In 2011, I visited California, and the United States, for the very first time. I had gone to Redding to visit a friend and spent ten great days exploring on foot, reading in coffee shops, and driving a stretch of the west coast in an electric blue Ford Mustang convertible (a particularly noteworthy upgrade from the beige Toyota Corolla I had paid for).
On one such day, while my friend was in school, I walked alone along what had become a familiar route; across the main street from where we were staying, down the path behind some rather grand houses, along the Sacramento River trail, and across the Sundial Bridge. It was January, yet uncharacteristically warm for that time of year, and the sun was setting late afternoon.
As the golden light flooded the expanse ahead of me, it lit up the impressive mountains surrounding the city. I am a sucker for a sunset so I let it envelope me like a warm hug from heaven. As I stood there admiring God’s stunning creation – the snow-topped Cascade Mountain Range, the pink and orange hews painted across the sky, the sunlight shimmering on the river – my eyes filled with tears of joy and adoration. “It’s beautiful!” I declared upward. And quietly, unexpectedly, He whispered into my heart, “You are even more beautiful.” Wow.
This was the first time I recall God speaking directly to me about His love for me. I knew He loved me, but for a very long time I had believed that we were all given a base-level amount of love, and our behaviour on earth determined how much more of God’s love we could earn. It took me a very long time to accept that this was a lie. The truth is, we are fully loved by God and no amount of good works or obedience is going to earn us more.
When we humble ourselves to hear what God says about us and, more importantly, we believe what He says about us, we gain a whole new perspective. And as we begin to accept who He has made us to be, we also begin to believe that He is able to do the impossible through us.
Our parents do not wait until we are fully grown and mature before they love us, they love us from the start; they enjoy watching us learn and develop, they present us with challenges to encourage our growth, and they only give us responsibility when they feel that we are ready for it. Similarly, our Father in Heaven loves us from the start, with all of our issues, problems and immaturity. He is patient with us and only allows us to face challenges or asks us to deal with sin when He feels we are ready. He overwhelms us with His acceptance before He insists on change. Just like a six year old is not expected to do the weekly grocery shop or prepare a family dinner, God does not place impossible expectations on us until we have the faith to see it through.
To embark on an adventure with God, we, firstly, need to know God. We need to experience who He is for ourselves and invite Him to take an active part in our lives.
So, who is God to you? A rarely-thought-about deity that you turn to when life gets really tough? Someone to blame when things go wrong? A holy figure-head who resides in churches and gets your casual attention at Christmas and Easter? Or do you recognise Him as the God who created you, formed you, loves you, and wants the best for you?
The Bible states clearly that God loves humanity so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die a horrific death on a wooden cross. Jesus took upon Himself the punishment – that is, death – for all the sin and evil in our lives so that everyone who believes in Him and accepts His free gift of grace and forgiveness, will not suffer the consequences of sin, but receive the promise of an eternal relationship with God, one of freedom and peace, far beyond mortal life on earth.
The Bible tells us, ”Just as [Adam, in the Garden of Eden] did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, [Jesus] did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.
All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.” (Romans 5:18-21 (MSG))
It is because of Jesus’ sacrifice that we can appear blameless before God; He has bridged the separation that sin created between us and God so that we can know Him personally. God has prepared incredible futures for each of us – plans for hope and adventure and miracles – and He hears us when we pray to Him. Jeremiah 29:13 promises, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
I began my relationship with God at the tender age of eight years old. My family had taken me to church every week for as long as I could remember and it was a core part of our family life. I remember knowing about many of the well-known stories in the Bible: Noah’s ark, Joseph and his multicoloured coat, Daniel in the lion’s den. I realised I knew plenty about God, but I did not yet know Him personally. I wanted to, but I had a lot of questions.
I am fairly certain I used to torment my Sunday school teachers with my constant questioning. My young heart believed all that I had heard about God, and it wanted to know God more and receive the free gift that Jesus had conquered death to give me, but I did not understand how. How do you accept Jesus’ free gift of salvation? How do you get to know God as a friend, and not just a distant deity?
