Joel's Story: Emmanuel, the God Who is Near

I want to tell you about a breakthrough I experienced in my relationship with Jesus. This isn’t about the first time I met Him, but it’s about when I was fully honest with him.

After graduating from Berkeley in 2008, I served as an intern with my campus fellowship. That was a difficult year; I had come to believe that God only cared about my service, and that He was constantly disappointed with my failures. I struggled with lies that I had to earn my place in the family of God. By the end of my internship, I was worn out. One day, I ran into a friend who invited me to an Ark service. I had visited before, but it had been a while, so I came.

That service was wonderful and painful. I remember the beautiful worship and the time of response at the end, during which I spoke truth against the lies. I embraced the truth of God’s acceptance against the lie of my worthlessness, a lie that had been revealed several years before and for which I had experienced healing. But, as soon as service ended, all those lies came back. I immediately felt out of place, like I didn’t belong. The social anxiety and insecurity returned, and I felt powerless. The lie said, “People would be wasting their time talking to you. Get your dull, boring, tedious self home.” I left the service feeling horrible and cried to sleep that night. The worst thing is that I had thought that, after years of prayer and counseling, God had healed me of these lies, and it was crushing to feel them return.

The next day, some friends came to visit. I told them what happened and how awful I felt, how the relief and acceptance at the end of worship gave way to old deceptions. They gathered to pray, but I stayed silent. Then my friend said “Joel, I see you standing in a boat with Jesus on a lake, and you’re yelling at him, but He’s just listening. The rest of us are on the shore. We can see you, but can’t hear you, but we’re just supposed to watch here.” What this told me was that Jesus wanted to hear me, that I didn’t need to pretend everything was ok.

So I was honest. I started yelling “God, why is this still happening?! I thought the healing was finished. But I’m still stuck here. I’m angry, I’m frustrated, and I’m hurt. Why aren’t you doing anything?!”

That was the day that I learned to be honest with God. I learned that I didn’t need to have my emotions all in the right place. In the past, I would patiently wait for the healing to come; this was the first time that I was openly frustrated with Him. But God could take my emotions. He doesn’t diminish what I’m feeling, doesn’t demand that I come to Him in perfect clarity. I didn’t receive any major revelations during that prayer. But I can look back now and see how that frustration was part of the healing. I needed to trust Him, even when I didn’t understand the path He was taking me. Instead of hiding those feelings, I needed to bring them out to Him.

That first instance of openly sharing my feelings with God allowed me to truly connect with Him in a way that I hadn’t been able to before. Giving him my emotions became instrumental to my healing process, but the most significant impact of that prayer was that it allowed me to truly meet God by bringing all of me to Him.

First shared at Ark Sunday Service, December 13th, 2014