When I first met Marc, he was a depressed, troubled teen. He was drinking to numb his emotional pain, which led to mixing pills and alcohol to sustain his high. When he wanted something new, he switched to marijuana. He started shoplifting and was arrested seven times over a two-year period. Rehab proved to be only a temporary fix. But then he met Jesus.
An elderly couple invited him to their Bible study group, and he often showed up high. Yet God was stronger than the marijuana. He recently told me about his experience when he decided to surrender everything to God: “As I closed my eyes to pray, it got very dark both physically and spiritually. It was as if a satanic atmosphere surrounded me and clouded out the bright rays that shone through the cross. I began to weep and ask for mercy. This lasted for about forty five minutes. When it lifted, I felt a warmth and love that I had never experienced in my life! It was as if God was hugging me and comforting me. After that day, I never touched marijuana again.”
Marc discovered the truth of Colossians 1:13, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Since the day Marc was rescued, he has grown in to a new man. He is living proof of the truth expressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
What are the keys to growing in Christ as Marc has? For me and countless other Christians, they are these: prayer, Bible study, serving others, and attending church.
I’ve made prayer a part of my daily life since I was a young girl. But one prayer request was far more intense than any I’d ever made before. Three years ago, I prayed that God would spare my brother’s life.
When doctors diagnosed Dan with terminal cancer, I did what I’ve always done when I had a problem— I took it to God. As our family stood helplessly by him, we knew that God was our only hope. But His answer to my prayer was, “No, not now.”
I didn’t quit praying the day my brother died. In fact, I prayed even more, because I knew I needed Jesus more. And in my grief I knew that my prayer would someday be answered, “Yes!” at the resurrection.
The beautiful thing about prayer is that Jesus completely understands what we’re going through. He lived here on this earth too. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” When you feel that there is no one who understands, there is Someone who does.
While God invites us to tell Him about our needs, He also invites our praise. So we should tell Him what we’re thankful for and tell Him often how much we love Him.
I have a Bible that was given to me on my tenth birthday—the year my family became Christians. I underlined a lot of texts in that first Bible of mine. When I looked through it recently, I saw that I’d underlined Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” As I read that I paused, I thought, and I wondered, Why does the Bible sometimes cease to be our lamp and our light? Why do we start taking matters into our own hands or getting advice from anyone or any place except God’s Word?
The Bible today is still what it has always been: God’s Word. Words that teach us the right way to live, words that show us what Jesus is like, words that comfort us when we’re hurting, words that assure us that we’re forgiven and accepted by God, and words that give us a future hope when we’re tired of this world. I believe it holds the answer to every predicament and the fulfillment of every need.
I know an amazing 88-year-old woman named Dorothy. Her husband of 54 years died, and she now lives alone. When I asked her how she keeps from being lonely, she said, “I volunteer at the hospital two days a week—I put in nearly five hundred hours last year. And my home is always open to my grandchildren and their friends when they’re hungry or need a place to stay.” She also bakes and shares delicious homemade bread. She gardens and shares her produce. She keeps track of other widows in her neighborhood through phone calls and visits, and she sends cards to friends who are sick. “At the end of each day,” she told me, “it takes me thirty minutes to get through all the names I have written down as prayer requests."
What a great example this elderly woman is! We can all serve, and when we do, Jesus says that we’re actually serving Him too. He said in Matthew 25:40, “ ‘ “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” ’ ” So we’re giving back—giving back to the one who gave His very life for us.
Jim was attending evangelistic meetings that my dad was holding, and he wanted to attend church. But he owned a gas station that was open seven days a week. He told Dad, “I want to start coming to church, but it makes me nervous to shut down the shop on Saturdays. What if people take their business elsewhere?” Dad assured Jim that if he obeyed God, God would take care of him.
Dad said he was thrilled when he drove by the station on his way to church that week and saw a sign in the window that read, “CLOSED ON SATURDAYS.” Not only did the decision not hurt Jim’s business, but it actually grew!
When I think of what Jim was willing to do in order to attend church, I think of all the excuses we give for not attending: we’re too tired; it’s been a hard week; the pastor’s sermons are boring; the music isn’t to our liking; no one talks to us; and the list goes on and on.
But we need church. We need to give back to God as we worship Him. We need the fellowship of other Christians. We need to give to others as we serve—even if it’s by just saying an encouraging word. And we need an anchor in these tough times that will ultimately get tougher. As Hebrews 10:25 encourages, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Nothing can separate
One of my favorite texts that brings me a lot of reassurance is Romans 8:38, 39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing can separate us from God—except us ourselves. We have the freedom to move away from Christ or to grow in Christ. Jesus has done His part. The next move is ours—to deliberately do these things that help us grow in Him. And choosing to grow will bring a happiness, a peace, a fulfillment, and a hope beyond anything this world could ever offer you or me.