The early church turned the world upside down. With only a few followers of Jesus filled with the Holy Spirit, the gospel message of love and transformation spread like wildfire; it could not be contained or held back. What was the secretthe “Jesus way”behind such a radical movement of the gospel? And what would it take for a spiritual renewal to happen todayin your church, your community, your world, and your own heart?Gerard Long, president of Alpha USA, has seen that spiritual awakenings tend to occur when God’s people understand their calling and prepare through prayer, personal renewal, and action. In Awakening, he offers a compelling vision for a “Jesus way” of widespread spiritual renewal, equipping you to better love people into the Kingdom of God. You’ll become empowered to live the abundant life given to us in Christand step out in faith to fulfill God’s calling.
|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)|
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Awakening To God
Discovering his power and your purpose
By Gerard Long
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Gerard B. Long
All rights reserved.
AWAKENING TO GOD'S LOVE AND PURPOSE
"For 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."
I still remember the day my eyes were opened—Valentine's Day 1980. I was in my dormitory room at Loughborough University, in England, and had received a letter from my brother Will the day before. He wrote about many things, but one line in particular fairly leapt off the page at me: God has got a plan for your life made out of perfect love.
Until that day, I had been going my own way for several years. Though raised by Christian parents in a loving home, I had, like many young people, decided to walk away from the church. I had been a Christian since I was five or six years old, but I seemed to have little desire to truly live for Jesus—that is, to conform my will and my ways to his. I was frustrated and disappointed with myself, and more than a little embarrassed about my faith. I can remember dreading the thought of having my friends come by for tea, because my mum would say grace beforehand and I was afraid of what my friends would think. And I recall riding to church on Sundays, desperately hoping I wouldn't be spotted by anyone I knew.
I knew I was a hypocrite, saying one thing but living something else entirely, but I had reached a point where I really didn't care. My head was in it, but my heart was far removed. When I was sixteen, I decided to stop trying to be a good Christian. I'd had enough of the dual lifestyle. I was done. The last thing I wanted to do was discourage my friends from following Jesus just because I couldn't do it.
Though I did my fair share of wayward living over the next several years—hurting many people in the process and damaging myself, as well—my real motivation was to throw myself into middle-distance running, and track soon became a replacement god for me. I ate it, slept it, and drank it—and it consumed me. I loved the adrenaline rush before a race, the simplicity and pureness of pitching my utmost against my fellow competitors over a set distance, and, of course, the triumph of breaking the tape as the front-runner.
The focus and discipline needed to accomplish my goal—to train day in and day out, whether I felt strong or weak, and whatever the weather—appealed to my character. I was proud, and my ego was boosted as I won championships and achieved recognition. I reached a high level of success on the track and was elected captain of my college team, which included double Olympic champion and world-record holder Sebastian Coe. Aside from running and studying, I had little time or attention for anything else.
By my final year of college, I had a game plan of total dedication to pass my exams and to be selected to run in the Olympic Trials for Great Britain. I moved off-campus to get away from the partying, and I doubled down on my studies and training. Things started well, but then disaster struck as I incurred a serious Achilles injury, which interrupted my training for several months. Although I managed to regain some fitness to run for my college team, it wasn't enough to qualify me to compete in the Trials.
Around this same time, my future wife, Jeannie, whom I had met a couple of years earlier, went back overseas to pursue her ballet career. We had kept in touch while she was dancing with a corps de ballet in Austria, and when she'd returned to the UK, she had begun talking about our getting married. But that was definitely not a part of my egocentric plan at the time, and in my selfishness, I turned her away. Now she was back on the Continent with her troupe, and in her absence, God finally had me in a place where I could hear his voice.
On the morning of February 14, I sat alone at my desk—no music, no friends, no noise, no distractions. Just me and God. And I couldn't get Will's words out of my mind.
As I contemplated God's perfect love for me, and the thought that he had a purpose for me that I had pushed to the margins of my life, I felt the truth awaken my heart in a way I had never before experienced. Believing, as I did, that God created the universe and everything in it, it struck home with astonishing clarity that his plan for my life had to be wiser and more purposeful than my own self-absorbed ideas. This seems quite obvious in retrospect, but at the time it was a revelation.
I sat and reflected on this reality for a long time. Eventually, it seemed the only smart decision was to fully surrender my life to God. As I was drawn to prayer, I sensed the Lord saying that if he had the proper place in my life—namely, his will ahead of my will—I might not get everything I had planned on the outside, but inside I would have abundance—a life full of love, joy, peace, contentment, and purpose.
