I’ll never forget the day I told Jesus I needed to leave college.
It was a little under a year ago. I was in my dorm room, all alone, and the temptation to take my own life was so great, and the feeling of being trapped was so overwhelming, that I told God I couldn’t go on any longer. I knew He wanted me to be there, but I wasn’t strong enough. I’m sorry, God, but I can’t. I’m tapping out. I hope that’s okay.
I went to prayer, asked the Holy Spirit to show me the way, and immediately this song came on my Spotify:
Interestingly, this was the very song that happened to come on my Spotify the very first day I started doing mission work with NET Ministries, back in August 2015. It also played on the day I felt God calling me to college and not another year of mission work. And again the night before I left for World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland. And again on my first day of freshman year, last August. In fact, this song has unintentionally played at nearly all the turning points in my life for the past two years. It’s based on Psalm 121, which I’d like to dive a little deeper into.
I want to make it very clear right now that God never promised us a suffer-free life as His follower. Quite the opposite, in fact; he tells us in this world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world. (John 16:33) The good news is, He tells us though we must suffer, we will never suffer alone. If we go through hell, Jesus goes there with us. If we sink to the depths or rise to the heights, He is there, always by our side. And He understands the pain we endure because He Himself endured ultimate suffering, ultimate pain, during his Passion and death on earth. God did not even spare His own perfect Son from pain and suffering. That’s how universal hell is.
A song of ascents:
I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From whence shall come my help? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip, or your guardian to sleep. Behold, the guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps. The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. By day the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night. The Lord will guard you from all evil; He will guard your soul. The Lord will guard your coming and your going both now and forever. (Psalm 121)
The footnotes in my Bible have this to say about the psalm: “It is a blessing given to someone embarking on a dangerous journey, whether a soldier going on a campaign or a pilgrim returning home from the Temple. People look anxiously at the wooded hills. Will God protect them on their journey? The speaker declares that God is not confined to a place or a time, that every step is guarded; night and day God watches over their every movement.
At every point where I was about to embark on a new chapter in life, the song “Shoulders” played – a song based on Psalm 121, a blessing given to someone embarking on a dangerous journey.
Sometimes we have to take a trip through hell. Sometimes we have to walk through raging waters, amidst burning flames. Sometimes we have to feel the full weight of the cross on our shoulders as we walk our road to Calvary. This suffering is a necessary part of life. And it sucks. And it’s painful. I know; I’ve been there.
But when Jesus died and descended into hell, He rose from the dead right after and eventually ascended into heaven. See, Jesus’ Passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension are meant to mimic the natural cycles of our lives: we take out cross-heavy walk, we get crucified, we go through hell. BUT EVENTUALLY WE RISE, ALWAYS. How do I know? Not only is it Christ’s promise to us, but I’ve experienced it myself. Twice. I’ve been resurrected from hell twice in my life now, and I expect more resurrections to come.
In the midst of the suffering, in the middle of hell, it can become almost impossible to see any hope, any end to the pain. We may have the inclination to give up, to lose faith, to stop hoping against hope and to throw in the towel. Wallow in your sadness. There is nothing more to life than pain, our mind tells us. This is all there is. Things will never get better.
But let me tell you: THEY DO.
Sometimes it takes YEARS. Yes, I suffered for two years before I found joy, peace, and fulfillment again. I spent two years in the darkness, crying out to God, begging to see the sun. And at many points, I lost basically all hope. But eventually, and I do mean eventually, because I waited a long-long-long-long-long time, God brought me back to life.
He has restored all the hope I had lost by showing me His plan for my life, giving me a hopeful future to look forward to (Jeremiah 29:11). He has surrounded me with beautiful, wonderful, amazing, godly friends and family who call me onward and upward in the faith. He has expanded my mind and heart, and now, even my physical abilities, as I have begun training to become an officer in the US Marine Corps. He has showered blessings on me, day in and day out. He has made my heart swell with joy and beauty through experiences and people. And every day I know I can rely on His grace to get me through. Life is so good, fam. There was a point only a few months ago where I truly did not believe my life would ever get better. I had stopped believing that joy would ever come my way; I thought I was doomed to a life of loneliness and misery. I was totally lost and knew not where to go. But I continued moving forward, one foot in front of the other. And God blessed those footsteps.
He brought me to where I am today, and I have never felt so much peace or fulfillment in my entire life. I know I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And it is blessed.
So I encourage you: if you are going through hell; if you feel hopeless, broken, depressed, downtrodden, and fear you will never feel joy again, listen: TAKE COURAGE. GOD WILL RESURRECT YOU. IT MAY TAKE A LONG TIME, BUT HE IS FAITHFUL AND HE WILL RAISE YOUR SOUL FROM THE CLUTCHES OF DEATH. I tell you this from experience: I was dead, but my Lord has raised me up. I am here today and can testify this truth because God worked this miracle in my life. I promise you, He will work it in yours, too.