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April 8, 2013

Firsthand Experience | Day 1

Relationship over Religion

Today we begin a powerful and life changing adventure: The Firsthand Experience. I encourage you to connect everyday to the blog for the next 30 days with the purpose of experiencing God firsthand. The reason we read the Bible is not to increase our knowledge but rather to grow closer to Jesus and experience life change.

In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” Notice that Jesus didn’t say I’ve come that you may have religion and be full of religion. Christ came to give us life to the full! Secondhand religion drains your life of joy, passion, and purpose, but a Firsthand relationship fills your life with joy, passion, and purpose. To help you remember that you’re meeting with Christ, I encourage you to set out an empty chair just to remind you that Jesus is with you. Remember you’re not just reading the Bible, you’re also meeting with the author of the Book. Ask The Lord to help you understand His word and live it out.

Today’s verse to meditate on is Matthew 5:3. “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope with less of you there is more of God and His rule.”

The following is an excerpt from Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own by Ryan and Josh Shook.

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope? Even though Jesus’s words sound completely backward, He knew something that few of us ever stop to consider: We can’t be filled with God until we’re emptied of ourselves!

That’s always the why of desperation in God’s plan. Before we can find fulfillment, we must feel our own longing. The reason God allows those painful feelings, it seems, is so we’ll become desperate for a full relationship with Him.

And God has to get our attention. For example, He uses fear to wake us up. Your mom and dad are fighting with each other more than ever. You realize that the next big test will determine whether you have to retake the class or get to move on. You find out that your best friend lied to you about something really important, and you’re worried about what this will mean for the future of the relationship.

These kinds of anxious things wake us up. They pull us out of the doldrums of a life of safety we have created for our- selves and remind us that we need more of God than we had before.

But if fear is God’s wake-up call, then desperation is His fire alarm. Your father passed suddenly from a stroke. The love of your life left you for someone else. You lost your job and have no idea how you’ll pay for school. You’re at the end of your rope. The hurt seems to overwhelm and outweigh everything good in your life.

In a word, you’re desperate.

But what if, at that very moment, you’re also one step away from being blessed?

One of the people we surveyed for this book, Linda from Pennsylvania, told us that after she prayed to accept Christ into her life, she didn’t feel any different for years. Then suddenly that changed. “After an encounter with God on one of my darkest, most desperate nights,” she wrote to us, “I knew that God knew me. I began to realize that even though I wasn’t always close to Him, He was close to me.” “One of my darkest, most desperate nights”— she was at the end of her rope. That’s where Linda found God and where her faith began to be real. She never would have asked for that dark, desperate night, but it turned out to be just what she needed to transform her relationship with God completely.

She said, “Over time my dependence on God grew, and now there isn’t much time that I don’t think about Him, talk to Him, thank Him.”

Similarly, Karl from West Point, Utah, tells a dramatic story to explain how he woke up to his need for a real relationship with God. He started out as a classic secondhand-faith kid. As he put it, “I grew up in church and always ‘knew’ that I was a Christian. I went to Sunday school, sang in the youth choir, went to church camp, went through confirmation. I had one of my first kisses at a youth fellowship meeting. It was my social life, but there was nothing transformational about it.”

Years later Karl was in his twenties and serving in the United States Army in South Korea when he was a passenger on a helicopter that crashed due to a mechanical malfunction. He wasn’t badly injured, but his spiritual life would never be the same. “That crash symbolized my life in a lot of ways,” he said. “As I cried out to God, I realized that He had much more in store for me than just going to church on Sunday and that being a Christian meant more than a social life. It had to be a way of life. No longer was it okay to say a prayer and then, sure of a place in heaven, go forth to sin happily ever after.”

Who would have thought that a helicopter crash would be a good thing?

No matter how much it hurts, “at the end of your rope” can be a very good place! You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. You might finally be ready for less of you and more of God. You might just be at the door of the real, personal faith you’ve always wanted and desperately needed.

Augustine, a father of the early church whom we cite at the top of this chapter, referred to the promise of this moment when he wrote, “You must be emptied of that of which you are full, so that you may be filled with that of which you are empty.”

Emptied. It’s at end-of-the-rope moments like these that we drop flimsy and untested hand-me-down beliefs that don’t really fit us anyway. We dump secondhand beliefs and empty religion… and finally reach for something real.