For those who know me, and know about my college experience, there was a huge transitional period between Spring 2013 and Summer 2014… To sum up this “life-altering” segment of time as a young adult, I slowly began to realize (and live out) what it means to live and love like Jesus Christ.
My junior year is absolutely a rough one to look back on… Although I earned the grades that my family expected, was cast in every mainstage theatrical production that season, and actively participated in seven student organizations, I was a complete mess… I say that because I knew my heart, my mind and my motivations… Without getting into the filthy specifics, my sin was so deep that a young Arthur wouldn’t have been able to remove it from the stone, even with a jackhammer! (read/watch “The Sword in the Stone” if you didn’t understand my terrible attempt with that reference.)
Author of Real Church, Larry Crabb, talks about the power of grace and how it’s accessible/attainable by the will and genuine desire to “come clean” with God. In certain areas of my life, I can say that I was unaware of my filth. However… In most areas of my life, I was fully aware of my sin, and would make active and intentional choices to support the dirt that I put myself in. Mr. Crabb quoted Pastor Philip Yancey at the beginning of this chapter, and it’s a quote in which I now share the same admiration:
“Grace has no felt power in our lives until it surprises the hell out of us.”
That is exactly what I experienced throughout those 14 months.
I wasn’t surprised at what God was able to do during this time. I’ve been a believer all of my life… I grew up in the church and would constantly see the power of God’s work… I was surprised that God still wanted to use me… to change me… that He fought incredibly hard to pull me out of my own crap, and literally forced me to get my life together. I finally saw that no sin is big enough for the Lord to defeat and began to understand the significance of the cross.
God, in all of His glory, working through the Son and the Spirit, literally invaded the temple of self that I created… not only that, but took up residence beneath said temple and stayed indoors. The fullness of God sat inside of me, patiently waiting for me to allow Him to work… to be seen in me… and when I finally gave Him the “okay,” my stubborn shell of a human body was transformed into a place of peace, where I became comfortable calling a home. God is the landlord, I became the tenant… I don’t own this home, but I’ll call it a permanent lease… and it became my goal to make sure I never get evicted.
After graduation, I immediately became a full-time adult. I began working Monday-Friday, 8:00AM to 5:00PM… with homework no longer a timely priority on my schedule, I had much more time to read, journal and to commit to a biblical plan… I joined the choir at church and would play percussion during the second service… I began to co-lead an African-American bible study on my former campus, which had not existed while I was a student… and I also picked up a couple of part time responsibilities… all while pursuing Christian Hip-Hop as my lead form of artistic expression!
Life was going well! I was growing in my first relationship where Christ is truly sitting in the middle, and she’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a love partner. Hands down. I was able to put a budget to paper each month (really, it was Microsoft Excel… not paper)… I was able to put a good amount of money into savings, committed to giving 10% when I stepped into the sanctuary, and still had a small amount of money to dedicate to my first CHH album, Rerouting.
The summer after my album released, a year after graduation and my first work anniversary, things were still going well…
but it wasn’t exactly the same.
I noticed a loss of immediate interest in many of the same things I was once on fire for… My bible reading had become somewhat of a chore, one that would sometimes get the high-school, teenage boy response… That terrible feeling when you know dishes have to get done, but everyone in the house ate… and you have 4 siblings at the table… and Mom threw down on the stove… so there are layers of pots and pans everywhere… and you ain’t tryna do no dishes tonight, but you still wanna live in her house…
I receive daily scripture, prayer, and encouragement from two different leaders in my life through text messages, and three (quick read) devotionals sent via email. Many times, I’d wait as long as I could to read them… they’d sit there… I’d have full conversations with friends, talking about everything in the world… but wouldn’t be willing to read two quick paragraphs of Jesus talk.
Nightly prayers ceased to exist… Personal prayer during the day didn’t exist… In those conversational moments when people asked for prayer, I’d say “I’ll be praying for [you] (and/or) [your situation]” and completely forget to pray about it… but, I made sure my food was blessed, tho.