Though I do not recall any of the responses I received (and there were many, due to my incessant inquiring) I do remember my lack of satisfaction at the answers provided.
Then one night, as I lay in bed, I decided to talk directly to God about it; a simple prayer of childlike innocence, but one that was powerful and heartfelt all the same. Silently, my heart called out to the God I had heard so much about, asking Him to forgive me for the naughty things I had done in my short life, declaring my love for Him, and asking Him to help me live a better life; the life that He had prepared for me.
I remember very little from my first eight years on earth, but I remember that night. I remember praying that modest prayer and feeling peace and joy wash over me. I remember bursting into tears of relief and excitement as weeks of questioning and uncertainty faded away, recognising that I had finally found the answer. I knew now that Heaven was to be my forever-home and that God was my Father.
That one moment in my childhood is the most significant moment in my life, but it was only the beginning of the great adventure that God was to take me on. It was the first of many prayers of repentance, the first of many declarations of love, the first of many requests for guidance. For, just as it takes time and communication to build friendships with a new acquaintance, it takes time and communication to develop a relationship with God.
More than twenty years later, I have used just about every resource or suggestion I have received to build my relationship with God. I have followed Bible reading plans, signed up for daily emails from world-renowned pastors and speakers, developed prayer lists, listened to podcasts, used online Bible study resources, read books and biographies, scheduled in quiet times with God morning, noon and night… the list goes on and on. And while all these things have been helpful and played their part in revealing more and more about God, I discovered that the way I best connect with Him is to journal.
As a teenager, I was gifted my first journal from my brothers. I began by writing just a line or two about what each day had included; who I had seen, what I had done. Then slowly I introduced my feelings and responses to those daily events.
As the habit developed, I took more time to write down Bible verses or quotes that had impacted me in some way. I recorded my thoughts, my dreams, my worries and my reflections. I found that, by recording these things in my journal, it aided me in processing life’s ups and downs, and helped me identify threads of God’s faithfulness throughout my day-to-day living.
Within the last few years, I have also developed the habit of writing out my prayers in full. Taking the time to thoughtfully articulate them has helped me to focus on what I am saying to God rather than getting distracted and allowing my mind to wander when I just pray silently in my head. By keeping a record of my prayers like this, I am better equipped to identify and celebrate the answers when they come. Similarly, while I am still waiting for answers, I can look back in my journal and be reassured that I have truly given the pained issues over to God and can trust Him to act.
It took me many years to discover what works for me, and these same practices may not work for you. I do not know anyone that journals as much as I do, but I no longer compare myself to others and consider that to be a bad thing. The aim is to know God, not to simply match your daily habits to that of someone else. The challenge is to find what works for you. I am not an early morning person so I tend not to journal in the mornings, but I am intentional about setting aside time during the day – usually in the evening – to pray, read my Bible, and to journal all that God has revealed to me about Himself that day. I’ll often make notes in my phone of revelations or answered prayers as they happen then record them in my journal later. I am easily distracted so I often choose quiet worship music to play through headphones to block out all other noise and conversation. Sometimes it is necessary to journal inside but, whenever possible, I prefer to write outside. There, I feel my heart connect more easily to God and I often hear Him whisper back to me as I soak up His beautiful creation.
I recently asked some friends how they best connect with God and I was surprised at how varied the responses were:
“Connecting with God comes when I’m in the forest, working out to pop or rap music, and through worship. Another thing that has been happening recently is when I’m being hugged, I get revelation from the Lord then, too.”
“… either outside seeing God’s creation, in the car with my worship music on loud, or in a quiet space, just me and God. It depends on the day. If I can’t hear God at all, I go and watch the waves. I’m guaranteed to find God in the sea.”
“I best connect with God through a special time of prayer, worship (belting out worship on a walk or in the car), and hearing about how God is speaking into someone else’s life.”
