real loving relationship with Him.
I loved this book….You can get it in the UK here