I was in college the first time I truly felt known and loved by God. I was walking back to my dorm, and suddenly it came to me that God knew me intimately. It was a shattering, wonderful feeling. God knows me, I thought. He really loves me. At the time I had a great roommate, and he and a bunch of other guys and I would sit around until all hours of the night talking. It would get late, and we would get just tired enough to let our guard come down. Then one of us would let slip some revelation about his innermost self. He would feel embarrassed, until someone looked at him and said, “You too?” He knew-and he was known. Somehow, being in that position of vulnerability and sympathetic intimacy opened me up to the sense of God’s deep and close knowing of me. In those late night conversations I was impregnated with a new life that has grown in me ever since. It’s wonderful to know. It is more wonderful to be known.
In April 1995, we experienced a student revival on our campus that dramatically illustrated the power of feeling known by God. In a chapel service, students began to spontaneously confess their sins in public! Students streamed up to the microphone, openly speaking of their sins and struggles. Short of murder, I can’t think of a sin that wasn’t confessed or a struggle that wasn’t shared. Rape, incest, drug abuse, eating disorders-all were aired in front of hundreds of people. Each student would speak, walk away from the microphone, and be surrounded by friends. Hugs, tears, and prayers of encouragement and healing would follow. This went on for several nights.
These young people had been told a lie their whole lives, a lie that said, “You’re alone in your struggles. No one knows you.” That’s a terrible feeling with which to live. They longed to be known-don’t we all?-but at the same time, it’s terrifying to lay oneself bare before others. The Spirit moved among those students to give them the gift of being known. He empowered them to discover, finally, that to be completely transparent and to feel completely loved is to come closer to the heart of God. So it is for all of us. The gift of prayer is that we can lay all that we are before God, who won’t be surprised or shocked at anything we say.
A week after these experiences at Hope College, I went to Chicago to attend a National Day of Prayer event. Different pastors spoke on what God was doing in their communities. One of them, a pastor from Texas, had a ministry with street gangs, which in itself was amazing, because he didn’t look like the kind of man one would think would have that kind of outreach. But he had led the leaders of rival gangs to Christ, and told us a story about baptizing one of the boys. The pastor was going to sprinkle him in church, but the kid wanted to be baptized in the river. He had probably committed murder, and he wanted to do it all the way.
The pastor said that when he looked at the kid’s face under the water, he could see his broken nose. When he lifted the boy out of the water, the kid clung to him and wept and wept and wept. After he finally regained his composure, he said to the pastor, “This is only the second time in my life I’ve ever cried. The first time was the night my dad broke my nose.”
Then the pastor said to us, “I baptized him in water, and he baptized me in his tears. And they washed away all that church stuff.”
Used with permission from Deepening Your Conversation With God by Ben Patterson (c)1999 Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Book House Company. All Rights Reserved, p. 82-84.