“… a certain chair in the kitchen, where I sometimes spend my devotional time… even in the shower – a quiet place where I’m alone is always good.”
“I find it best to connect with God when I’m sitting still in my room, listening to some music and journalling. Also after I exercise I feel that I can connect with God more, or water-colouring and making handmade Scripture cards”
“…one of my favourite ways is to go hillwalking, which I thoroughly enjoy… when I go with my friend, he is often a bit faster than me so there are long periods of time when we do not talk and these are valuable moments for me to focus on God and pray. As I soak up the awesomeness of His creation around me, it reminds me of how great God is. Being away from the distractions of home, books, etc, it helps me really put my mind to God and I usually spend wonderful quality time with God when I go hillwalking. And, strange as this may sound, sometimes towards the peak of the hill, when my legs start to give, or I start to cramp, that is when I pray even harder and it helps me to really focus on God’s greatness and my weaknesses, and how God’s greatness overcomes my weakness.”
“I set aside some time and sit down and get my Bible and journal out. I read through a passage, meditate on it, and journal around it. Using the acronym S.O.A.P., I read through a Scripture (S), note down observations (O) from that Scripture, consider how to apply (A) it in my life, then pray (P) over what I have learnt.”
The different environments described by these people illustrate how creative and personal God is. He considers our personality, our interests, and our habits to reach out to us in unique ways. I think its beautiful!
My relationship with God is unique to me, and so is the way I communicate with Him. Now that I have discerned how I best connect with God, I am intentional about recreating that environment daily so that our conversation can continue and our relationship can grow.
Developing good habits is essential when getting to know God, but real joy is found when these good habits transition into relationship. The more you know God, the greater your love for Him will grow, and the more time you will want to spend with Him. But, first, we must learn to recognise His voice.
Samuel was a great prophet who served God throughout his lifetime. He was respected in Israel, sharing with them wisdom and revelation from God, entering into intercessory prayer on the nation’s behalf, and, acting as judge and calling the rebellious nation to repentance. Perhaps most notably, however, was that Samuel anointed the first two kings of Israel: Saul and David.
But before Samuel could step into his great God-ordained destiny, he first had to learn to commune with his Creator.
Samuel was born to a gracious, Godly woman, Hannah, who wept and prayed for many years for a son of her own. She vowed that if God gave her a son, she would dedicate him to God for his lifetime. God looked down on her with compassion and, in due time, she became pregnant.
Once Samuel was weaned, Hannah, true to her vow, presented her son to the priest, Eli, at the temple and Samuel served Eli there and learnt from him.
One night, as Eli and Samuel lay down to sleep in the temple, Samuel heard someone call his name, so he ran through to where Eli was sleeping and said, “Here I am!” But Eli responded, “I did not call you, go back to sleep,” and Samuel did so.
A second time, Samuel heard his name called and got up and went to check to see if Eli was alright. “Here I am,” he said, “you called me.” Then Eli realised that it was God who was calling the boy. Therefore, he instructed Samuel, “Lie back down, and if He calls you a third time, say to Him, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”” So Samuel obeyed Eli and went back to his bed.
Once again, Samuel heard the Lord call his name, but this time he remained where he was and said, “Speak, Lord, I am listening.”
For all that God had planned for Samuel to fulfil on His behalf, it was absolutely vital that Samuel learnt to recognise the voice of God and begin a conversation with the Almighty.
We may be in the habit of looking for God in the loud, demonstrative happenings around us; we may expect God’s voice to follow trumpet calls or flashing lights. But God speaks, more often that not, in a quiet, tenacious whisper that can be missed if we do not still our hearts to listen for it.
There have been a few times in my life when I have been convinced that God has spoken a promise over my life when, in hindsight, I realise I was greatly mistaken. You see, I paid too much attention to grand, emotional responses to a single encounter, then wasted much time weighing up pros and cons, trying to deliberate between God’s voice and my own. But we can be assured that confusion and stress is not in God’s character, on the contrary, those things are often evidences of our own involvement. I learned that His promises are seldomly announced in one significant moment, rather, God’s voice is quietly persistent in leading us to our destiny.
