By Jonathan David Faulkner
God hears the prayers and teenagers; I know this because when I was sixteen I asked God to show me His heart for people. I had not been a Christian all that long, and I really had no idea what I was praying, but there I sat, on a plane ride from Dallas to Columbus asking God to reveal to me His heart.
Fast forward to 2011, to the weeks leading up to the Labyrinth, where my cracked and dried faith was barely holding a form, I had been in the dessert, and I was dying. The events of the previous four years had left me so desperate for water, desperately roaming the wilderness, looking for any answer. I had to know, that was the only way I could be sure of it all. I was clinging to what I thought was Christianity and I was slowly becoming disillusioned with it.
God was breaking my heart, God was breaking me.
As I sat with the men and women at Christ’s Body, hearing their stories of life on the streets, on nights I would go down and sit with them while they flew their signs. Little did I know, but my prayer was going to be answered, God was going to show me His heart, and it was not what I expected. Like Brian Zahnd says in his book “Water To Wine:”
“I was wrestling with the uneasy feeling that the faith I had built my life around was somehow deficient. Not wrong, but lacking. It seemed watery, weak…Jesus wasn’t in question, but Christianity American Style was.”
I felt the same way, I felt that I was missing something, it did not make sense to me, I felt dry, cracked. A survey of the landscape of my faith revealed a property not worth selling. I knew a lot about God and about Jesus, but did I really know them? Had my quest for all the answers been of any benefit to me? The answers to those two questions were “sort of” and “very little.”
I knew about Jesus, I knew about what He had done, I knew that His death brought propitiation for sins, that I was now reconciled to God. But in my broken mind, I could not comprehend what it meant, I was starting to move past the anger of my former days, but I still wasn’t free. I did not know what it meant to be a Saint of the Living God. I knew a lot about God, but I did not know God. My prayer to see the Heart of God seemed like a distant dream, I was empty. Like St. Francis after returning from the Crusades, or Luther before he wrote the 95 Thesis I knew there had to be something more to Christian Faith. What was I missing?
So as I sat in Coffee on the Point, just over five blocks from Issachar, I read my bible and I read Donald Millers books and I prayed for living water. As my struggle with the community at Issachar neared a head I thought I would lose faith altogether. But God had another plan, and on Monday July 4th, 2011, in the middle of week of intentional silence, meditation and prayer, God met me in the Labyrinth.
I wish I had known at the time how that journey would play out, had I known the deep joys and the cutting pains of the next four years I would have walked out of that Labyrinth, but I did not, and I am glad I didn’t.
I left the Labyrinth that day with not just a deeper sense of who I was in Christ and of His deep love for me, but also a new understanding of the Incarnation of the Holy Spirit. I finally understood what my professors meant when they were telling me “God is always with you.” So my journey from the wild desserts of faith, where thoughts roll around like dried up tumbleweeds and water is scarce, if it can be found at all. My first steps were made with a new understanding of the role of Holy Spirit in the life of the Believer. Practicing God’s presence became a daily activity, I had become so dependent upon Him for everything, I did not know it at the time, but I was seeing His heart for me, what I had always desired to see, I was at the beginning of seeing.
As you know, three weeks later God called me to Pastoral Ministry and began to teach me about a deeper and richer faith.
He did that through the Monastics, I began reading Francis, Bernard and the reformers, Calvin and Luther, seeking to stand on the shoulders of those giants and learn for them. I stopped talking about the world and began to live in it as a believer with a redeemed perspective. I delved into the depths of theology and devotional practice. I visited my first Monastery, studied Romans with a good brother, and discovered what would lay the ground work for the Lectio Divina I would later apply to my study of Scripture. I was leaving behind the fundamentalism and legalism, the dryness of the dessert of American Christianity and discovering a place in the universal church. I saw myself not as one who had to have the answer, but a student of those who had gone before me, my perspective was shifting, my mind and my heart were being transformed.
It was not always easy, slowly tensions began to rise between my friends who held the traditional views of American Christendom. We would argue, get mad at each other, but we always forgave each other. We would debate baptism, art in the church, the sacred, hymns, contemporary worship music, emotionalism. I had found how life-giving this new perspective, this new lens, had radically changed my life. Even the those liturgies and services seemed to have lost their dryness. I could worship with any style of music, I could be with any Body of believers and see them as Children of God. I wanted other people to see what I seeing.
But I met resistance, people have to be ready to go there, they have to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It takes time, one must realize what is at stake. And those who can grow maturely in the style of Christianity I was leaving behind I encouraged to stay there. I did not want there to be divisions and fights and quarrels, but I did want people to know of this new found freedom. I stopped harping about sin and condemning those who didn’t agree with me. I studied Timothy and saw Paul’s heart to have the church restored and the more I studied I found that was becoming my desire.
I had left the waterless dessert I had been trudging through and had discovered the life-giving springs of living water that came from actually knowing and being in relationship with the Trinity. I finally understood what the reformers discovered long ago, what Francis and Bernard and others discovered. Instead of opinions governed by my own mind my thoughts were replaced with scripture, letting God from my thoughts on a matter through prayer and contemplation.
I did not become perfect, in a lot of ways this life is much harder than the one I used to live. But the result and reward has been so much greater, especially as I have entered 2016 with the expectation of seeing God work and being a part of His work in whatever way He calls me too.
It has been a crazy ride, everything is different, from my relationship with God to my friendships with others. I am okay with not having an answer, I can trust God, and I have the chance to commune with Him daily through prayer and scripture reading. American Christianity did lay a ground work, but it could only take me so far. Eventually I had to leave it behind, from desserts to green pastures. God is doing a work in me, and I want to share it with you, and invite you to join me.
So saddle up, let’s go, to a place of deeper faith.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree inChristian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry