2017 has been a whirlwind of emotions, experiences, and encounters. I’ve felt defeated, dejected, and desensitized. I’ve been scraping to escape from a spiritual slump. But I’m comforted by the words of the gardener in Luke 6, “Sir, give it one more chance.”At the end of May, my family and I went to Guatemala to serve an orphanage. While we were there, we did work projects around the facility, interacted with the kids, and built up relationships with the missionaries and staff. It was an incredible opportunity to serve Christ alongside my siblings and parents. This trip marked the beginning of my summer, a summer that I needed to be transformational and rejuvenating.
Why do I need a transformational summer?
In September of 2016, I lost a relationship. The repercussions of the end of this relationship were deep and shook my relationship with God and with others. Don’t misunderstand me, I never once doubted the sovereignty of God and His presence in my life, but I certainly did doubt my future and God’s changing power. For a long time, I subconsciously understood the end of that relationship as my failure as a man and as a Christian. I lost hope for a godly romantic relationship in the future and fell back into old sin patterns and mindsets because I didn’t see the point in pursuing what is holy if I already tried that once and failed.
Friends, hear me loud and clear: WE DO NOT SERVE A GOD OF LOST HOPE. Rather, we serve a God of everlasting hope and His Spirit is with us to help us in our weakness!
However, it took me a long time to internalize that and really believe it. On the whole, I am an optimistic, joyful, upbeat, and carefree individual. I can roll with the punches and come out the other end celebrating. But from September until about April/May, I was trudging through a serious spiritual drought and felt burdened by sadness, frustration, and anger.
So what got me out of the drought? A combination of God’s awesome faithfulness and a well-timed slap of reality. I learned that my ex had started dating someone new and the resulting emotions that rattled my core seemed to be shouting, “CHAD YOU NEED TO DEAL WITH THIS!” The reality that life moves on and I can’t lay around dwelling on false or lost hopes hit full force. In that moment, I recognized that I could no longer stay in this weird place of stagnancy and self-pity. The night after I learned of this, I hardly slept. I dealt with it the best way I knew how: I wrote music and I prayed.
God amazes me in that He is always faithful to us even in our complete disregard of Him. His Spirit does indeed help us in our weakness! I can’t explain how that slap-in-the-face moment of reality helped set me back on track other than giving credit to God’s Spirit working in me. That moment easily could have made me even more upset, sent me towards depression, or spiraled me into sin. Instead, God used it to point me back towards Him. Honestly, how great is thy faithfulness!
So now you understand how I needed my summer to be a time of spiritual rejuvenation. I was leaving the school year assembling the pieces of my lackluster faith and praying for a breath of new life. Yet another example of God’s perfect timing and sovereign orchestration of our lives: a family missions trip could not have been more perfect for my spiritual state.
I was completely removed from my routine, from my normal surroundings, and from anything that might tempt me to fall back into stagnancy. I was surrounded by family who love me unconditionally, missionaries who have dedicated their lives to serving the Lord, and kids who were filled with incomprehensible joy (and sass, to be honest). It was refreshing to serve a ministry in such a practical way and I was able to engage in conversations that were encouraging and Christ-centered–long conversations about faith were something that had been absent from my life for a few months.
Then, in the middle of the week, God spoke to me in a way He had never spoken to me before: in Spanish. My Spanish came flooding back during my time in Guatemala and it was thrilling to be able to converse with the kids in their native language. But even more thrilling was the opportunity I had to go with the older kids to their church’s worship night. Worshipping with that congregation, all in Spanish, mind you, was truly a God encounter for me. The worship leader shared from Luke 13:6-9, a little-known parable that has profoundly affected me.
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (ESV)
My Spanish is decent, but it was truly God speaking to me that I understood every sentiment that the leader was sharing with us. He challenged us with the phrase “un año más” (“one more year”) as an encouragement that God is not done working in you, even if you feel as if you haven’t been producing fruit. He was speaking to the exact stage in life I was in at that moment.
I felt as if I hadn’t been producing fruit for awhile. I was holding on to my faith but I was doing nothing for the faith. Or, in the things I was doing, my heart wasn’t in the right place. I was frustrated that I had grown so much only to fall back into a several month long period of stagnancy and lack of spiritual fruit. Yet here was this man I never met, speaking a language that wasn’t my native language, and delivering the message I needed to hear: that the gardener/vinedresser, Jesus Christ, is advocating on my behalf and he is giving me one more chance, one more year, un año más, to bear fruit.
That, my friends, is hope. I was filled with such comfort, joy, and…well, hope! That Jesus could look at me, a tree that has been sitting, taking up space, and not producing fruit and still say “Give it one more year” — truly we serve a God of second chances! The New Living Translation words verse 8 like this:
“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer.
“I’ll give it special attention”. Yo. Special attention from Jesus. I am SO READY for that! I left that night with a renewed desire to produce fruit, a resolution to grow, and an openness to allow the changing power of the Holy Spirit to move in my life again. I also left with a new tattoo idea.
