April 19, 2009

Even More Free

I had been planning for several months now to go to Russia in the fall for a semester at the Moscow Art Theater. It's a very famous and prestigious theater, the school associated with it is top-notch, and the program isn't widely applied for (approximately 40 students for 30 spots). The program is taught in English, so you don't need to know Russian... but it helps. It focuses on ensemble work, there is a lot of homework, and you get to go see tons of Russian performance art: opera, dance, theater. It's a unique and very educational theater experience.

Theater experiences are valuable to me: it's what I love to do, it's how I channel my love for life and human interaction in the academic realm. Add this to the fact that everyone has told me I should go abroad because it's an invaluable experience, and presto! My plans are in motion. There are obstacles, though, like money, credits transferring, and being away from William and Mary for a semester. If going to Russia is the right thing, though, God will open all the doors and give me a peace about my decision. Doors that need to be opened: money. God provides, so I'm not worried. Even if I have to take out student loans, and pay them back like a normal person, I'll live. So that's sealed. Another door: getting into the program. I've got a strong theatrical resumé, and my interview went well. Whether or not I get in could be a sign; I don't find out for a few weeks though, and I would still have the option of not going if I got accepted. So that, at the moment, is a non-issue.

The last door: a peace about going on the trip. I will pray about it a lot, taking it to God during worship, and think about it logistics-wise too. If it's the right thing to do, I'll get a peace about it.

That peaceful feeling should be here any time now. Just wait for it.

"Hey God? Me again. I'm still feeling restless about going. Waiting for that peace about the whole situation. I still feel this nagging desire to stay in Williamsburg... it must just be me being uncomfortable with change again. I never liked moving. Let me know!"

During this time I was reading Anne Lamott's book Traveling Mercies. I came to this passage about making big decisions:

"Many years ago, I was walking beside the salt marsh with a minister I had met recently. I was two months pregnant and had scheduled an abortion because I was alone and so broke. But I was having second thoughts. I decided to let the minister in on this, and after listening quietly, he said he thought I should have the abortion; he pointed out that there was no safety net underneath me at the time- no family money, no expected windfall- that there was nothing between me and the streets or welfare.

But what about God? I asked. What about faith?

Well, yes, the priest conceded, there's that. "But I'd like you to try something," he said. "Get quiet for a moment, and then think about having the abortion: if you feel a deep and secret sense of relief, pay attention to that. But if you feel deeply grieved at the thought of it, listen to that."I did what he said, thought about the abortion, which theoretically and politically I support. But I was stabbed with grief, and the grief did not pass, and I canceled the abortion."

I applied this to my confusion about whether to go to Russia or not. I looked inside myself. There was a want to go to Russia, to learn about theater, to have that unique abroad experience. But then I found a want even deeper than that, the true source of my desire to stay in Williamsburg. I wanted to stay in Williamsburg to keep growing with the community of believers I had found a few months ago at my new church, the Christian Life Center. There I had found lots of very real, loving, dedicated Christians. The deepest desire of my heart was to continue to grow with them, not to go to Russia.

Don't get me wrong; I wouldn't be separated from God in Russia. I would be able to find time with Him every day. I would learn things. But I wouldn't have a community of support there. I have been growing spiritually so much recently, and I very much believe that it's God's will (and mine) that I continue to do so here in Williamsburg, among that community, in the fall. There is a time for change, for new places and new things, and I have been there many times before. After lots and lots of prayerful consideration I have decided that now is not one of those times. On the day I made this decision final, the chorus of Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home," which includes said title phrase, was stuck in my head. While contemplating whether to go to Russia or not by staring intently into my mirror, the words changed and came out of my mouth: Who says you can't stay home? Thank you, God, for speaking through Bon Jovi.

The more I talk to people about this the more certain I am it is the right thing to do... there is a peace inside me that increases with each retelling, the kind of fulfilling peace that only comes from God. I don't feel restricted by this decision at all; in fact, I feel even more free.

