I'm finding it very hard to explain what this is all about...so forgive me if I make it personal. I know your Christian life and experiences will be very different from mine, but I have discovered that there's a lot of people out there who've lately experienced something similar to my "event" - although for some it was a process, not an event. That's OK, as long as you know that you had a "Job transformation": "My ears have heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you" (Job 42; 5).
Let me say right at the outset that we are not talking about being born-again - this is about born-again people whose Christian life was dull, grey, and largely meaningless; believers who dragged themselves along from day to day, until God stepped in and did something amazing in their lives.
Mature believers sometimes lose their way. I did, and I ended up in a very uncomfortable, very dark, place - I knew where and what I should have been, but I was very far from there, in a place of despair and hopelessness. Outwardly I looked fine, inwardly I was a desert crying out for rain. I tried everything to change, to get to where the light was, and nothing worked. Yes, I knew Jesus, but from a distance. Yes, I knew more about the Christian life and faith than most people, but to me it only emphasised the difference between where I was and where I wanted to be.
Things eventually got to the point where I gave up. I reached the point where I told God that I'm giving up on trying to live the Christian life, that I was just going to live my life as best I can, and accept that I would never be able to effect the change I needed. I told Him that if anything was ever going to change in me, it was up to Him to do it - and, to be honest, I didn't think He could do anything.
But praying that prayer was a dangerous thing to do, because God took it seriously. Without realising it I gave Him permission to move in my life, to do what needed to be done, and He did exactly that: One beautiful morning He used a totally insignificant incident to bring down all my defences, and in one blinding moment He reached into my chest, ripped out the heart of stone, and replaced it with a squashed marshmallow. No, I didn't become perfect, but on the deepest possible level I was changed; not by my efforts, but by a sovereign work of God's grace.
And if he could do it for me, He can do it for you.
In fact, I have discovered that lots of people have had similar experiences, and like me they wanted that "second wind" to last. We do not want to go back to where we were, but we are so afraid of ending in the same old hole, just more defeated, more hopeless, more lonely.
Let me introduce you to a concept I learned from Jamie Buckingham's book "Where Eagles Soar". He likened the Christian life of most of us to being a grasshopper: crawling around until you hit a "spiritual" experience, then you jump-fly a few metres, and then it's back to crawling again. We want to soar, but we know we'll always be grasshoppers, lurching from one blessing to the next - and eventually we give up and avoid everything spiritual for fear of falling harder than the previous time.
On one of his tours leading a group of people following Israel's exodus journey, Jamie was halfway up Mount Sinai, waiting for his touring party to catch up, when his guide pointed out an eagle to him. It was one of those rare desert days with a thunderstorm approaching, and the eagle was circling up in a hot air thermal, already so high he was just a speck in the sky. The eagle locks its wings at the shoulders, the guide explained, and then he lets the wind lift him over the storm, and descend on the other side. At this point, he went on, the eagle is no longer in control: he has relinquished control to the wind, to take him wherever it goes. He is not out of control, but he is beyond control.
I think you see the application to our spiritual life. When God moved so decisively in my life, He brought me to that place of being beyond control. I knew, experientally, that He had taken over control and was working out my life according to His plan. It felt as if I was that soaring eagle, scared and exhilarated in equal measure, living a great adventure, being carried by His Spirit, far beyond what I could have achieved. Everything was new.
Let me repeat, we are not talking about being born again, about how we become (in Paul's beautiful phrase) "in Christ" - we are talking about that moment when God suddenly takes over a life that already belongs to Him, cleans up and changes it for ever. The moment when the sleepwalker awakes. That incredible insanely beautiful moment when you spread your wings and let the wind of His Spirit carry you into the wild blue yonder. When you experience control passing from you to Him.
How it starts for each of us will be as unique as the individuals we are, tailored to our unique life-stories, and we won't spend a lot of time on the "how it happens" part - for the purposes of this study we will accept it as a gracious work of God, something precious to nurture and appreciate and protect.
Maybe you've jumped off the edge, maybe God (like a real-life eagle, see Deuteronomy 32: 10-12), has pushed you out of the nest; however it happened, you are flailing around, trying to use the wings you never knew you had. You are probably scared, exhilarated, and determined, simultaneously - staying in the air is now your first order of business, and that is what this study is all about.
You won't find any new revelations here. In the words of Mark Heard, "you and I, we know too much" already - it will be a journey of rediscovering what you thought you knew, but as living experience and not facts to be studied. This whole workbook was born from my rediscovery of what I thought I knew - I am going to draw on that personal experience and Scriptural insight, and do my very best to show you how not to go back to the old "easy", boring and depressing way of living. To carry on with the analogy, this study is about learning how to stay airborne. Or get airborne again if you happen to fly into a rock.
Unfortunately there won't be a neat programme for you to follow - a 3/4/5/6-point plan to embrace "the eagle life", or whatever the current fashion may be - your journey will be as unique as the "you" God created, going where the Great Eagle takes you, and getting there on the road He mapped out for you personally. It will be exciting, but it will also be hard to apply the truths of Scripture to your own life and situation - a lot harder than following somebody else's route, but it will be profoundly liberating to find the Spirit of God leading you on your own unique journey.
Approach this as a new beginning, a second chance, a blank book, a new season. One of the first things God said to me after my Job moment, was that I have a second chance now - not a "last chance" predicated by condemnation or a last warning or a relentless reminder of my past - a second chance, a fresh invitation, to live His abundant life.
Don't try to tack this on to your existing spiritual framework, just a few adjustments here and there - what you had before didn't quite work, did it? The challenge now is not to make superficial adjustments, but to become the "you" God created you to be. When you spread your wings that very first time, everything changed, and your whole life is already being transformed. Up there, everything is different. You are different.
My prayer is that this 13-week study will help you rediscover the awesomeness of life in Christ, and give you a few tools to discover and walk your own unique journey with God.