Therefore, if we truly want to know God for ourselves, we need to cultivate a peaceful mind and identify that place where we can be alone with God; to quieten our own inner voice, and tune in to His.
There are so many things around us to distract us from prayer; the constant chatter of media sources, your children arguing over the TV remote, honking horns and sirens from the street outside. But if journalling is not your thing, try something else. Some find declaring their prayers audibly not only drowns out the hum of white noise around them, but also ignites their own faith, finding power in hearing their declarations and requests spoken aloud. More creative individuals may find stillness amongst their art; whether painting, composing, or movement.
It is not so important how one prays, but that we do so with an open heart and mind. Prayer is a conversation with God; it is two-way communication, not just a chance to update your holy wishlist. Prayer creates an opportunity to connect with your Creator and discover His heart for yourself! It requires honesty, vulnerability, and trust. Tell Him how you really feel; He can handle it. Ask Him questions, share your doubts, express your concerns, then allow Him a chance to respond. He’s always listening. He’s always ready to talk.
Or perhaps your challenge is not how to pray, but where to pray. My head and heart is most receptive to the voice of God when I am somewhere scenic, surrounded by nature; at the beach, up a hill, by the river, in a park, or, more conveniently, just sitting outside on my balcony. For you, it could be a specific room in your home, while you take the dog for a walk every morning, or a simple gesture, like a closed door, that alerts your family to your need for a moment alone. For Susanna Wesley, the mother of well-known hymn writer Charles Wesley (who penned over 6000 hymns, including the Christmas favourite, ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’) and his 18 siblings, a moment to herself was somewhat unheard of. However, in the midst of chaos in their home, her children knew that whenever they saw their mother throw her apron over her heard, she was not to be disturbed, for that was the time she spent speaking to her Lord.
As we begin our adventure we should also be intentional about cultivating a thankful heart. Prayer is not just about presenting our requests to God, it is an opportunity to thank Him for all the good things that He gives us. We all have something that we are grateful for: our life, our health, our relationships, our home, our job, our education. You may not feel very grateful for some of these things at this present point in time, but pick one and begin by thanking God for His provision in that area of your life. Rather than focusing on what has not turned out quite as we expected it to, we can tend our hearts by showing gratitude for the small victories so far and by trusting that God has an even better plan still to come. He loves us so much that He is not so preoccupied with giving us what we want now, but shaping us into people who will embrace the adventure that He still wants to take us on.
If a child asks his father to buy him a chocolate bar every time they are in the supermarket together it is likely that the father will often say no. There may be times that the father grants the boy’s wish but the father knows that too much chocolate for a young boy is bad for his health. The boy, on the otherhand, does not care about his weight, his waist line, or his cavities, he is only aware that his request has been denied.
But parents make decisions based on what is best for their child in the long-run, don’t they? We want our children to learn to make healthy choices, to grasp the lesson of delaying gratification, or to understand how to deal with disappointment. We do not adhere to a child’s every request because we see and understand the greater objective of guiding them into maturity. And God does the same for us. His answers to our prayers are not always what we want to hear, or even understand, but He does it for our long-term benefit. We only see what is right in front of us, but God sees far beyond the snippet of time that we behold, therefore we must trust His perspective.
It is often not until months or even years later that we see God’s hand in the detail of our lives, especially through periods of pain and difficulty. Sometimes we never understand why something happened the way it did. But what we can be certain of is that God is faithful, even when we are not. You may not yet have a personal relationship with Him, but I can assure you that He has had His hand on your life from the beginning. He has loved you, protected you, and guided you, even if you have been entirely unaware of it until now.
The most important gift we receive from God when we enter into a relationship with Him, however, is His Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to communicate with God; helping us to speak when words fail us, and to discern His voice when He answers. It is God’s Spirit that makes the words of the Bible become alive and active to us; He brings revelation and meaning to the passages written thousands of years ago. His presence empowers us to do that which seems impossible to do alone, and He acts like an internal navigation system when following God’s purpose for our lives. It is impossible to live the adventure God has prepared for us without the help of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps you are beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed by all this. How can we really know God personally? How can we possibly endeavour to live the life that He has planned for us? How do we figure out what that is? What if we mess up? But God is a gracious God. He gives us free choice to live the way we want to live. Yet when what we want is to live the life that He has planned for us – a life full of faith, surprises, miracles and adventure – He will not let us miss it. When we truly seek His purpose for our lives, He will show us the way. He does not leave us stuck and confused, trying to ascertain His plans. Even when we wander off course, or take matters into our own hands, when we surrender to Him again He will always meet us where we are at and gently steer us back onto the right path. God is just waiting for us to invite Him to take us on the adventure of a lifetime.
When we surrender our lives to God and allow Him to direct our steps, we also open up a whole host of new possibilities. God does not need our ability – He is able to do all things (Matthew 19:26) – but He loves it when we make ourselves available to Him; to be directed and used as part of His great plan. When we make our hands and feet available to God, He can and will do far more with them than we could ever do ourselves. If we surrender the direction and purpose of our lives to Him, He can take us on the greatest adventure; one we could never dream of embarking on alone. Life with God becomes a partnership; God uses us to achieve His purposes, and we have the opportunity and privilege to be a part of something far greater than ourselves; something we could not enter into without Him.
When we first embark on an adventure with God, it rarely resembles adventure. More often than not, it begins with small, hidden acts of obedience that appear insignificant in the eyes of man. Indeed, some of life’s greatest opportunities can be found masked behind such trivial tasks. But nothing is insignificant in the eyes of God, and, when we prove ourselves to be obedient with the small things, God will entrust us with much more.
Your adventure can begin today, just start with what you know; show kindness, be generous, practice patience. Ask God to help you see a need and let Him show you how you can help meet that need. And as we begin to live in a way that reflects God’s plan for mankind, as He describes in His Word, He will open our eyes to more opportunities where our specific skillset can be used to make a difference. God can only use what we are willing to share, so take a look at what He has already blessed you with and start there. You will soon be amazed at what God orchestrates around you; the conversations you have, the people you meet, the exciting ways in which you get to serve, and the joy you experience living every moment with God by your side.
The closer we draw towards God, the more we see Him at work in our lives. Our problems and worries diminish as our view of God expands. When we begin to see life from God’s perspective, the opinions of others will matter less because we accept that we are part of something much greater than what is evident to the naked eye. As we spend time with God, our hearts and minds are renewed and our desires and dreams align with His. Disappointments are no longer so disappointing, because we trust that He only gives us things for our good. When we draw close to God, we find in Him not only a Father, but a teacher, a master, a friend. He knows us better than we know ourselves and takes delight in satisfying the deepest desires of our heart.
Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker who was imprisoned for helping Jews escape during the Nazi Holocaust in World War Two, said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” It can be scary to face uncertainty and we feel helpless when we do not know what will happen next, but when we first get to know God, the future becomes a well of endless possibilities. The more we know Him, the easier it is to trust Him.
Today, God declares good things over you. He loves you and desires to heal your hurts, contradict your insecurities, and remind you of who He created you to be. He wants to enter into a conversation with you, but He awaits your invitation. So start today. Find a quiet place, open your heart to Him, and begin.
This blogpost is part 2 of a blog series, Adventure Awaits.
Part 1: Created for Adventure
Part 2: Beginning the Adventure
Part 3: Designed for Adventure
Part 4: Essential Tools for the Journey
Part 5: Facing Opposition
Part 6: Embracing Challenge & Change
Part 7: The Waiting Game
Part 8: Anticipating Adventure
Part 9: Packing Light
Part 10: When Adventure Becomes a Habit