At the beginning of this year, a little girl in our church named Phoenix was faced with a life-threatening illness. Our church joined together in such a powerful way. We were praying around the clock for this little girl. The atmosphere began to shift, the presence of the Holy Spirit became thick…. But not just at church, in my own home, in my own life. I could feel Him moving and speaking like never before. He was revealing things to me that I would have never understood on my own. I was saturated. I couldn’t get enough… I wanted more and more and more. And for a good three or four months all I cared about was getting in His presence. The more I spent time with Him, the easier it became to truly encounter Him.
But then something happened…. LIFE. I had finals coming up, I was working 12 hour shifts at the hospital (without pay) plus going to school… and I still had to study in the little free time I had. I stopped making Him a priority. My focus shifted from Him to school, to job hunting, to all the responsibilities that I was overwhelmed with. The worst part was, on those rare occasions where I did make time for Him, it became harder to encounter Him, harder to feel Him moving and speaking in my life. I don’t think He ever stopped; I think I just stopped listening…
That’s not where it ended though. It became harder to study, to focus on school, to be a good wife. I was picking stupid fights with my husband; I was becoming an emotional, petty person. I wasn’t myself. I felt gross and disappointed in who I was. I know that sounds weird, but because I had experienced the presence of God so strongly in my life, I knew what I was missing out on.
When you get out of HIS Presence, your Presence changes!
In 8th grade, we had a police officer come speak to us about drugs and alcohol at school. He asked for a volunteer during his presentation, and I eagerly raised my hand having no idea what I was volunteering for. I helped him place some bright yellow tape to the floor and he told me to walk across it. I did easily and without any difficulty whatsoever. He then proceeded to place some goggles on my head. These goggles were not like swimming goggles. They made me extremely disoriented and nauseated. When I looked around everything was blurry and I was seeing doubles. He instructed me to walk across the yellow tape. I tried, but even though I could see the yellow tape, everything was fuzzy and I couldn’t focus.
This is what it was like when I stopped spending time with Jesus. When you know Jesus, but you get out of His presence… You can still see Him, you still know He’s there, and you may even try your best to follow him… but all the mess and the distractions in your life pull away your focus. The relationship may still be existing, but it’s a poor excuse of a relationship compared to what you had before. I had the goggles on, and I was struggling. I knew that it could be better because I had experienced it.
The enemy is a master of distractions.
He can take things that aren’t even necessarily wrong in and of itself, and use it to pull your focus from God. I heard a pastor friend of mine, Josh Wilbanks, speak at a youth service around the time I was writing this blog post. He was talking about famine. He said, “During a famine, you have to be careful what you feed on! The enemy knows that during a famine, you will be willing to settle for less!” Sometimes the enemy doesn’t try to get you to sleep around or lie and deceive others, or do some “unthinkable” sin…
Sometimes the enemy is content with getting you to settle for less than what God has planned!
I wasn’t out doing anything bad. To most people, I was probably your average Christian. I was still trying to spend time with God, but He was no longer my first priority. I wasn’t walking in His presence like I had, and I knew that something had shifted. I knew I still had the Holy Spirit with me, but I wasn’t feeding it and listening to it like I once had. Paul in Romans 7 and 8 talks about this ongoing battle between the flesh and the spirit. He says in Romans 8:12-13, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” This is an ongoing theme in the New Testament. Dying to yourself. If you die to yourself, you make room for God to do an awesome work in your life. It’s a daily choice (Luke 9:23). A daily decision to abandon everything in hopes that you can encounter God. It sounds tough, and sometimes it is…. But there’s nothing like it.
Let’s go back to the message I heard about famine for a second. Pastor Josh said, “For every circumstance in our life, there is a source. You can’t deal with the circumstance and expect things to change; you must deal with the source. What you worship is what you receive.” The moment I found the source, and with God’s help fixed the problem, I became a better student, a better wife, a better person…. Because when you put Him first, everything else falls into place (Matthew 6:33). I had coffee with a friend recently, and we talked about the struggle of balancing all our responsibilities and still making time for Jesus. She told me, “I learned that God has the power to use even my 5 second whispered prayers.” Life is demanding, but if you can keep him in the forefront of your mind, always seeking to please Him first, you’ll be surprised on what can begin to change in your life… even if you just take it 5 seconds at a time. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be tempted, that you won’t experience difficult times, hardships, or sadness; but it does mean that God will work these things out to your benefit… and that He will help you through it every step of the way (Romans 8:28).
So maybe you’re reading this and you were like me. You love God. You know He’s there with you, you know His Spirit is living inside of you…. But you’re experiencing a mere shadow of what you once had… You can see Him like the bright yellow tape on the floor, but you’re so disoriented with the mess and distractions in your life that you can’t follow Him like you once could. Maybe you’re in a spiritual famine, but remember, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or FAMINE or nakedness or danger or sword? NO, in all these things WE ARE MORE THAN CONQUERORS THROUGH HIM WHO LOVED US.” (Romans 8:35,37).
“In the midst of a famine, God sends revival! There can be famine all around you, but revival inside of you!” – Pastor Josh Wilbanks
When death was surrounding the little girl at our church, just when we thought all hope may be gone, God revived her! When Jesus is at the center, everything changes. Usually when the struggle becomes the hardest is when you’re on the verge of a breakthrough. The enemy knows something is happening, and will try to do everything he can to stop it.
So don’t settle for less. Don’t just settle for individual experiences of His presence. Search for the source, ask Him to reveal it to you (and He will), take off the stupid goggles, and choose Him DAILY! A daily saturation of His presence, a continuous walk with Him where you’re so consumed that it overflows into every area of your life. Trust me, it is so worth it!
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
This post is dedicated to Phoenix and her family who have taught me what it means to be “more than conquerors through Him” and to stop settling for average.
Phoenix is a SURVIVOR of Stevens Johnson Syndrome/Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis [SJS/TENS]. Please join us in prayer as she continues on her journey to wholeness. To keep updated with Phoenix, follow her facebook page here, and to donate towards the family’s medical expenses, go here.