I love how God works to invite us into his reality, even over the course of years of frustration and pain. I get emails like this because something I wrote or said plays into it, but I am more excited about how Father finds us and draws us into his life, even if it takes years.
I’m 57 years old writing from Australia. Two years ago my wife bumped into an old friend with whom I had shared many hours of conversation about our disillusionment and eventual exit out of the institutional church. Many years had gone by since last seeing this friend and she invited him over. We talked at length and he left me a copy of your book So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. I had long stopped reading any Christian material for reasons which will become clearer later, My faith was intact, but events of the past had left me disillusioned, suspicious, and very cynical. I also observed that it was a fictional story and I felt indifferent about it at best.
Soon after, on a Sunday night in August 2019, I went to bed and started to read. I was intrigued, the conversations were not what I was expecting. I was being drawn in as familiar insights and conclusions I had come to myself out of deep frustration years ago were being plainly identified and openly discussed. We had been involved in some Pentecostal churches including a split, starting a new one with fellow survivors and I had also started theological college training. Life was meant to come together here with a sense of purpose and meaning, In reality, it led to total disappointment, Something in all of this felt wrong, God was missing! The contrived efforts to hide or ignore this were hard to watch. It felt hollow and empty, and I grew increasingly disillusioned with all of it.
I dreaded Sundays and it took me days to recover. I questioned how do people keep doing this and not ask “is this it?” And here I am training to be a part of this! I had been craving a deeper relationship with God, but by the mid-nineties, I was so depressed and mentally drained I left my theological degree 2/3rd’s through. Further adding to the confusion was this thought about my church, so loud and persistent it was almost audible. It was simply “you won’t find me here”. I found this both puzzling and disturbing as I had neither the confidence nor the courage to understand this because I thought it had to be wrong. If this was God then I can’t do it anymore, I had to move on for the sake of my family and sanity. Feeling an outcast and shattered that this was where the journey ended, I shoved my faith in the basement of my mind and walked away, I was done
Fast Forward to 2019, and a family crisis that involved false accusations against me just as I began to read your book. In a matter of seconds, I had gone from looking at spiritual issues I had tucked away for years, to a sudden explosion of conflict, and the realization that my life might be over. Everything unraveled; I went into shock physically shaking, my mind dissolved into chaos. I felt utter despair.
Then, other thoughts came. You know what’s going on here. Look at what you were reading. This is no coincidence; it’s a counter move, an attack. It felt evil, but I so did not want to go there, no way! Next, I became suddenly aware of this intense feeling of the presence of God physically around me. I knew it was him, I recognized it immediately, it was unmistakable and that seriously pissed me off too! like it just added to the torment.
The next day the accusation was withdrawn, but my mind had exploded and I was numb. I hated the idea of making this a spiritual issue, all that familiar cringe-worthy religious terminology made me want to reach for a bucket, I had been there 25 years ago and that road led to pain and disappointment. God’s Spirit though was undeniably and tangibly on me now. Why? And what’s so important about that book?
I returned to the book and read on. What unfolded through the pages had taken so many things I had known and suspected to be true, and it all clicked perfectly into place. I just kept repeating over and over “I knew this!” God had been telling me all those years ago as I recalled the words “you won’t find me here”.
Your book opened and validated something birthed in my spirit 25 years ago that God had begun, but my mind had no self-belief or confidence that I could possibly be hearing God correctly. Institutionally and culturally conditioned from my earliest years the frustration and disappointment of not finding intimacy with God were inevitable. They won’t give intimacy because they can’t! It was such a relief to know I had heard right! Unfortunately, it took me 25 years to find out.
So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore opened up the possibility that God can be known outside of the narrow religious framework I had known since a child. I realized I had always found it hard to trust God, particularly as “Father”. Due to my disfigured image of him, I really didn’t believe he could love me. The doorway into living loved and actually relaxing in the Father’s affection where trust is built on the truth of his character healed a deep emptiness I’d always carried. Realizing God is love, that it flows from him and is not contingent upon my or anyone’s approval lifted a huge weight off me.
