I haven't asked many people, but if I did I am pretty sure that most people would admit that they have felt dry spiritually at some point or another. Even the strongest of Christians struggle with discernment or forgiveness or freedom in Christ.
And if anything's for sure, it's that we're all sinners and completely unworthy of the grace that's given us.
Well, unworthy is definitely how I feel a lot. One of the first new things I experienced at college was a prayer walk. Go ahead and laugh if you'd like; it is quite contrary to the typical parties, frustrating roommate situations and drama found at normal colleges. (Okay, I'd be lying if I said none of that happened here, but it's no lie to people at Hope that we live in a bit of a protected bubble). In the church I was raised, prayer was either done individually or communally in recited prayers. Not once do I remember spontaneous prayer occurring in my life, nor do I remember someone praying over me. Both of these are normal things at Hope, at least if you're in the crowd I'm in.
This prayer walk was a somewhat traumatizing event. Okay, traumatizing is a bad word because it' didn't have lasting negative effects on my life. It was so unfamiliar to me it was scary, though. I was in a group with four other people and everyone in the group besides me spontaneously prayed what was on their hearts. I had never prayed spontaneously out loud before except occasionally at dinner, which was never a difficult task and did not require listening to God. They spoke with such eloquence and wisdom it seemed like this was something they did daily, even though I knew it wasn't. They knew exactly what to say and exactly how to say it, and here I was not even sure how to ask God what to pray about let alone how to do it out loud.
The prayer walk ended with my only contribution to the night being a reading from the bible that was written on a sheet of paper. Well, at least I spoke I guess. I was feeling inferior and far from God, but I wanted to be able to pray like that; I wanted to be able to listen to God and speak the words He was pouring into my soul: words of love and healing and hope.
I went back to my dorm and sat in my frustration instead of sitting with God. I wanted God to set a fire inside of me so much, but I couldn't feel His spirit in me. What more did I have to do? A few days later I attended a worship night in one of the cottages. I figured if I kept going to prayer walks and worship nights and campus ministry events maybe I would start to feel something. The worship night, too, was like nothing I had ever seen before. People were dancing and singing and sometimes shouting because they were so filled with the spirit. And there I was, lacking all ability to feel anything, good or bad.
Frustration filled me again. Why couldn't I lift up my hands in worship? Why couldn't I be filled with joy like the people around me were? I'm here, God, and I want You to fill me. The night progressed as this weighed on my heart. I forced myself to sway and I sang and from the outside, it might have looked like I was filled with joy. Rather I was filled with the opposite. At the end of the night, they announced that we should get into small groups and pray. It was optional of course, but we were highly encouraged to engage in prayer together. Great, more opportunities to show how good I am at praying.
Jenny Junior (whom I had met earlier in the night) was sitting near my friend Olivia and I, and she invited us to pray with her. A boy joined us as well. We introduced ourselves and told each other what we needed prayer for. My prayer request was to be courageous, which went hand in hand with my need to open up and let God in and let His spirit move over me. I was too shy to share anything of depth. We entered into a time of prayer and brought our needs before the Lord. This time I spoke, but only because I was pretty sure I was obligated to. You don't join others in prayer and let everyone else pray for you and then say nothing in return, at least if you want to leave without feeling awful about yourself. My prayer was said quick, felt uncomfortable, and was short because I still had no idea how to pray aloud. I asked God to make Himself known to Jenny's brother, who was on His journey to discovering God but not quite there yet. I prayed He would also call all others who did not know Him to know Him, with a piece of myself in mind.
I left the night frustrated that I was still bound to my chains, not experiencing the joy of the spirit. It was progress though, praying out loud. Not to mention, a week later Jenny told me her brother committed himself to the Lord. God does use us, even when we are somewhat dysfunctional pray-ers who don't really know what we're doing at all.
Thursday night I found myself at a campus ministries event called "The Harvest." The point of the night is to worship, practice sharing the gospel, pray, and then go out and talk to people about God and pray over anyone whom needs prayer. I was unfamiliar with the whole boatload of items on the list, but there I was anyways. I could worship, but I couldn't do it in joy. Sharing the gospel? Quite frankly I wasn't even sure I knew exactly what the gospel was. Prayer? Yeah, I'm good for about three sentences of that and I'm among hardcore pray-ers. Praying over random strangers after listening to what God tells me they need to hear? Like seriously, these people have the wrong idea of me. I'm not a superstar Christian.