April 4, 2009

Letting Her Go

Monday afternoon I ran into my friend Michelle at lunch. She was on the church retreat mentioned in my last post, and she wanted to hear about my experiences that weekend. Conversation eventually veered to the topic of relationships; both of us had learned lessons in the past from wandering from God's will in that area, and now she is in a relationship with my friend Sam. Both of them are serious Jesus Freaks with huge hearts for God. She began to talk about how God is using their relationship in awesome ways, moving through it in the Spirit, affirming them and growing them.

I, being a very emotionally-based person, have always been in love with the idea of being in love. A few months ago I saw how I let that control me in some ways. While wanting to be in love with an awesome Godly woman is not a bad thing, it can distract from God's plan if I keep focusing on it. I even had a running "short list" of girls I knew who were serious about their faith and whom I connected with personality-wise. Basically, I was trying to do God's planning for Him.

As I heard my friend Michelle talk about how great God was being in her and Sam's relationship and how they were glorifying Him in it, God spoke to my heart. He said, "See, Zach, when you let me take over this part of your life I can do some awesome things. Give this up to me, Zach... let your will and heart conform to mine." As I heard the testimony of my two friends' relationship, God laid a peace upon my heart. I started to give those wants up to Him.

It wasn't an instant inner transformation, like at the retreat; I'm taking steps towards giving it completely up in my heart, that I might want God's plan over my plan. Sure, God's plan may include a woman, but I'm going to want it because it's God's plan, in His timing. Not my timing. That way I will be perfectly content in God's plan even when there is no woman present. I started off by reporting the "aching-romance" thoughts to my internal thought police: they were to be captured on sight and tossed out (a metaphor for taking thoughts captive for God). Wednesday, I gave it up to God again in the mid-week worship service on campus. My good friend Lucas prayed over me as I gave it up again, really affirming and encouraging me.

April 3, 2009

Not Just Full... Overflowing

I spent last weekend at a wonderful retreat facility near the Eastern Shore of Virginia called Camp Piankatank. It was the weekend of the College and Young Professionals Retreat for my church... what it adds up to is me letting go of school and obligations for a full 48 hours, spending lots of quality time with people I love, and spending some quality time with God. The term "quality time," however, is a grossly inadequate descriptor of what my time with God ended up being like this past weekend. "Liberating," "freeing," or "life-altering" would be a bit better... so let's try that sentence again:

What it adds up to is God reaching into my heart, removing the brakes and supergluing the gas pedal to the floor.

Let me take you through the weekend and all that happened to me there... I hope that God uses these awesome experiences to encourage you, edify you, and speak to you.

As I started to worship at the Friday night service, I felt a block between me and God; there was something keeping me from really getting to His presence. At this point in my spiritual life, I know that when I feel that block there is something to be learned in the breaking of it... now I just needed to listen for how to break it. I was standing in the middle of the seating area, worshiping there. There was space down in the front between the chairs and the worship team for people to go down and praise with some more room. God said in my heart, "Zach, I want you to go down and worship in the front." My natural response was "But people will think I've got a 'holier than thou' attitude, that I'm showing off, trying to be seen, and they'll judge me!" God: "Which are you going to make more important? Me, or people's imaginary opinions of you?" I had a choice. It's not that there was anything inherently better in worshiping in the front; it's just that I had to do that to let go of my worries about what people would think of me (which, on me especially, can be fairly binding). And what do you know, as soon as I made my way up to the front and began worshiping there, it was like two big double doors in my heart just swung open and God just poured Himself into me.

The Saturday afternoon sessions were wonderful for learning things and growing in knowledge about God; about sacrifice, being a Son, believing in promises, et cetera. I'm sure I'll use some of that teaching in future bloggage. But onto the big events on Saturday night.

