Joy, Church, and the Neglected Face of God - An 11-Day Plan

Devotional

When I first encountered Jesus in the middle of the night as a nineteen-year-old, I felt a mixture of hope and excitement. I also felt a presence like a warm emotional light. The excitement was not only mine but His. I could feel that Jesus was excited about what had just happened between us. I cannot prove this because it was all nonverbal. He spoke no audible words to me. I had only read six chapters of the New Testament, so I had little biblical basis for anything I was feeling. I simply felt that Jesus was happy and smiling at me, and it felt like a warm light shining on me.


When I woke up the next morning, I still felt the light. I had a summer job in downtown Denver delivering blueprints on a bicycle. As I went through my day, I was in a heightened state of spiritual awareness and excitement. I felt like I was floating ten feet above my bicycle seat. I rode past a light pole that had a sticker on it that read, “Jesus loves you!” I had ridden by this same pole every day that summer, but I had never seen the sticker before. I couldn’t stop the words from coming out of my mouth: “I agree! Jesus loves me!” I had been a Christian for only seven hours, and I was already enjoying the first ingredient of healthy soil.


Over the following year, my Bible reading led me to 2 Corinthians 4:6, which gave me words for my experience. Even today, when I read this verse, it takes me back to that night. This is what I felt when I met Jesus. I felt the light of His face shining on me. I could feel it in my body.


Dr. Allan Schore, known as the Einstein of psychiatry, says that joy seeing the sparkle in someone’s eye that conveys “I’m happy to be with you.” If he was right, I was experiencing joy. Jesus’ eyes were sparkling at me. His face was shining on me, and I could feel it. I wondered whether this was what it felt like to be a Christian. As far as I knew, none of my friends were Christians, so I had no one to ask.


Joy was new to me because I did not grow up in a Christian family. My parents did not take us to church or talk about God. When our family visited my grandmother in Nebraska, she would take us to her small church on Sunday mornings. I did not feel joy there. These visits were my only exposure to church.


For the rest of the summer, I continued reading the New Testament to learn more about Jesus, and I kept feeling Him smiling at me. As my summer came to an end, I moved back to the university for my sophomore year. I was unpacking my suitcase in my dorm room when Steve Lo walked in, set his two suitcases on the floor, and said, “Before I unpack, I need to talk to you.” 


Steve and I had become friends as freshmen, and we decided to room together our sophomore year. He continued, “Last year we partied a lot and got drunk, but I’m a Christian. Over the summer, I decided that I’m not going to do that anymore. You might not want to live with me this year. I’m not going to party with you. I’m done with that.” 


As soon as I heard Steve say that he was a Christian, I ignored everything else he said and waited for him to stop talking. As soon as I got my chance, I blurted out, “I’m a Christian, too!” I remember the stunned look on his face as I told him about my encounter with Jesus in the middle of the night. 


I had been reading Matthew for a month, and I did not understand much of what I read. I had a thousand questions, so Steve sat down, and we talked for two hours. He knew a lot more about the Bible and walking with Jesus than I did. After I couldn’t think of any more questions to ask, Steve said, “We should find a Christian group here on campus and meet some other Christians.”


I did not know what a Christian group was or did, but we found one and got involved. I heard the students in this group call it a ministry. I didn’t know what that word meant. They talked about evangelism. I didn’t know that word, either. They used a lot of words I didn’t know. They also sang songs that were strange to my musical ears. I liked the people, though, and quickly got into a small group. Within a few weeks, I was studying the Bible with new friends, and they taught me the basics about being a disciple of Jesus. They taught me how to study the Bible, how to pray and how to share my faith. One thing I wasn’t taught was the importance of joy and relational attachments. I wasn’t taught it, but I was shown it. 


I lived a very different life that year compared to my freshman year. We talked about Jesus all the time. We prayed for each other. We did homework and ate meals together. Once a semester we prayed all night long. We had a weekly meeting, and when I showed up, I could feel that I belonged. Faces lit up when I walked into the room. My face lit up too, and it felt similar to what I experienced with Jesus. This was joy, but I did not know it at the time. 


REFLECTION QUESTIONS:


1. Think of a time in your life when you had a new or fresh encounter with Jesus. Share the experience with another.


2. Ask another follower of Jesus to share with you an experience of when they were particularly close to God.