I tossed and turned in bed.
I kept asking myself, If Christianity is really true, why hasn't my life changed more?
I was 20 years old, living in a dorm at Stanford University. My dreams were coming true of going to a great university where I could get a great job and make a million dollars.
But the foundations of my life were shaking.
After being challenged by Marxist ideas on campus, I had spent the last 4 months reading, talking and thinking about Christianity, struggling over whether or not it was true.
And I had concluded that it was indeed true, that I did believe it. But then I couldn't sleep.
Why was the Christian life so difficult? Why didn't I have any joy or peace?
When I was 12 years old, I had very sincerely accepted Christ. But I thought the Christian life was about being good, so I tried as hard as I could. I tried and tried, but failed miserably.
I lusted after girls, was unable to control my temper and worried constantly.
I worried so much that I would bite my fingernails down until they bled. I kept telling God I was going to change, but I never could.
So even though I decided that Christianity was true, I was still disappointed. I guess this is the Christian life, I thought. Being defeated, frustrated and hanging on, hoping to get to heaven in the end.
But still I prayed for God to show me if there were something I was missing.
A few weeks later, through someone with Campus Crusade for Christ, I finally understood what I had been missing: God doesn't expect us to live the Christian life in our own power, but instead He has given us His power, through the Holy Spirit.
We might consider that the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount talk about how to prepare our hearts to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We can't just try to be good -- in fact, God wants us to recognize our need to depend on Him completely.
Matthew 5:3,4 says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (New International Version).
By admitting to God that we are poor in spirit, that we can't live the Christian life on our own, we are taking the first steps toward accessing His power.
We also need to give ourselves completely to God, and be humbled before Him. Matthew 5:5 says, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (NIV).
It is not enough to admit our need; we need to approach God with meekness and give Christ control of our lives, willingly surrendering ourselves to His will instead of ours.
And finally, we accept the Holy Spirit's filling by faith. For example, we can pray a prayer like this one:
"Dear Father, I need you. I acknowledge that I have been directing my own life, and that as a result I have sinned against You. Thank You that You have already forgiven my sin through Christ's death on the cross. I invite Christ again to take His place on the throne of my life. Fill me with the Holy Spirit. Thank You. In Jesus' name, Amen."
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is one of the most important decisions we can make.
But sometimes we think, What happens after I get back into my daily life and I mess up, sinning or not trusting Christ like I know I should?
I remember these 2 words: spiritual breathing.
To exhale means to confess your disobedience -- simply agreeing with God about your specific sin.
According to 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
This is almost like the Christian's bar of soap. Even though we're saved and have the gift of eternal life, we get dirty. So God gives us 1 John 1:9 to clean up.
We are given the means to experience His love and forgiveness through confession.
But without the attitude of Jesus, I can't change myself. That's why after exhaling I need to inhale. Inhaling represents the believer's ongoing dependence on God. We simply believe, by faith, that the Holy Spirit will fill us when we ask. Through prayer, we invite Christ back into control over our thoughts and actions.
Although I was skeptical when I first heard about being filled with the Holy Spirit, I said, "God, if you will show me what I have done, then I will confess it."
The next morning on my way to campus I prayed, "Lord, fill me with the Holy Spirit. Jesus, live Your life through me." Three minutes later, I can't remember if I lusted after some California girl or got angry at some guy, but I sinned, and God brought it to my attention: Oh, thanks Lord. You're answering your part of the bargain.
Then I had to do my part, to exhale. Right away, I inhaled, praying, "Take control of my life again, fill me with the Holy Spirit."
I kept going on to class and 2 minutes later -- bam -- I sinned again. I exhaled and inhaled.
A couple of times in class I thought bad thoughts about the professor or the homework assignment, and the Lord convicted me of that.
I wasn't just spiritually breathing that day; I was spiritually hyperventilating. The next day was the same, and I was pretty miserable for a while.
After 4 or 5 days, though, I noticed that I needed to spiritually breathe less often. Then it just became a pattern in my life over the next weeks and months.
Just 4 months later, I was in the library studying for finals. I looked down at my hands and noticed my fingernails needed to be cut.
As far as I could remember, it was the first time in my life I had needed to cut them.
And as I looked at my hands, I started to cry.
I thought, God, this is proof positive that You have changed my life.
Sometimes, finding hope means looking in a new direction.
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Everyone knows that faith plays a significant role in our spiritual growth, but practically speaking it either occupies too much or too little of our understanding.
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