Last week I went to a conference in Bend, Oregon at Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch with my equine ministry team, EMBRACE. The DEEPER, Jesus First ministry conference was exactly what the title implies. Within about five minutes of worship it became evident this was no ordinary milk-toast conference. I was going to be challenged and, if I was willing, God was going to unleash something new and different in my life. The Holy Spirit was going to do work I'd never seen before. I didn't understand exactly what this meant until a few days into the conference.
I began hearing things from people like, "I've been praying for you, and something tells me you need a hug." "I got this strong feeling I needed to tell you _______." "God said that you should spend time with this horse so I set it all up if you're interested." "I was praying for you and this scripture came to mind. God said I should share it with you." "I looked at you and the Spirit said, 'Go get her.'" Sometimes the Spirit led someone to physically comfort me. I've been called "intimidating" and "intense" and yet I had more people put an arm around my shoulder, reach for my hand, or gave me a hug that lasted more than a minute this last week than I've had in a long time. I needed it. I still do. All of this from people I both knew fairly well, and those who were strangers to me until this conference.
Scripture calls the Holy Spirit an advocate who teaches us and reminds us of everything Jesus said, he fills us and is a witness for us. Romans 8:14 says, "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God." Unfortunately, much of my walk with the Lord has been resisting the Holy Spirit. My walk with God has been in an effort to try to maintain control, keep my pride and do whatever it takes to prevent being hurt by others while serving others in His name. If I could follow God without putting myself out there too much, at least in the most vulnerable ways, then I could probably manage all right. Thankfully, God was patient with me. Even more, he wasn't willing to let me stay there.
At this conference I felt like the blind man whom Jesus took by the hand and led into the wilderness in John 9. I knew Jesus, I believed in him and the works he'd done. However, I struggled to believe he'd fight for me as I'd seen him fight for others. I asked many, many times why I was born into the circumstances I was born into. Why God allowed such pain to start at such a young age, and then allowed it to continue. I tried not to live there, but the questions remained. The Pharisees asked why the man was born blind and Jesus said, "this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him."
Might. Unbelief is the only thing that prevents the work of God from being displayed.
Jesus ground mud into the man's eyes and told him to go wash in a specific pool. I can only imagine how long that walk must have felt. Jesus didn't tell him he would receive his sight, he didn't promise him anything as far as we can see in scripture. He simply told him to go wash and the blind man went. Obedient. The mere idea of sight must have completely eluded him, but rather than finding the nearest water source, or wiping the mud away with his own hands, he walked to the specified pool, washed, and received the miracle of sight.
This Spirit of God was alive and active at this conference. Strangers and friends who loved God and served Jesus as their Lord and Savior came to me with scriptures and encouragement that all said the same thing: "My beloved, please let me in. Please let me heal you so that you might join me on the mission, the works I planned in advance for you to do. The pain of this endeavor will feel like an end but, beloved, it's just the beginning. New life is at hand. I will not bring you where I am not willing to lead you. I will not lead you where I have not already equipped you to follow me. Trust me."
My last night at the conference I went up to a mountain with women of God, servants of Christ, and sat beneath a cross. We prayed, like warriors in battle we prayed as the sun sank below a jagged horizon. As night threatened to engulf us like the dark spiritual cloud fighting against my surrender, light prevailed through the stars and the moon and the faithful hearts of those in battle around me. Everything in me said it was impossible, that Jesus wouldn't set me free no matter how desperately I asked. The pain wrapped around my heart like a talons, digging deeper and deeper into my heart while I watched Jesus grieve for me, my six-year-old self shackled in chains used to anchor ships in a valley of bones... and then it happened.
I broke, and I begged. I wept, pleading for Jesus to help me, to set me free from this root that permeated the very soil in which I was trying to plant.
When he touched the chains, they broke like rubber bands snapping beneath the slightest touch. He swept me up like a child finally found, and held me, my arms around his neck, my tiny legs wrapped around his waist, the chains piled uselessly in the valley while he carried me away.
I was free.
I've had days to consider why this battle was different than any other. Why now? What made this one so much more real? Why does it feel like I could slide right back into slavery at the merest whisper? What do I need to carry with me as I continue fighting the spiritual battle?
1. I had four women in battle, warriors beside me so I could be healed (James 5:16). They didn't pray after we went down the mountain, and they didn't sit in silence beside me while I suffered. They strapped on the armor of God and fought beside me. They fought for me.
2. I believed I could be healed, truly, and I asked to be healed (Matthew 21:22). I asked for healing in the past, but I always believed it would be granted eventually rather than be granted when I asked for it. I asked expecting to be told to wait, or to be told 'no' rather than asking in faith.
3. I laid my heart bare before Jesus in a way I hadn't before. I held nothing back. I held no fear in what I lay before him and invited him to fill every part of my life. Nothing hidden, nothing held back. The things I tried to keep separate from him I gave him that too (John 14:23).
Every day I have to continue to take time to be still and listen. Remember. Be honest with myself and not make any excuses about where my heart or mind are going. To take captive these thoughts and make them obedient to Christ. It's work, but it's worth it. The battle is still ahead, but I feel far better equipped to fight it than I did a week ago.
Things are different. I've begun to see it. As I take time to be still and ask the Spirit what he wants me to do or say, I find him answering. When I obey, no matter how strange it might seem, he's louder and clearer the next time. It doesn't mean life is smooth sailing, but it means instead of focusing on the waves I can keep my eyes focused on the one directing the storm. With my eyes up, the tide might be at my chin but I can trust it will come no farther. I can even enjoy the sun on my face.
Just a few of God's prayer warriors during my journey.
L to R: Kim Meeder: founder of Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch, me, Katie Jacobsen: Public Relations director, Judy Jeffrey: assistant to the founders