Then it got even better. because it’s his love that drives transformation not the straight jacket of religious conformity. I found by resting in His presence I knew He was no longer a distant abstract concept – this was a game-changer.
That presence of the Spirit I felt that night has never left. It’s still tangibly here now as I write. While the last 2 1/2 years have been amazing, they have also been painfully challenging since I needed lots of healing. I spend a lot of time just sitting in His presence soaking Him up, sometimes saying very little, words often get in the way. I had always been an analytical thinker, but this was different. It was like the background landscape of my mind was being redrawn and colored in differently, making some old familiar thoughts look stupid. It’s generated a whole new stream of dialogue as the truth of love, trust, acceptance and no separation took hold. This felt relational, someone who was there even in the pain, not an abstract concept or distant angry deity.
I wanted to tell you that I’m so appreciative of what God does through you Wayne, it’s like you help people find the connection point that eludes them, then step back out of the way and let God do His thing. The significance of this cannot be underestimated, the airwaves, the internet, are awash with all kinds of truth peddlers, many using similar relational language, but much of it appears to be a cosmetic makeover of a well-run system underneath. I know attending a gathering is not the issue, but many people have been blinded by the veil of religion oblivious to the God who is right in front of them. It takes a lot of honest courage to break the persuasive bonds of religion, particularly when it’s subtle and appears logically true with historical tradition and numbers on their side.
Even 25 years ago I wondered how many believers on life support would survive if the machine were turned off. It is why your books, Lifestream and The God Journey continue to be such an important resource. Finding the beginning of the trail and starting down the path often lacks any outside assurance or validation, with so few cheerleaders. Thanks again Wayne, I read He Loves Me, Finding Church, and Beyond Sundays, All incredibly helpful, but also critical in reaching those like myself who just needed to find the connection or even the permission to believe the voice of dissatisfaction, just maybe the Father drawing them to himself.
The God Journey podcast, past, and present, has been such an encouragement, I have loved the conversations you’ve had with Kyle over the last year, particularly the subterranean move that’s going around the world giving an increasing sense that God is up to something quite different and possibly unprecedented. This is not just thanks from us but also an encouragement that what you do continues to make a significant real difference around the world.
Two and a half years down the trail the connection is real and just keeps growing regardless of circumstances.
I thought his story might encourage many of you, too. Yes, there is lots of pain behind his story—years of frustration and disillusionment.
Of course, I don’t think my book did all of that. In stories like this, I’m convinced that something I wrote or said only serves to tap a deep well that has already been bubbling up unseen for some, and it isn’t going to be denied. Any number of other books or conversations could have been the catalyst for Father to satisfy that hunger. It’s significant, too, that the offer of a book also coincided with a crisis, which opened the door to some fresh thinking. That is often true for many people. Sometimes we get stuck in comfortable, though fruitless, patterns, and only when life deals us a severe blow are we disoriented enough to look over where Jesus has been all along.
Then, the glory comes. In the midst of pain and crisis—Presence! If this man’s life is like mine, I doubt that’s the first time Father has made himself known. It’s just that our heart and head weren’t in a space to be able to recognize him and respond, especially if we’ve been shackled by the lies of religious performance. But now, a different journey unfolds where we can walk with him through the things that concern us and find what we’ve always been seeking.
I hate that it took twenty-five years for this man, but it may be a reminder to us to not give up on our hunger because we’ve been disappointed in the short run. Can you hold your hunger to know him long enough for him to do the work to fulfill it? For most of us, it won’t take twenty-five years, especially if we stay on the hunt—always watching to see where Father’s fingerprints are making his presence known. But even when it takes that long, the fruit of it is no less sweet as you can read above. We may think that’s a lot of wasted time, but I suspect that Father was working all along to prepare a heart ready to know him.
Even in a paralyzing crisis, he could recognize the challenge of darkness to distract him yet again from the work of Jesus. But this time, it didn’t succeed. He saw the threat alongside a new door that was opening and chose the door instead. I love that!
God wants us all to find him in his fullness. If what you’re doing isn’t working, consider that you may not be looking yet where he actually is. Keep your heart open. He’ll win this in you, too!