Every person needs something to believe in, a reason to live, a passion, something to cling to and invest everything in. Without it, life is futile.
Growing up hearing about the hippie movement of the '60s, I felt like I'd missed out. It seemed as if that generation had vision and passion, something worth speaking up about. My parents didn't talk about it much, but I knew they had been inspired to find a way of life different from what society offers. At one point they left everything to live in the rainforests of Costa Rica. They lived in a tent for six years in another culture, still trying to find their dream and live off the land. Their journey led them, not only to getting married and having children, but also to each finding a group to get involved with. My mother got involved with an obscure Eastern philosophy, and my father, a New Age religious group.
Inevitably, different paths led to different places and eventually my parents separated. My brother, sister, mother, and I all moved to a small community based on the path my mother had chosen. Years went by and the community changed, and we started going to public school, and eventually left that community. Perhaps because of the way my parents were, the public school system never could provide me with a reason to live. All the great options that were set before me didn't interest me at all, so I dropped out. Maybe college, I thought... but after one semester, I dropped out. I thought about how my parents had lost so much of their original vision over the years and I was determined to find a true reason to believe. The idea of going to school to get a diploma, to get a job, to buy a house, to save for retirement and pay life insurance for when I died seemed like such a hopeless and meaningless cycle. Something deep inside told me there had to be true meaning to life, so where does one go to find it?
I didn't know where to go, but I knew I didn't have it yet, so I left. At first, just the idea or hope of starting over, on a quest of sorts, was so exciting. A friend and I headed west with just a small backpack each. We saw California as the "promised land." It is amazing what you can find when you start looking for something. We would run into group after group, person after person, each with another agenda, another belief, and another persuasion. I would talk to everyone I could, just hoping someone would have real insight into the purpose of life.
The Environmentalists were so set on saving the trees, even at the risk of personal harm. Some people were determined to protect the rights of the Native Americans against the coal mining companies. On and on the list went. I talked to Buddhists, the Hare Krishna's, all sorts of Christians, Jews, Muslims, hippies, health-food advocates, those with the New Age philosophies, and even people who thought life was just an alien experiment and one day spaceships would come and take us all away. It seemed like there were so many choices and each choice had so many ways to believe. Some people would even say that it's all the same anyway, so it doesn't matter what you choose, as if all paths lead to the same goal.
Reincarnation, transcendence, heaven and hell, nirvana, live for the moment without thinking about the consequences, or dirt? Take your pick. I began to sense a little bit of a battle not to compromise and just take the first and easiest "cause" that came along. I wanted to really believe, but I was lost, tossed about. I wanted proof and figured that was the only way to trust anything. I always seemed to run into people who would tell me Jesus was the way and that I needed to be saved. I wasn't quite sure what that meant because their lives didn't seem so much different than anybody else's, and I knew that if I did "get saved" I would still have to figure out what to do with my life.
Sometimes I would wish I had grown up in some third-world tribal culture, with elders to look to for wisdom, some sort of heritage, and basic rites of passage, a foundation. The more I looked, the more I felt sick inside, like I had caught some deadly disease, and my spirit was dying inside me. Though I traveled from place to place, the goal always seemed just out of reach. I realized that I needed roots in something, and that I didn't have any. I knew I wanted to love because I knew for sure, if anything, love gives life a purpose. But what does love really mean anyway? I knew that love is not the way of the world. I knew love is not so easy, especially as I saw more and more hurtful and selfish tendencies in myself.
I met so many people who, at one point, started out with vision, but lost it over the years. That made me so sad. Why hadn't their vision perpetuated itself and increased? I even began to wonder if it was hopeless to have hope. If everyone's passion is destined to dwindle, why even try?
Perhaps I was wrong all along and the way of the world is the best it is going to get. Maybe I should just surrender to the "American Dream" and put my hope in heaven one day, or reincarnation, or maybe even the spaceships that were coming. And what about love? Well, everyone has problems, nobody is perfect anyway, and maybe I just need to worry about my own life. Maybe the problems of the world are just too big; what can I do about it anyway?
Yet every time I would think this way, I would feel like I was on the verge of death, as if any spark of being a genuine human being was in jeopardy of being extinguished. Yet deep inside, I knew if there was a God, the true God who is love, the source of life, He could set me free and lead me out. So I did the only thing left that I felt I could do: I earnestly cried out, with all my heart and with tears to a God I didn't even feel like I knew, to set me free and show me the way.
A week later, I ran into some people who had just what I longed for — a reason to believe. I had actually met some of these people a year before, but I was cautious when talking to people, especially when the Bible would be brought up. This time though, I was much thirstier, nearly spiritually dehydrated. So I was eager to hear what they said. When I was invited to come and visit one of the communities, I was so thankful, especially because I could tell these people had something genuine. They were warm and kind.
