When All Hope is Lost.
Here is one of our staff’s stories about redemption in the midst of failure.
Wait, what was your name?
Your name is Jim?
There I was, kneeling on the ground praying for this man’s knee while he held a Justin Bieber poster. He couldn’t have possibly known the last 5 months of my life. He couldn’t have possibly known the agony and pain of the valley I had been walking in. He couldn’t have possibly known what the Lord had whispered to me earlier that day. My eyes began to well up with big hot tears. But You knew, God… you knew.
I should probably rewind a bit and give some backstory to why this encounter significantly altered the trajectory of my faith in Jesus.
Five months prior, I was in my second semester of my junior year in college. It was an amazing semester. I saw more miracles and powerful provisions from Jesus in that semester than ever before. God’s true power became so clear to me. I knew He had an answer for everything. I remember going out on the city streets and praying for a lady named Alvira. She could barely walk, was considerably hunched over, hearing voices, and could barely piece together a few words (let alone a coherent sentence). My friends and I took her inside a local coffee shop, fed her, and prayed for her. When we prayed for her, we commanded suicidal thoughts and depression to cease and for the voices in her head to be silent. Immediately, she began to weep. “They are gone”, she whispered. We then asked if we could lay hands on her back and pray for alignment. When she agreed, we prayed for 15 seconds and immediately she straightened up in her chair and started to cry even more. She had this look of utter astonishment and awe. She had no more pain, and had just grown 6 inches. Then, we asked if we could pray for her ankles. We prayed for her ankles and simply commanded them to be returned to how they were when she was 20 years old. Her legs shot straight up in the air and started to twist around as Jesus touched them and restored them. She stood up in this coffee shop with people all around her staring in disbelief and started to dance and shout, “Jesus healed me!” She began to talk clearly and led us out of the coffee shop shouting along the streets of the city telling everyone how Jesus had healed her.
I tell you all of this to set you up for what happened next. When the semester finished, after so many miracles and encounters, I went to live with my grandparents in Boston, Massachusetts. I worked at a family painting company scaling ladders, scraping old paint, and painting old churches. It was hard manual labor that would leave you exhausted at the end of the day. It became more and more difficult as time went on. I was all alone, away from community and all the support I had built up in college. After a month or so of being home, I began to slip a bit. It would start with choosing to watch movies or TV shows with questionable content. Then I would watch movies and TV shows with more and more strong content. Soon after that I began to watch a little porn here and a little porn there. Soon after that, I was so entangled in my shame and condemnation that I began to watch porn every other day. Somehow, this “great revivalist” was backsliding. I felt so much shame and guilt. I could barely look at myself in the mirror. There were moments here and there that I would break “free” of the shame. Every day I slipped back, I began to question my calling. I began to allow doubts and fear to define me. As I began to self reflect, I started to doubt how God saw me. When I started doubting God’s vision of me, it fueled depression and anxiety. This shame would drive me back to porn. Do you see: what you dwell on, and what you worship, you will become. I had become the very thing I hated. There are no lone wolves in the Kingdom of God. The enemy loves isolation, and community provides shoulders to cry on, encouragement to persevere, strength in numbers that is greater than your own, and defenses when we are weak or struggling. If your community only exists to be served by you, chances are you have a lot of pride in your heart and won’t see the attack of the enemy that is nearly upon you. Seek out community, allow people the ability to speak into your life. It is hard, but so worth it.
As that summer wrapped up, I boarded a flight headed back to Michigan to start my senior year of college. I was broken. I felt like I was running on empty. The worst part, I fully believed God was done with me. I felt like I had fully rejected God, and therefore, He fully rejected me. I didn’t know what to do. It seemed like all of God’s love had left my heart, and all that remained were the Bible verses in my head, clouded over with all the memories of porn and shame. It seemed entirely impossible to engage with Jesus and to follow his voice. It was truly difficult to even look someone in the eye let alone share about how my summer had gone. All my friends came up to me and asked me how I was doing, wondering about all the ministry I had done over the summer in Boston. I would recite some quote about identity from one of my favorite authors and dodge the question entirely. I began to hide behind the knowledge and memories of past miracles. But my future was so dim. I had no hope.
One day, a leader in my life came to me with a favor to ask. He asked me if I would help him lead a prayer and activation group. The whole teaching and ministry time was centered around one thing: hearing the voice of God. On the inside, I couldn’t even bare to show up. But I owed my leader, so I came with zero percent expectation and 100% shame. As he taught on hearing the voice of the Lord, I began to strive and yearn that God would speak to me just so that I wouldn’t feel silly for leading and having “nothing” to add to the group. Nothing. Dust. I felt so ashamed that I was supposed to lead this group and I couldn’t even hear God’s voice at all.
