Feeling, seeing, knowing, growing

Ashleigh and I just ran our first 10K together.

“You know what, Mrs. Ava? I’m learning that no one can do this for me.” That was the moment I almost jumped up, lifted Ashleigh off the ground (It’d be easy to do; she’s tiny), and kissed her forehead like a crazy woman. Instead, I forced myself to stay calm while asking her to explain.

You see, Ashleigh has loved God a long time, and she’s done a lot of right things, as far as faith goes. She became a Jesus follower at an early age. When she left home for college, finding a new church was important. And being kind was just part of Ashleigh’s daily routine.

But something was missing, and for a while, Ashleigh didn’t even realize it. Not consciously, anyway. Here’s what she did know: For whatever reason, that exciting, intimate connection with God was missing. Other people had it. The Bible promised it (James 4:8). So what was the secret to feeling His closeness? To hearing His voice?

Disconnected-but-searching-Ashleighs are everywhere. The good news is their desire for something more. And better still, they’re willing to pursue it. The first time I met Ashleigh, she was alone at a Friday night Bible study. I noticed her immediately, not only because she was beautiful, but also because she was there.  I mean, what twenty-something spends her weekend sitting on a church pew? A girl looking for an intimate God, that’s who.

So here’s what happened: Simply put, Ashleigh got personal. She told me, “It’s not going to happen automatically. I can’t just sit in church and expect to grow a relationship. It’s up to me. I need my own time with God, even if I’m not sure what to do with it.” She started with an early morning, a Bible, a devotion book, and a journal. At first, Ashleigh admits, it was awkward (New relationships always are). Before long, though, she was craving time with the Father because He was real, close, and necessary.

Here are some practical tips from Ashleigh and others who’ve transformed from distant spectator to enthusiastic participant:

1)      Read something in the Bible every day. If you don’t know where to begin, try Psalms or John. Before you begin, ask God to show you something important. Then underline it, knowing this is a personal message just for you.

2)      Speak with God with the comfort you’d talk with a friend, but remember that He’s Holy. Approach the throne with reverence. Tell Him how great He is, and thank Him for your blessings. Ask for your needs, but realize that talking with God is more about connecting with Him than getting what you want.

3)      Use a journal to record Bible verses, quotes, or devotions that mean something to you. Write them down, along with an explanation of why they caught your eye. Every so often, read through the entire journal and remember what God has shown you.

4)      Attend a weekly Bible study, even if you don’t know anyone else there. Be the one who speaks up, asking questions and helping others find answers. Get involved, knowing that the more you learn, the more you’ll appreciate your Father.

5)      Volunteer to serve others in your church and community, something you’d never do on your own. We’re never more like Jesus than when we’re helping people. And we’re never closer to God than when we watch Him work.

Ashleigh shares her journey with anyone who’ll listen, proof that she’s a different girl from the young woman I met in July! Now she wants to spend time with God, and she feels comfortable doing it. He is her strength, joy, and purpose. Oh, and she hears Him now. That’s special. That’s intimacy. And that’s the loving, growing relationship He desires.

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“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

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