So I went, full of momentum from all my searching and traveling, and although I loved the life they had, I still had thoughts of going to India to find a guru, or some enlightenment, perhaps. Their life seemed simpler and less dramatic than what I expected.
Then they invited me to go to a wedding at one of their communities. What I saw there was something I had never really seen before. I heard people speak with so much passion and conviction. I heard authority in what people spoke but I could tell they were not proud — there was a certain humility about them. The more I saw, the more I wanted to listen to what they had to say. People repeatedly kept saying that it was all because of their Master.
Slowly, something started to dawn in my heart. I could tell that this was no light thing, not some spur of the moment occasion, but I could even sense it had come at a cost, an investment. I could also see that these people greatly treasured what they had. I cried a lot at that wedding and when people would ask me what was going on inside me, I barely knew what to tell them. I felt deeply comforted and pierced to the heart, all at the same time. The part of my heart that had started to harden and become skeptical of life was being stirred. Now, as the years go by, I recognize that feeling as the mercy of God. It was like finally being home, even though I barely knew these people.
Somehow, in all my travels, never before had anyone just opened up their home and welcomed me into their belief. No one had ever said I could be a part of them, build with them, and learn with them. It is the most wonderful thing to be able to really trust people, knowing that their intentions toward you are good, especially after being in the place where you always have to keep up your guard.
Still, I had to be sure this was what I wanted to commit my life to. I needed to count the cost, because that is what I was told were the "terms of the gospel," something I had never heard of before. As time went on I started to see some of my motives and intentions for holding back. They all seemed so shallow and selfish. I would see people selflessly meeting the needs of others, determined to learn to love and deal with the hindrances. I started to be convinced that these people were legitimate and dedicated because, living with them, I saw that they were consistent. They certainly weren't perfect and yet they still truly loved each other. That comforted me too because I knew that I had some ways that were certainly not perfect. I could see no one was hiding anything. Deep inside, I wanted to not have anything to hide. So after about a month of really considering, I decided to commit my whole entire life to the same thing these people had.
An amazing characteristic of God's heart is that He doesn't demand that anyone believe, or even just expect them to believe without evidence. He wants people to see a true witness, something that verifies the truth. He wants a demonstration, something of substance that will prove to the world that the Father sent the Son. This, I learned, is what the Bible clearly says. He wants to give people real faith. He wanted to give me faith.
Jesus said, "I in them [His disciples], and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that you have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me." (John 17:23)
He said that the perfection of the bond of unity between His disciples would prove to the world that God is real and so is His Son. So what type of unity would prove to the world such a thing? It would take some weight of evidence to prove such a weighty matter and give a person what he would need to become a true believer. I remember that as an outstanding quality of these people, that whomever I talked to or whatever community I went to, the heart and the vision was the same. It was a completely real and tangible life of togetherness, caring and sharing of all. It was being proven right in front of me, the very love of God.
So what would be the nature of someone who was a disciple of His and what would prove authenticity?
Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
All will know, and see evidence, that His disciples are authentic because they love one another as He did. I was amazed more and more as I saw people dealing with the practical everyday situations with an attitude of love, meeting the pressing needs. I could tell by what I saw that these were real disciples.
"By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (1 John 3:16)
What kind of love is that? Anything that is less than everything, a complete and total sacrificial love, would not match up or prove that one is a disciple.
Revelation has to be revealed, opened up, disclosed. Light reveals things, and apart from the light, a witness, no one should even attempt to believe beyond what is instinctively known in the heart. The life of the Son of God was the light of men, so the way of life of His believers should also be a witness and light that one who doesn't believe could look at and become a believer.
If someone claims to love God with all his heart, mind, and strength, it should be evident from what he speaks from his heart and mind, and what he does daily with his strength. There is a saying that "deep calls to deep," meaning that if someone has true conviction and speaks from it, it can communicate to something true in the hearer, thus imparting faith. Genuine faith is persuasive. False faith or lack of conviction will be clear to someone who wants true substance and is thirsty. So Jesus, in His wisdom and knowing the way men's hearts work, spoke,
"A good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree bear good fruit. Therefore by their fruit you will know them." (Matthew 7:17,18,20)
He left the decision up to the hearer. The thirsty ones will believe those who have what quenches the deep thirst in them, the life of love and care that even helps and assists them to believe.
I know my thirst has been quenched. After five years, I am still satisfied to be a disciple. That is not saying discipleship is easy in any way, but the more I come to know Him and His true character, the more my vision and passion increases. I see people who have devoted their lives to Him for thirty years and their conviction runs deep. True love will always produce a family. It will produce a community, a nation, and a reason to believe. It is the most wonderful thing to have a reason to believe.