As everyone else started to listen and write down all their words from the Lord, I just stared at a blank piece of paper… still nothing.
As the teaching wrapped up, we got in our groups to see if the Holy Spirit was confirming anything in particular. Everyone started getting more and more excited that God was really leading them. I felt even more sure of the fact that God had really left me because I had messed up so badly. As I was about to address my team, I sent up one last helpless plea to God…”please give me anything”, I whispered quietly to myself. As I sat there with pen in hand and nothing coming to me, I heard this faint breeze of a whisper go through my mind… “Jim”. It would have been easier for me to completely miss it and not give attention to it, but in my shame, I wrote it down on the paper, crumpled up the paper and put it in my back pocket, and completely forgot about it. My team asked me if I got anything for direction, I mumbled, “No”.
They all began to share their words. Someone got “red shirt”, someone got an address, someone got certain injury or pain in the body. They were all excited as they began to believe and stir their faith for what God had in store for them.
When we hit the streets, my thought process went something like this:
I have this cloud of oppression over me. I can’t even bring myself to be excited for the team I am leading. I am jaded and cynical. We begin to find the different words. We pray for a guy in a red shirt and he is very impacted and touched. We go to the exact address and pray for this house and talk to its owners. The whole time my whole team is growing and getting excited and yet this cloud of oppression won’t leave me alone. Hearing the taunts of despair only breeds more despair. “He has left you, He doesn’t care about you, You failed too greatly for His love to accept you.” All these thoughts and lies of the enemy are ringing through my ears. I want to quit and go home, but I am “leading” this group. Discouraged, isolated, and lonely, I struggle to keep my head up as I am walking around the city.
As we travel in our car to our last word of the day, I simply can’t wait to be done with this whole experience. We get to an intersection of two streets and begin to walk down one of the streets. After walking for almost a half mile in one direction and not coming across anyone, I tell the group we are going to turn around and head back and begin our “debrief time” back at the church we started at. We turn around and begin making our way back to our car. As we walk for a few minutes, I soon saw a man come around a corner of a building holding a Justin Bieber poster. He had a deep grimace on his face and a bad limp in his gait. He was in a lot of pain. As we got closer to him, my heart just broke for him. Momentarily, all the pain and despair in my heart and mind left me as I moved directly for him.
As I came right up to him, with zero hesitation, I ask him while pointing to his knee, “What happened to your leg?” He groaned and told me a story of how he had bought the Justin Bieber poster for his niece but later dislocated his kneecap and went to the hospital. Because he didn’t have health insurance, they couldn’t do anything. They only gave him some pain killers.
Before I even knew what I was considering saying, I asked him, “Can I pray that Jesus would heal your knee?”
He was taken aback, but was in too much pain to say no. “Yeah, I would appreciate that, man.”
I immediately get down on my knees and gently touch the man’s kneecap. As I begin praying, one of the guys in my group stops me.
“Wait, what was your name?”
I looked up in utter disbelief. “Your name is Jim?”
I was stunned. The name on my paper that the Holy Spirit had whispered to me immediately flashed into my memory. I was undone. I finally heard His voice. Tears began to well up in my eyes. My heart of stone suddenly in an instant softened, tenderized by His whisper of promised love.
He whispered yet again. “Nate, I never left you. I never forsook you. I never walked away.”
As He spoke to me, it was as if a gentle summer rain came washing over my dry and parched soul. The famine was over, the drought had ended. He spoke to me. I was overwhelmed as His endless mercy and grace washed away the addiction and shame of porn, the self hatred of my past failures. My sin was no more. Endless oceans of Grace drowned every hindrance to His love as I felt the embrace of the Father while praying for this man with the Justin Bieber poster.
I began to pray for this man’s knee to be healed, and for all the pain to be gone. Little did I know, God was healing my heart. All the shame, self hatred, and disappointment that had built for the last 5 months, just started falling off me. I stood up, looked Jim in the eye and asked him, “How does the knee feel?” He had a look filled with wonder and shock.
“I don’t have anymore pain…”, he said, in utter disbelief that he was just healed by the power of Jesus.
I was so caught up in the joy of my salvation, the nearness of Jesus’s presence, and the kindness of the Father, that I almost didn’t even hear him. I was as shocked as he was, albeit for very different reasons.
The prodigal had come home, yet again.
For those of you reading this, I want to just tell you this: He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. It’s not in his nature. I want to fill you with courage and hope to believe this day, that your sin and failures do not scare Him. In fact, they actually attract Him. (Romans 3:7). This is not a licence to continue in sin any longer, but to know the one who has taken ALL your sin. To really believe that He has ONCE FOR ALL removed it as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12). He is true to His word. He will never forsake you. Trust in Him, that He really is as good as He say’s He is.