The night was casual with probably 30 or so people, and I felt comfortable until it was time to practice sharing the gospel. I was with two girls who had clearly read the bible or shared God's word enough times to know how to be somewhat effective at sharing the bible. I went last in the order of practice, and my version was probably a quarter of the length of the others'. It wasn't nearly as complete, but while I was talking I noticed for a minute my voice got excited and picking up enthusiasm. In my book, it felt like a win.
Then it was time for prayer, which was 26 times more intense than the previous group prayer. We spent a few minutes in silence, asking God what the other's needed to hear. The only problem is that I didn't know how to listen to God, so I didn't know what they needed to hear, and I didn't really know them, so I couldn't rely on anything I already knew. We took turns being in the center, and the other two would lay hands and pray for the third. My prayers were 1/10 of the length of the two girls I was with. I'm not sure why I was so fixated on length, anyways, but I was. I did not know which words were right to say, and I did not know which words they needed to hear. I felt inferior in my faith.
When it was my turn to be in the center, I could feel the accuracy of the prayers on my heart. The one word that stuck with me that was unfamiliar to me was reconciler. Sure I had been reconciled of my sins but I had never considered myself someone to intercede and help others find forgiveness. I felt even more inferior surrounded by their seemingly professional prayers, but I was also inspired to be able to pray like them and tell others exactly what they needed to hear.
At this point, we prayed together for God's strength while we went out to spread the message of the gospel. Then we spent another few minutes in silence as we listened for God to show us where to go. How am I supposed to figure out where God needs me? No vision came to me nor any words or anything. We left and followed one of the other girls' visions and eventually found a man to pray for. More praying! And now it's with someone who's not a student, out in the real world where people need the literal word of Jesus in it's true form not something I contorted with my awkward inferior faith.
We talked to the man about where he could use prayer and then prayed over him. I went last, which I now realize is a bad idea when you aren't a very good pray-er to begin with. Everyone else steals all the ideas you come up with. I shared a little with him, but was nowhere near as long as the others' once again. The man was appreciative, and I went away feeling good that I was involved, even if only partially.
I continued to go to worship nights where I lacked a feeling of God's presence and club meetings for different religious organizations on campus but was so frustrated that everyone else had been raised in a culture where it was common to pray over others and go on prayer walks and spread the gospel while none of that was something people did where I grew up, at least that I was aware of. I felt like I was inferior not because of anything I had or hadn't done but by my circumstances, which I realize now is ridiculous and probably the reason I am not at the same level many of the people around me are.
And then one night my heart opened up and was warmed. It tingled with joy and the joy made me happier and the happiness made me more joyful and I knew in my heart that God is so good to us. I put my hands in the air and worshiped the God who breaks our chains with my chains broken. But the next day in chapel I was again bound to my old ways. It's up and down, this thing called Christianity. Sometimes my heart jumps for joy and sometimes my heart can only focus on my own frustrations, my own insufficiency. But this is the part of the story where it becomes so beautifully evident that we have a God who provides.
Today in chapel, Trygve, the Dean of the Chapel, talked about God's impartiality. We humans so desperately have a need to classify things, good versus bad. In the stories we tell there is the right side and the wrong side. We put people into groups accordingly. I was immediately aware of how much this sermon spoke to my need. I so desperately needed to classify those around me as good or bad Christians. Everyone around me was a good one, and I was the only bad. But to God it doesn't matter if we just started believing in Him yesterday or if we've always followed Him with all our hearts. What matters to God is that we accept His never-ending love for us, even if it takes a while. To God, we are all the same. New believers and faithful believers and the one's who's old faith is being revived. God delights in our worship, whether or not we're experienced, if our worship is focused on Him alone.
I spent a lot of time watching other people worship joyfully, wishing I was like them. But the whole time, all I needed was to focus on God and my worship would be true. God has freed me from the chains that kept me from worshiping joyfully, from my feeling of spiritual inferiority. Sure, I might be surrounded by people who really are admirable in their faith. But God's not counting it against me, so why should I count it against myself? Instead, I need to use their lives as examples of how I need to live mine; above all else, I need to use Jesus' life as the perfect model. It's not that every time I worship every song I hear makes me want to shout praises to The One Who Saves because that's not how it is. But so often when I focus on Him alone and how much He has provided for me in my life, my heart is warmed and I feel true joy worshiping His name.
Still there are days when I'm left feeling like the Christians around me are better. Like today, when this nice guy came up to me and expressed a desire to help me with whatever I was going through. If I needed prayer or someone to pray through my struggles with, he was there. Pray through my struggles? It seemed like a good thing to do, but I wasn't really sure
And remember: in God's eyes, we're all the same.