Editor's Note: We are excited to welcome author A.J. Kiesling to the Crosswalk.com family. Before kicking off her monthly column this September, we wanted to run the following excerpt from "Jaded" ... to give you a taste for the book, and set the tone for the discussion to come.
It’s been said you have to leave home to find it. Over the past several years I’ve wondered: Does the same hold true for God? Like so many others who cut their baby teeth on Christianity, for me the path to “finding God” was signposted like a suburban freeway. Go to church, memorize Bible verses, pray and confess my sins daily, and respond to at least one altar call. I thought if I did all those things, my reward here on earth would be the joy that comes from living what Jesus called the “abundant life.”
The only problem with this formula for abundant living is that it doesn’t work. Sooner or later you may find that out. Sometimes it’s the church-mill that wears you down. Or perhaps a personal crisis leads to spiritual lethargy. You still believe in God; you go through all the right motions; you might even look convincing. But all the while you’re dying a slow death on the inside, shouting a wordless cry to God: “Why isn’t this Christianity thing working?”
Believers who are tired of “12 steps to spiritual growth” are faced with a puzzling question. They believe the words of Jesus and know they hold life-changing power. But how do those words “work” after the wear and tear of everydayness has dulled the glow of belief, after “churchianity” has replaced true Christianity, after spiritual idealism has turned into been-there cynicism?
In his book Your God Is Too Safe (Multnomah, 2001), author Mark Buchanan uses the phrase “chronic spiritual fatigue” to describe this malaise. When I first read his words, I thought, He’s talking about me. I find I’m not alone. Everywhere I turn I run into fellow believers so jaded on institutional church life they rarely bother to darken the doors of those hallowed spaces anymore. Or they begin a search for a place that fits—a place that offers more than just programs. A place that encourages those deep, sometimes dark, questions that accompany any meaningful spiritual quest. For some, that place may be a house church, a Bible study, a coffeehouse meeting, or something as simple as breakfast with another believer once a week.
At the same time, I’ve discovered something wonderful. Once God marks you as His own, He doesn’t let go lightly. You can walk away from church, but you can’t walk away from Him so easily. Just when we think He’ll finally leave us alone, He shakes things up again. Or frustrates our carefully wrought plans. Or speaks to us through the most unlikely characters.
That’s what happened to me. In the midst of my own wilderness experience, God spoke to me through a paper sheep.
One afternoon at work, in the midst of a grueling deadline, something stopped me in my tracks: a white sticky note shaped like a sheep, stuck to a stack of folders. The production manager happened to have a packet of sticky notes shaped like sheep and had jotted my name on one to indicate which stack belonged to me. But in doing so she became the unwitting messenger of a mini-miracle.
God has been called the Hound of Heaven because of His endless, loving pursuit of us. Now that Hound was jerking my chain—gently. A bit of Scripture memorized in childhood Sunday school seeped into my tired brain: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14 niv).
Later that evening, I opened my Bible and turned to the familiar chapter: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28 niv, emphasis mine). After that, I posted a cutout picture of a sheep on the bulletin board next to my computer; it’s there to remind me of how God sees me.
Despite my disappointment with churches—ranging from heavy-handed pastors to a weariness with programs—I have a strong faith. Again, I find I’m not alone. As I began to dig into the untold story of “jaded” believers, a common refrain began to emerge. Many, many people were sick and tired of church. But here’s the catch: These were not “backsliders,” people who had let faith take a backseat in their lives. These were men and women with a vibrant faith—God-seekers all, but souls with a deep thirst for more than the institutional church was offering.
During my research I stumbled onto a phrase that captures the heartbeat of this message: divine discontent. Revolutions, whether social or spiritual, are always preceded by a collective restlessness, a heart-cry for something more. Could it be that God is stirring a divine discontent within the heart of his people, preparing them for much more than the staid, program-centered state of Western Christianity?
Once I realized a powerful groundswell of jaded believers stirred the landscape, the story behind that spiritual surge kept me up at nights. Surprisingly, an undercurrent of excitement fed this groundswell. Though church burnout was usually the catalyst, people’s individual stories resonated with themes of grace, realism, and a spiritual vitality they had never known before. Weren’t those three things hallmarks of classic Christianity? Did they not strike a chord deep within and hint at the abundant life Jesus talked about? If God was up to something, it was something wonderful indeed.
Journeys of any kind are fraught with uncertainty and implicit excitement; spiritual journeys are no different. When the wayfarer returns, others always want to know: What was it like? Was it worth the trip? In a very real sense, our spiritual journeys won’t be completed in this earthly life, but we can tell others about our experiences along the way. Word-of-mouth communication is more potent than any scholarly report—and much more convincing. When Jesus healed a blind man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees accused him of being a sinner. The blind man’s response is unforgettable: “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see” (John 9:25 message).
The testimony of someone who has crossed over from spiritual burnout to a vibrant awareness of who he or she is in Christ—what the apostle Paul called “the simplicity that is in Christ” (see 2 Cor. 11:3 nkjv)—is no less miraculous. Only Jesus can lead His travel-weary flock to green pastures, the secret place of rest that seems so maddeningly elusive to our formulaic way of thinking.
A. J. Kiesling is the author of Jaded: Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up on Church But Not on God (Baker). She welcomes your thoughts and comments. Feel free to write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Jaded, visit her online pressroom.
Are you starved by the church, but hungry for God?