For the first time in my life, I truly understood what this meant: God created me for an intimate relationship with him. Apart from him, I am incomplete. I had been trying to fill this God-shaped void with many other things, but only he can complete me.
Scripture verses I had long since memorized and forgotten suddenly came alive for me in a new way. "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" These words, which for me had been purely theoretical up to this point, now seemed as if they'd been penned just for me. What would I gain if I got everything I ever wanted—every experience and every achievement—but inside I was empty and dissatisfied? Where was the value in that?
I finally recognized that God could give me contentment on the inside, even if I had nothing on the outside. In him alone I would have everything my soul could ever need.
When I was younger, I'd heard an analogy of salvation that compared inviting Christ into my heart to inviting him into my house. I realized that, in my earlier conversion, I had asked Jesus in the front door but had left him standing in the hallway. I hadn't wanted him to come into the other rooms—into my relationships, my work and career, my money, my future—because I wanted to control those aspects of my life. I had been a fool, thinking I knew better than the Creator of the universe what was best for my life! I had received Jesus as my Savior but not as my Lord. But now I was saying, "Jesus, I trust you and give you full permission to be Lord over every area of my life, and I believe that you know better than I do what is best for me. I not only belong to you, but I fully surrender my life to you."
As I made this decision in my mind and spoke it out loud to the empty room, it was as if God showed up in my apartment. As best I can describe it, it felt as if liquid love were being poured into my heart. It was just me and God, and his Spirit filled my life. I started to weep as I felt his loving embrace. I'd been living on my own, but now I felt as if I'd come home. I hadn't cried in seven or eight years, but I wept from the bottom of my heart as God's love filled me.
At the time, I didn't know what was going on, but now I know from Scripture that the Holy Spirit was filling my heart with love. I suddenly understood the purpose for my life—to love and serve God. To no longer live for myself, but instead to live for him. The tears of love now turned into tears of utter joy as, for the first time in my life, I felt totally complete. None of the things on which I had previously hung my hat mattered to me as much anymore—athletics (which until then had consumed me), my relationship with Jeannie (which had been so beautiful), making money (through a successful small business I had founded on campus), and even my future. All these things I now felt free to leave in God's hands. If he wanted me to have them back to use for his service, fine; but if not, it didn't matter—I was utterly fulfilled in him.
That's not to say that every day since has been a spiritual high. But I can honestly say this was more than just a momentary, spiritual epiphany. It was a turning point, a true awakening that set my life on a different course. Instead of being self-centered, I became God-centered.
I've included this brief overview of my growing-up years because, as I've spoken to groups and individuals, I've found that people tend to relate to one part of my experience or another—whether it's walking away from God for a time, giving in to temptation and making sinful choices, going all-in on something that seems worthwhile but comes at the expense of an intimate relationship with God, or simply coming to a place where it seems there must be something more to the Christian life. Whatever it is in your life that has prompted you to pick up a book called Awakening to God, let me encourage you with this: God truly does have a plan for your life made out of perfect love. That doesn't mean your life will be perfect. But God's love for you is perfect, and when you surrender to it and allow it to permeate every part of your being—to enter every room in your house—God will fill you to overflowing with the power of his Holy Spirit.
This is the first awakening we all need—awakening to God's calling us by name, firstly to himself, but also to a perfect design for our lives made out of unconditional love.
AWAKENING TO GOD'S LORDSHIP
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
I encourage you to consider, and even wrestle with, the following thoughts and questions. Either God is King and Lord of your life, or someone else is—probably you. God created you for a relationship with him, and because he desperately loves you, he wants the very best for you: to bless you, fulfill you, and give you fullness of life, including love, joy, and peace. Also, he has given you a unique opportunity to participate with him in sharing his love with others. He has prepared, from the beginning of time, a unique plan for your life. Think of a parent who wants the best for his or her children. Despite having limited knowledge and power, the parent still knows more than the children do about what will bless them and what will harm them. Now consider that God has perfect knowledge and complete power. If you let him, he will guide you into a full and satisfying life.
Jesus showed us how to walk through life. On many occasions, he made it clear that he was not living for his own will, but rather for God's will, to please him. In doing this, he not only lived a fulfilled and complete life, but he also accomplished the eternal purpose of God, bringing forgiveness, reconciliation, and salvation to the world.
However good you may think your plan is for your life, God's plan is a lot better. His plan will give you the best possible life you can imagine. You will experience true contentment, love, joy, and peace—and God will use you to bless many other people. You will also store up for yourself "treasures in heaven"—eternal rewards.