I was known as the guy who would always check-in with friends and family… How are you? What’s been going on? How can I be praying for you? That wasn’t as strong as it once was.
At one point, God used to be my go-to. My right hand man. My homeboy. My ni—(I’m definitely kidding. Stop. Calm down.)
So, what happened?
Let’s get straight to the point(s):
1) I got so used to the comfortability of things going well in life that my need and desire for God’s presence began to slowly disappear.
2) As I began to get stressed out from my crazy schedule (including working a full-time job and three part time positions, local performances, leading two separate groups in bible studies, freelance film projects, writing/recording songs, etc.), I would turn to earthly, worldly, easy comfort rather than going to the Lord in prayer.
3) I became impatient with having to work on God’s time and was ready to make life choices the way I wanted, when I wanted.
4) I began to love God for my sake. Meaning: I appreciated God, He met many of my wants/needs, and He made my life better because I believed in Him… I may be a sinner, but I believe in Jesus… and I’m doing a good job of being a better human being than I once was… Jesus still loves me for who I am, knows that I’m not trying to go back, and He know I ain’t sinnin’ in the ways I used to.
Sure, I never stopped believing in who He is, and I haven’t doubted His ways… I’ve kept a clean image, have stood firm in my positions, my beliefs, etc… I’ve done a great job of being in the church pews on Sundays, attending pastoral planning meetings every few Mondays, co-leading ministry on Tuesdays, and church rehearsals on Thursdays… I’ve done well in maintaining those faith-based relationships with people who are looking out for my well-being, who appreciate & support my work, and are keeping me sane through it all… I’ve done an incredible job of using my gifts to glorify Him, and to make sure He’s the reason behind the attention – not me.
The issue is that I’m doing so many things to live the public life of a Christian, and not doing the honest, concentrated, self-changing work as a personal follower of Christ.
Right now, I am that student who knows what it takes to get an “A” on the assignment, so that the report card looks great… But I’m not digging into (and absorbing) the necessary material, which won’t be reflected on my final transcript.
Not only does this contradict my values… this is a look into my priorities.
If I’m having another stressful week of work, and I’m finding healthy, fun, relaxing solutions to deal with my stress, that’s a good thing. Shoot—it’s a great thing! I’m not putting myself at risk of any trouble, I feel good, and I’m enjoying what I do with my own time… If I’m stressed out at work, and I decide to play a quick game on my phone, I’ll be alright… If come home after work and watch a movie on Netflix, I’ll be at peace… If I’m dealing with something personal, and I decide to start writing a song about it, I know that those thoughts will translate well into an awesome song that people can relate to and vibe with.
… and how does God have a leading role in any of those things?
I tell people all of the time (in person, on stage, and online) that my favorite pieces of scripture are Colossians 3:17 & 23, which states: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
After a while, I started to realize that I am a hypocrite… In general, I’m thankful for the time that God has given me on Earth… but, right now, I am not using enough of my time to engage in the beautiful relationship with Christ that I once had… what makes me feel worse about this situation is the fact that He hasn’t changed anything! He’s still there… waiting for me… He always has been… and always will be.
I would be a fool to blame my new PS4 and NBA 2K16 for being a distraction… I would be a fool to blame my cell phone, and it’s many apps, for receiving my attention each hour, multiple times within the hour… I would be a fool to blame the new Adele, Chris Brown, Raury and Justin Bieber singles for their constant rotation in my new Beats headphones…
I am a selfish human being, and although it is true that I am easily distracted, that will never be an acceptable excuse for the lack of time I give for the word… for the lack of respect that I show for God by ignoring Him… for the generic prayers that I pray, when I actually pray them…
If I am human enough to fall into these temporary surges of happiness, then I need to be man enough to admit I’m missing out on the eternal promise of joy.
At one point in my life… I used to love myself for God’s sake… where “everything in me (weaknesses and strengths) and in my life (trials and pleasures) became an eagerly received opportunity to bring Him pleasure by trusting His goodness, counting on His promises, and living to delight Him.” (Crabb 28)
That’s where I want to be, again… and I can’t do it on my own…
He’s waiting for me.