Saturday night, worship started. I find that most of the big things God will do in you will happen during worship... that's another long post entirely. As I was worshiping I felt this really heavy, burdening awareness of my fear of witnessing. The possibility of rejection, especially around the theatre crowd, would keep me back. It was like a big dark cloud covering me... I was still worshiping in God's presence, but I felt so heavy. During the worship, all of a sudden, God moved powerfully in my heart and and said "You are not scared anymore!" I was shocked for a minute, and wasn't quite sure if that had just really happen. "Wait, God, don't I have to conquer this step by step, getting a bunch of little victories until I reach the goal?" "No! I'm breaking your fear out of you right now, all at once. It's completely gone. You are not scared anymore!" I knew it was true; I had felt the huge dark cloud completely disappear from my heart. I celebrated for several minutes with God, smiling vividly and crying happy tears.

Just that one event would have been enough to make my weekend completely worth it. Just that one experience would have sent me soaring... but there was so much more to come. A few minutes after he broke the fear out of my heart, God said to me: "Zach, that was the last big earthly bond that was keeping you from running to me as fast as you can. That was your last big crutch. There will always be struggles, choices, and lessons, but you have lost all of your large inhibitions now! You will be running to me so much faster! You will be in my Spirit even more actively than before!" This was the most encouraging thing that's ever been said to me... it figures that it would come from God. I was ready to explode with joy and love at that point.

In the minutes before this, Pastor Mike Giroux (who was the speaker for the weekend) had been prophesying over some people. While the whole topic of prophecy is for another post, I will quickly explain that the prophets described in the New Testament went around edifying and encouraging people and revealing things to them that God wants them to know, like paths for the future, spiritual gifts, and big changes of heart, all through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Ever since I had first been exposed to this at my church (a few months ago) and witnessed that it is a very legitimate thing in God, I had always thought it would be wonderful to be prophesied over.

Back to Saturday night... Pastor Mike had been prophesying over some people that he had planned to speak over, and then he moved about the crowd, prophesying over whomever the Spirit led him to. As I was standing there and got the huge word of encouragement from God, I started to think to God, "You know, God, I don't need to be prophecied over. You've already given me so much tonight! You broke my fear, and then vastly encouraged me! I don't even want to be prophecied over, I've been filled up so much. I guess you'll wait, and have someone prophesy over me sometime down the road... won't that be a great time!" Within ten seconds of that thought passing from my mind to God, I felt two hands on me, one on my shoulder and one over my heart. I opened my eyes to see who it was: it was Pastor Mike... and he began to prophesy over my life. I was amazed at God right then, and haven't really ceased to be. As soon as I gave it completely up to Him, He gave it right back, and more powerfully than I could have imagined. Here is what Pastor Mike's word about me:

"God is driving a pillar down your spine, into your spirit, He is making you strong and steadfast... you will be a corrector and a purifier... I see you succeeding in business for God, and you will be able to withstand enormous pressures, and you will keep a great joy and peace through all of it, and that will be a huge witness to other people."

As soon as God was finished blessing me through Pastor Mike, God said: "Zach, did I say that I'm just going to fill your cup up until it is full, and then stop? NO! I said I'm going to fill it to overflowing, and that's exactly what I'm doing for you tonight!" I felt such a huge rush of praise then, and very much felt like I was overflowing a lot; God had done so much for me! That led me to my fourth and final big God-event that night... I entered the highest level of worship that I've ever been in. This was characterized by not being able to do anything but dance for God, in his presence, praising him; I didn't feel like I was doing it right if my feet were still. I had to move, because God is so great! The wonderful thing is that now that God has taken me to that place, I move into it every time I worship. Not every song moves me specifically to dancing; maybe kneeling, lots of hand raising; but the intensity of God's presence is there like never before.

I have seen so many of these things fulfilled and walked out already. Within hours of coming back from the retreat, I was already witnessing about God bravely in places I previously would have run away from. Concerning the word about business, I don't feel called to change my major or anything; but in his way and his timing God will involve me in business to accomplish His purposes. I'm in a constant state of worship, where I am constantly receiving joy and love like a waterfall from this open door in heaven. There are definitely still big and little choices to make between the world and God, struggles to give some things up to him, and practices in patience with some people and situations, and I will never be perfect; but I can continue to worship God and let him shine through me, now more uninhibited than ever before. My cup is overflowing and spilling onto all those around me... it's the most amazing way to live that I have yet found.