That week kicked off my summer. Upon returning stateside, I unpacked, repacked, and drove fifteen hours straight to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I’ve been spending my summer interning at Harvest Bible Chapel Lancaster and Piercing Word. Both of these places have poured into my life in a revolutionary way.
The summer hasn’t exactly been restful in the way that I was thinking it would be, but despite the busyness, God has certainly been using the people I’m working with and the opportunities I’ve been given to encourage me and challenge me.
Harvest Bible Chapel Lancaster is currently going through a lot of changes, one of the biggest ones being that the church is moving into a new building! The whole summer has been characterized by the phrase: God is on the Move — and the same is true in my own life! It’s been a joy to serve HBCL, although somehow my small-time hobby of creating and editing videos has become a full-time gig at church (and Piercing Word!) this summer.
I’m also in the throes of Camp Rock this week, HBCL’s VBS on steroids, a high-energy fine arts camp. I’m teaching the drama track, which means I spend an hour and a half every night teaching eleven campers about drama and working with them to put together a skit for our showcase on Sunday. The rest of the evening I party, worship, and hang out with them. My campers are incredible and I have a team of awesome helpers as well. Every time I find myself in front of a group of kids, I am overwhelmed by my love for them and my desire to see them succeed and celebrate their unique talents. I have reached a point where there is absolutely no denying that teaching is my calling. I am so indescribably thankful for how God has gifted me in this area.
Similarly, I’ve been helping Piercing Word with their drama camps last week and this week. Seeing kids passionate for the Word of God and then also participating in goofy improv games is probably one of the most fun and encouraging experiences I’ve ever been a part of. Last week, during the high school camp, I had the privilege of directing the Romans 8 presentation (I have memorized and performed Romans 8 several times this summer with PW already), and it was a blessing to me to be on the other side of the stage, so to speak. I know I want to teach elementary students, but it was really cool to interact with high schoolers all last week and talk with them about their life and their faith. Honestly, I think I’ll be happy wherever I end up as long as I have the privilege of investing in the lives of future generations.
Being involved in Piercing Word–oh, I totally haven’t explained what Piercing Word is. Piercing Word is a ministry based in Lancaster that performs scripture in dramatic and musical presentations, word-for-word from the ESV Bible. I’m an acting intern with them for the summer, which means I’ve memorized some of the scripture presentations as well as created a new one with the other intern (Judges 4 & 5, the story of Deborah and Barak), which we performed on July 9th. I wrote original music for that presentation, and it was a unique challenge to set word-for-word scripture to lyrics and music.
I had been excited to intern with Piercing Word because of the opportunity to act again. I haven’t been in a show since my Houghton times, and I was eager to be on stage again. But what I didn’t expect was to be so loved by the staff of Piercing Word and to fall in love with their ministry. Honestly though, you can’t help falling in love with a ministry when you witness firsthand people being affected and changed by the ministry.
Aaron and Emily House are the founders of Piercing Word and from the moment I arrived in Lancaster, they jumped headfirst into getting to know me and being involved in my life. God has used them tremendously in my life this summer: they have made me feel loved, they have challenged me in my faith, they have encouraged me and celebrated my successes, and they have helped me come to some pretty important realizations about myself and my faith.
One of those realizations is what brings the blog post full circle: in explaining to Emily some of the stuff I’ve been going through over the last couple of months, I said that I had come to recognize that I can’t rely on other people to do my spiritual growth for me. It wasn’t until those words had left my mouth that I actually, truly, really recognized that that was what I had been doing. I was counting on other people–good, Christ-following, faith-filled people–to do the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in my life. When clearly only God can do that. And God can do that so much better when I prepare my heart and my life for it.
My struggle with sin isn’t something that an accountability partner is going to fix. My temptations aren’t going to cease because of the right romantic relationship. The production of Holy Spirit fruit in my life isn’t going to be the result of solid preaching, or friends who do the right things, or serving the church just because it’s what I do.
A pastor recently shared that reaching spiritual milestones is not always measured by fruit, but it is measured by faithfulness.
My faithfulness to God is not something that someone else can do for me. If I want to produce fruit, I need to take ownership of my shortcomings and failures, repent of my unbelief, and fervently seek the will of God to experience transformational change in my life.
In a world that has lost sight of what it means to be holy and sanctified, I want to become holy and sanctified.
In a world that takes sin and presents it as a twisted hope, I want to rebuke sin and live in true hope.
In less than a month, I will return to Florida, move into an apartment with my sister and two friends, and finish my last year of schooling before finally graduating. I’m praying that it is a year of continued transformation, of continued hope, and of continued faithfulness.
God is constantly healing us, molding us, and preparing us. I can’t praise Him enough for His unwavering faithfulness in my life.
If you’ve read this all the way through, I sincerely hope it has been an encouragement to you. But I also hope it’s a challenge: how are you bearing fruit? Are you like me, a tree that has been barren for far too long? Or relying on others to change you in a way that only Christ can?
We need to do this walk with others. We need to be surrounded by those who love Christ and build us up. But it is a personal journey too, and you need to be faithful to Him and pursue Him just as passionately as He pursues you every day.
God is on the move and He wants to move in you.