True North

What do you do when the mountaintop experience quickly turns into a valley?

I still remember sitting on the bed in my mentor’s room, dissecting my recent experiences with the youth ministry. In the previous years, we had held biannual weekend youth retreats, put on by youth, for youth. We had powerful speakers, beautiful music, delicious food—and more than that, the Holy Spirit was present. We engaged in outreach to bless the community. It was extraordinary. The atmosphere was full of revival, spirituality, and earnestness for God. We would get together in groups and specifically pray for God’s Spirit to be poured out at these retreats—and though the devil attacked mercilessly, God would answer powerfully every time.

At this time, I saw fruit in my life. As I was leading out, I realized my need for God’s Spirit, and began to spend more time with God. He spoke to me through His Word and the things of God became sweet to me. I lost the desire to waste time reading trivial books or watching YouTube videos. Instead, I wanted to do things like pray with my friends for specific souls that God had laid on our hearts; we got to see Him answer those prayers in powerful ways. 

During this period our leadership team was not always unified, but God worked to bring us together. At one point, we were butting heads on comparatively petty matters. We couldn’t seem to agree on enough to organize a retreat. I was frustrated. When I poured out my feelings to a sister in Christ I really looked up to, she suggested I pray with one of the team members regularly. After praying almost daily for about a year—still unable to organize the retreat—we began to see the Lord working mightily in individual team members: They were revived, beginning to reform, and God’s love was back in the team. We saw that He had been leading all along, and He helped us to have a retreat in His perfect timing. 

God was working not only in our leadership team, but also in our friends. At another youth conference, I came across a friend earnestly praying in the hallway; we were both approached by another close friend who appeared and instructed, “We need to pray for Mia.” After intensely interceding for her, I later learned that she had been fighting the battle of surrender. By God’s grace, she had chosen to live for Him and give up whatever was in the way, and our prayers and example had been part of the process! I witnessed story after story of revival and reformation. These were the heights of faith I encountered in my experience. 

This was my life for a couple of years—the best years of my life. I felt revived—I was revived, and reformed too. My experience with the Lord was sweet.

And there I was, after that year of work for God in the youth organization, sitting on the bed, recounting the experiences to my mentor. As I shared each story, she pointed out mistakes we had made in the realm of prudence, organization, propriety, and following God’s counsel. Things began to crumble in my mind. I realized some leadership errors that my friends and I had made, which, while not negating the fact that God had used us, discouraged me.

Later, I paced back and forth in my room, processing all that my mentor had said. I was tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater—to conclude that since we had made all these mistakes, we must not have been revived. God reminded me that even “the youths shall faint and be weary . . . but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.” That helped short-term, but long-term, I opened the door to many doubts and questions.

Gradually but steadily, my view of my experience took a massive twist.

Around that time, I began to lose friends because they were being spiritually attacked; some let go of their love for God. I started to see some spiritual leaders revealed as imperfect and fallible, a surprise to me.

Had God really been working through us? Self-distrust grew in my heart, and I felt a twinge of sourness toward my experience with the youth conferences. My experience had changed, as it related to revival, and I subconsciously wondered if God had changed too. If He really loved me, would He have let me make all these mistakes? Had I not been trying to serve Him?

While I was reevaluating this entire experience, my school began placing a focus on revival and reformation. I wanted revival! But when anybody mentioned revival, prayer, or working for God, it reminded me of my past perceived failures, and the doubts poured into my head. I had been basing my expectations on my previous experience and the feelings that went with it. 

I didn’t realize till then that I had the wrong standard of comparison. My point of reference was my experience.

The fact that I had the wrong benchmark was a hindrance to revival in my life. I needed a “more certain” point of reference—the Bible.

God got to work on my difficult perceptions of myself, revival—and Himself.

He spoke to me through His Word. In Psalm 77, David is questioning God intensely, like I was. Then acknowledging his experience, he says, “This is my anguish.” But then, he does something amazing, turning his point of reference and focus around: “But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord . . . I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds.” This was the key I needed—to acknowledge my experience but then to remember the Lord and what He had done, making Him my point of reference.

He also spoke to me through inspired authors. Reading about Jesus at the end of His life in The Desire of Ages revealed to me what point of reference I really needed. I read about Him sweating blood in the garden, acknowledging His experience and feelings—“O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me”—yet not letting those feelings control Him. He instead turned His point of reference back to His Father and His Word when He said, “ . . . nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

Again, on the cross, Jesus felt the anguish of the Father separating Himself from His Son. All hell was against Him. Yet, He remembered His Father’s character and chose to believe in the Word spoken to Him at His baptism: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. He chose to believe that His Father loved Him, and went through with the sacrifice, by faith. He then no longer sensed the loss of His Father’s favor. His point of reference was God’s Word and that made all the difference. When I saw this, I realized that my benchmark needed to be God’s Word too.

After reading encouraging passages like these, I continued praying, wrestling, and attending spiritual events—even if I did not feel like it. God continued to change my point of reference, continuing to help me chip away at this hindrance to revival in my life.

Practically, making His Word my benchmark looked like praying a prayer like this: “God, I feel like those experiences really affected me, and I am really struggling with them. But I know that Your Word is true, that You did use those experiences, and that they do not need to hinder me as I continue to follow You. I claim your promise . . . ” Then, I would claim a specific Bible promise, for example, “Thus my heart was [bitter], and I was vexed in my mind. I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.”

I was better able to understand that with “. . . the continual change of circumstances, changes come in our experience; and by these changes we are either elated or depressed. But the change of circumstances has no power to change God’s relation to us. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and He asks us to have unquestioning confidence in His love”. 

One morning, in the darkness of my room, my pencil scratched across the page: “NO MATTER what my experience has been, NO MATTER that it doesn’t make sense, and defying all odds, I WILL TRUST GOD! Because He said so! Yes my experience was hard, BUT His Word is true.”

God adjusting my standard of comparison through His Word and through prayer was life changing. Now I’m able to attend revival meetings and be greatly blessed because I have a new point of reference—God’s Word, over my experience or feelings, valid though they may be.

Maybe you haven’t had rough experiences concerning revival, but you have faced similar challenges in other areas of church or home life. Maybe you have been hurt by someone claiming to speak for God. Maybe the very Word that transforms lives has been used to hurt you. Wherever you feel your experience is overwhelmingly powerful, I challenge you to acknowledge the experience, and then to change your point of reference to God’s Word.

I challenge you to go on a faith journey, claiming and dauntlessly believing all the promises you’ve underlined, no matter what experiences they may remind you of. It works. I tried it.

I challenge you to read The Desire of Ages, even if you don’t feel like it. Even if Ellen White’s writings have been used against you, go and read about the Jesus who lived, then died, for you.

I challenge you to show up at a prayer or revival group, even if you have had tough experiences in the past. Our point of reference must be God’s Word. It is the ground in which we are rooted. It is the compass that directs us back to true north. And if we choose to make it that, it will change our lives. Because, in spite of all our experiences and feelings, God’s Word is true. 

Adelynn Hamilton

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