Stephen Jaques: The allegiance of your heart

Posted by in Brotherhood,Faith | October 15, 2012

Editor’s Note: Stephen has really written a terrific post for us. We asked him what advice he would give himself as a freshman in highschool and he was quick to respond with a thoughtful reflection on how he arrived at the point he is today. Stephen is a man of God but is quick to point out that in highschool he was a boy who had all the answers but was blinded by his own idols.

High school was fun. I enjoyed it but I wouldn’t say that it was the time of my life. There was a series of events that rocked my world to its core. I would later find that these things were God-ordained, and I thank Him for it now; but as the story unfolds, we will see that it was avoidable. I wish I could go back to my freshman self and teach him this all-important lesson.

For a lot of high schoolers, especially where I’m from, life is comfortable. Most of us have a short list of major responsibilities like schoolwork or sports but after that we are free to enjoy life. Most of us do not experience depression, suicidal thoughts, and other, “big ticket,” problems. But we all experience the, “routine,” problems of life, rejection, breakups, and failure on a variety of levels. I used to think God wasn’t part of these problems. He was there like the insurance company when your “house burns down,” but not when you have a “flat tire” in life. That was wrong. God, I found, often uses the routine ups and downs of life to teach us important lessons and he cares about the big things in your life as well as the small stuff.  

So here’s where the story begins. I’m going into my senior year of high school expecting the greatest year of my life to date because that was how it had been sold to me. I had great expectations! But underneath these expectations were idols… I had allowed my faith to diversify. I was putting my faith in God plus the world. I had God plus other gods to keep me happy. These gods were Image, Ms. Right, and Success (especially in sports); but underneath them was a drive for Approval. If I could have God plus the approval of the world, then I would be satisfied. God decided that senior year would be the time to deal with this – but I didn’t know it yet.

At the time all I knew was that I was going to get to drive to school and have a car for the first time! Unfortunately, two days before school started, a lady made a stupid decision and totaled my car. Gone was my idol of Image. Now I was the lame kid who didn’t have a car and was the only one senior who had to ride the bus to school. I remember wondering if God had a plan for the wreck. Turns out, He did.

Fall is cross country season, my favorite time of the year. Cross country was my passion and part of my identity (unfortunately). But senior year, which is supposed to be the year of peak performance in high school never really lived up to expectations. It was neither a success, nor a total failure. It was mediocre and very dissatisfying. Except for winning the team State title, the season was not personally satisfying. The same could be said for Track in the spring. My pillar of success cracked and crumbled over the months.

Lastly, Ms. Right, a girl I had been interested in for a while let me down. In February my attempt to date her ended in rejection. Rejection is not fun and when that person becomes your god, rejection leads to despair. Hurting, I crawled back to God asking Him, “Why are you letting this happen? What is the deal God? I’ve been a good kid. I have stayed away from the Big Three (sex, drugs, and alcohol). I should be rewarded. Please do something!” And there was my problem staring back at me. I thought I was pretty good. I thought God was like a vending machine. I could accumulate Jesus points by performing and behaving well. God was there not only to be my savior, which was satisfying to some degree. But I thought He was also supposed to provide me with those things that I assumed would make me really happy. My faith was shallow. I did trust God’s grace to save me, but I didn’t need too much grace because I was good at behaving well. Paul’s statement that he was, “chief of all sinners,” didn’t make sense to me because I didn’t realize that sin is more about the allegiance of your heart than it is your outward behavior.

I didn’t understand any of this at the time; but one thing I did feel was a withdrawal of something from me on that first night I prayed. It was like a black storm covered up the sun and rained on me. God did not answer. In fact, I couldn’t even feel Him there. After several weeks of prayer bouncing off the ceilings, a spiral of despair set in. Life was miserable, nothing was going well, and God was nowhere to be found. All His promises seemed broken, worship music at a church seemed to mock me by saying God would be there in my trouble.

I couldn’t see Him or feel Him and I came to a point after the 3 darkest months of my life where I said to myself, “Well, since God has abandoned me, I guess Christianity is worthless.” I was ready to give up my faith but I knew too much theology and apologetics to go be a Buddhist or a Muslim so I just sat in my misery. But I did not sit alone. I had 4 people who sat and listened and reassured me of the truth even when I didn’t believe it. I’m incredibly thankful that God put them there! They helped to keep me from leaving it all. As I lay in my miserable bed, after many angry, tearful prayers, I finally said, “God, I don’t care if You do anything. Just show up.” At that point I was humbled and broken before God, and God answered. I can’t explain it but I got an overpowering sense that I was wrapped in a blanket of love and that God was saying, “I love you.” I still had my doubts about the rest of God; but I knew beyond doubt that He loved me. That was good enough for me to begin to come back to my faith.

Two weeks later I was looking for a particular sermon when I discovered a different one that talked about Jesus delaying his arrival to see Lazarus for three days so that God’s plan would be fulfilled. It dawned on me that God had a bigger plan for my situation, which was 3 months instead of 3 days. I cried out, “I believe!” At that point the storms broke and the sun shown out brightly.

It would be several more painful months before the real reason for all those crushing disappointments would be revealed to me. A friend gave me a book called Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller. The Bible says the truth shall set you free, and this book, drenched in Biblical truth set me free of my idolatry. You see, sin starts in the heart. Our number one sin is idolatry. We think something else is better than God so we make it a god. This is the root sin behind every other sin and everyone is guilty of a depressing pattern of idolatry. From the root comes behavior and whether we appear to be good or bad on the outside, we all have idols on the inside. I am no better than the people who partied it up and slept around and got high. I can’t judge them because I’m worse. I’m chief of all sinners because I was so hypocritical as to think I wasn’t much of a sinner.

My faith radically deepened and between 10-12 months after these events my old scars had healed. I can see now, that God allowed all that to happen in order to refine me. What’s funny is that I remember a sermon from November of my senior year that talked about idols. I checked the list and noted the ones I had a problem with but of course I got home and forgot it. Seems to me like that was God’s warning to deal with it before things got really bad. If only I had listened. But regardless, I haven’t missed God’s plan. I am a radically stronger believer because God brought me to the point where I had to face my weak, sinful self. I was blind, but now I see.

If I had to sum up the lesson here and give it to my freshman self, I would say it this way. Don’t let anything be your god, your identity, and your source of confidence apart from God. At your core God must be in full control. The world will bitterly fail you so don’t put your hope there. It is not God plus the world, it is simply God. Let your confidence and identity flow from your title as adopted Prince of the Kingdom of Heaven. You don’t deserve it, but you get it because God loves you!
If I had known that when I was a freshman, my high school experience would have been radically better. But God’s timing is perfect and so I do not have strong regrets. I still mess up, a lot; but the joyful journey continues.

Stephen Jaques

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