I will never forget that moment in the middle of the night as I stood at the top of the stairs, gripping the banister and crying out to God in spiritual agony. I was a young man, truly desiring to follow after Jesus, but overwhelmed by my own inability to live out the Christian life. I was tired of constant failure. I wondered how it was even possible to achieve victory. I had tried everything I could think of to live an upright, holy, victorious life, but I kept falling short. That night, God met me. And I discovered the single most important truth to a Christianity that really works. In this week’s blog video, I share the story of that night and the crucial secret to spiritual success I learned that has impacted my life ever since.
When I look back on my college years, I see a young man who desired to live a certain way but couldn’t. I gave my life to Christ when I was in college, and I was going door to door and recruiting people to come to Bible studies. I had a prayer meeting in my dorm room for revival every night. I was serious about Jesus. In fact, I left college to go on the mission field. So, this guy was very serious about living for Christ. However, when I gave my life to Christ, I had a conflict in my life because there was this new idea of the way I wanted to be living. I wanted to be pure. I wanted to be honorable. I wanted to be marked by kindness and respect and love to those around me — but I was selfish. Often I thought, Wait a minute, I’m a Christian. Why am I dealing with this?
One of the challenges I faced is in the version of Christianity I grew up in was that you were given a standard and then, basically, you attempted to live it in your own strength. Now, we know that Jesus died for us and we can’t bring ourselves to Heaven, but we should be able to live righteously in our own strength. No one actually said that. It wasn’t like someone sat me down and said, “Eric, you need to live this in your own strength.” That’s just the conclusion I come to. I sort of had the idea, “Okay, so I can’t get to Heaven on my own, so I need Jesus. But I should live like Heaven down here.” But I couldn’t. That struggle is what led to Saint John of the Cross describing the “Dark Night of the Soul” — because you either give up on this high standard; you either give up on this vision that I’m supposed to be changed in the image of Christ; that I’m supposed to declare to the heavenlies the manifold wisdom of God in the way that I live my life. I’m supposed to be loving as He is loving and I’m supposed to be full of joy. I’m supposed to be full of peace.
Is this a crock, or is this the real thing? You have to make a decision. If you hold onto it, you get disillusioned because you can’t. If you give it up, you get disillusioned because now you live in a wreck. So, what’s the solution? The solution is the Gospel, and that’s what had to come to me in the midst of this. I was trying my best. When I was in missionary school, my nickname was “PTM” or perfectly-timed man. I woke everyone else up in the entire dorm complex. Everyone leaned on me as their alarm clock. If there was anyone who had natural discipline that could live out this godliness, it would be my personality type.
Oh, I couldn’t do it. It was too great for me, too heavy for me, and God had to bring me to my end. He had to bring me to that dark night where I said, “God, I can’t do this. I’m going to grab ahold of You and I know You have it.” And that’s what I found.
The moment I remember most was standing at the top of the stairs in the middle of the night, grabbing the banister. There was some temptation down lurking in the lower levels of this house that I was in. This was a long time ago. And I had always given way to that temptation. So, it like calls out in the night, “Eric.” And for whatever reason — like an idiot — I get up like the zombie (and that’s the way we feel too). We feel like, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” And even in our head, we’re like, “I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m doing it.”
I had told God I would never do it again. And here I am doing it again, because this standard that I had almost seemed to give rise and power to sin. Law gives sin its power. So, the more I tried to hold to a standard, the more I felt that it was impossible, and that’s true because in my own self I could not do it. I remember standing at the top of the stairs, staring down into this darkness lurking below, almost like you could hear the cackle down there, and grabbing a hold of the banister and saying, “God, I don’t want to go down there. I’m tired of this. I know You have something. There is some solution to this dilemma in my life. I know it because I’ve read the Scriptures. I know that Your men and women have lived triumphantly. So what is needed? I am going to grab ahold of this banister and not let go until I find it.”
I stood there for a long time. I don’t know, maybe an hour, and I stood there at the top of the stairs looking like an idiot. If anyone walked out, I would have looked like an idiot. But guess what? For the first time in my life, I went back to bed. I found something. I didn’t know what to call it at that time. I now know it as grace. It’s the power of the Holy Spirit.
You see, God wants to enable us to live a life that we can’t live on our own. It’s a crucial dimension to Christianity. We all know the word grace, but we think it’s His overlooking of our sin as opposed to His empowerment at work in us to enable us to live a life we couldn’t live on our own. It’s God working for us. How are we saved? By God working for us, by God dying for us, by God doing the work for us. We need that today. I need to be saved today from something. Well, who do I need? I need God working for me. I need grace.
If you’d like to take these ideas deeper, join me for an eight-week course on honorable manhood.
If you’re interested in grabbing hold of victorious Christianity, I invite you to join me for an 8-week Honorable Manhood Online Program designed for men, fathers/sons, and small groups to discover God’s epic design for their masculinity and sexuality. Register here.