Sometimes God doesn't give an immediate answer to prayer. See how God gives us small but obvious answers and how patient we need to be to receive them.
For nearly 25 years, I wandered. I was born in 1968 to a good family, though we didn't believe in God. In fact, as I grew older, I began to make fun of people who thought God was real. I didn't need somebody else's make-believe God. I was certain He wasn't there.
From age 14 to 22, I lived entirely for myself. I was popular in high school, and I partied hard. I even won two state basketball championships. By age 18, I had a full-ride scholarship to play college basketball. I felt like I was on my way.
But four years later, it all came crashing down. I'd made some bad choices. And gradually I lost everything I had earned. I'll never forget the day, at age 22 on a Thursday, that I decided to end my life.
I sat in the school cafeteria that day thinking about how I was going to do it, how I would spend my last weekend on earth, when I overheard two girls at a nearby table talking about fasting and prayer. I interrupted, asking them what fasting was. One of them told me it was something they did when they wanted help from God.
It seemed so silly, but I listened, intrigued. That night, all alone, I knelt down and prayed for the first time in my life. I told God that I was going to fast, that I'd go without food and water for 24 hours, but that I wanted Him to show Himself to me.
So I fasted. And for the first time in eight years, I went without drugs and alcohol. But by the next day, nothing had happened. I didn't want to end my life anymore, but God never spoke to me. And so I forgot about the whole thing. I knew He didn't exist. I went on with my life.
And then, oddly, a month later an old friend called, inviting me over, a friend I hadn't seen in five years. So we hung out one day, catching up on old times, when out of the blue he said, "Todd, I don't know how to tell you this. I was scared to even invite you over.
But yesterday I had a strong impression from God to call you. And God impressed me to tell you that He needs you on His side, today." I was speechless. Was God real? Had He answered my prayer? Had He sent someone to me? I couldn't believe it. But He had.
With my friend's help, for the next year and a half, I fought like a lion to overcome all my problems. Up and down I went, succeeding and failing along the way. But little by little, I started to see small but obvious things happen in my life.
The answers to questions that had long bothered me began to be revealed. Slowly things started to change. Finally I decided to attend church. One day, someone there reached out, inviting me to a church-sponsored picnic.
I felt a bit awkward about it, but I decided to go. It turned out to be the straightest party I had ever been to: no drugs, no alcohol, silly games for the kids everyone had brought. And then we had lunch, and someone wanted to pray over the hot dogs. I thought it was strange, but I bowed my head and closed my eyes.
And then my life changed. Two years after that initial fasting prayer, 700 days after I had pleaded with God in my closet, I felt something I had never felt in my life, something 20 times stronger than any drug I had ever taken. It was as if someone were hugging me, as if someone were telling me I was home, that these people were good, and that I needed to be with them, that God was there, and that He knew me by name and that He loved me.
I had always thought that if God were to manifest Himself to me that He would come down in a lightning bolt or in a great clash of fire. But I learned that day at the picnic that I was wrong. I realized that it is part of our condition as mortals to sometimes feel as though we are surrounded by darkness.
But even though we may feel lost, God promises to illuminate the way before us, no matter how long it takes. For two years, God had nurtured a questioning soul. Little by little, He had given me as much as I could handle until the day I was humble enough to hear fully what He wanted to tell me.
I also learned by my own experience that spiritual light rarely comes to those who merely sit in darkness, waiting for someone to flip a switch. It takes an act of faith to open our eyes to the light of Christ. Twenty years later, I still don't know everything. But I now know who I am. I know who God is. And I know that God's light is real.