God's life will flow from within you, and it will not depend on what you have on the outside. The ways of God's Kingdom are different from the values of this world, which feed and motivate selfish desires. (What is it that causes so much trouble in the world? Is it not from people pursuing their selfish desires?) God's desire is that your inner self would be crucified with Christ, such that you no longer live for what you want but for what he wants. If you abide in Jesus, his life flows within you.
Do you believe and trust in God enough to surrender every area of your life to him? Are you willing to say to him, "Your will be done in my relationships, my family, my possessions, my health, my career—in every choice I make"?
AWAKENING TO GOD'S LOVE
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Four things immediately changed in my life on the day I fully surrendered my life to Christ. First, I found I was head over heels in love with Jesus Christ. When you really love someone, you take great pleasure in pleasing that person. This was now all I wanted to do—to please God by doing his will.
The second thing I noticed was that I had a love for God's Word. Now that my eyes were opened, God's truth was exciting and fresh to me. I found I could hardly put down my Bible and would read it into the early hours of the morning, making copious notes. As I encountered Scriptures that spoke to me, I began sharing them with family and friends who were also following Christ. I realize now that my parents were very patient during this time, as I often thought I had come across some great revelation that no one had ever seen before.
The third change was that I stopped swearing. Without my even trying or thinking about it, this nasty habit just slipped away. Also, because of my deep and passionate love for Jesus Christ, I wanted to rid my life of anything that would disappoint or grieve him. This desire to dedicate and separate my life to please God (i.e., to live a holy life) flowed out of a love from my heart, not from my head.
Finally, I developed a deep love and concern for other people, including their current needs and their eternal destiny. In particular, I was desperate to tell them about Jesus Christ. Though the other changes were certainly remarkable, I believe this one was the most notable, in light of my past. It was as if I had discovered a gold mine with enough of the precious metal for everyone in the world. How could I keep it to myself? I had to share my discovery with other people. In particular, I wanted my friends to meet Jesus and experience the abundance of life I was now enjoying.
I remember being quite nervous as I approached the first friend with whom I planned to share the gospel. I prayed that God would help me and would open my friend's eyes to see Jesus. And then I simply stepped out, trusting God to guide me.
"Hey, Jim, I had an amazing experience the other day that has completely changed my life ..."
I explained to him about my brother's letter and how I had reasoned that God's plan for my life had to be better than my own. I shared how I had sensed God speaking to me and how I had experienced what felt like liquid love flowing through me as I told God that I now wanted to live for him and not for myself. I don't think Jim knew quite what to say, but he didn't mock me (at least, not to my face). He simply heard me out.
With this first effort under my belt, I felt emboldened to speak to others, as well. Starting with one or two friends at a time, often over a meal or at tea, I began telling everyone I knew about my encounter with God and the new direction for my life. I was completely captivated by God's love and simply had to share it.
Incredibly, I found that the more I shared my faith, the more joy seemed to course through me and the more I felt God's presence within me. My friends could see that something profound had happened to me, and their mouths may have dropped open in surprise. After all, the captain of the top college track team in the country and one of the "lads" around campus was now openly following Jesus Christ.
Later that year, an evangelist named Eric Delve led a crusade on our campus. He agreed to let me share my testimony, and I invited everybody I could to come along to the meeting. My parents and my brother Will drove up for the event. The place was packed, and as the time came for me to share my story, I was literally shaking with nerves. When I was called up to speak, I attempted to take the quickest route to the microphone by leaping onto the stage. However, I miscalculated my jump, tripped, and fell flat on my face, to a roar of applause and laughter from my friends. It was all in good humor, but as I picked myself up, I discovered that the nerves had been knocked completely out of me. I found I could think clearly, and I believe the testimony I gave was relatively lucid. Ever since then, God has enabled me, even with some nerves, to speak in public.
Excerpted from Awakening To God by Gerard Long. Copyright © 2014 Gerard B. Long. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Bill Hybels xiii
1 Awakening to God's Love and Purpose 1
2 Awakening to the Holy Spirit: Power for Living 13
3 Awakening to Our Calling: Go and Make Disciples 25
4 Awakening to Brokenness 45
5 Awakening to Eternity 59
6 Awakening to Opportunity: A Bigger Vision 67
7 Awakening to God's Provision: How to Become Fishers of Men 81
8 Awakening to the Nets: How to Draw In the Fish 105
9 Awakening to the Catch: How to Land the Fish 119
About the Author 155
What People are Saying About This
A great read for anyone interested in knowing God and joining with him in his rescue mission for men and women across the globe.
Awakening to God provides some wonderful keys for every Christ follower to be empowered, envisioned, and equipped to reach family and friends with the wonderful news of Jesus Christ.
An inspiring book for anyone exploring the adventure of faith!