8 years ago, right around this time of year, I was sitting in one of my final counseling sessions, preparing to graduate from the Pure Life Ministries Residential Program. The next thing I knew, I was crying my eyes out, and confessing things about myself that I wasn’t even aware of. To this day, I don’t remember how it started. But God saved my life that night.
In April of 2008, nearly 8 months prior to this, I had driven onto the campus of Pure Life Ministries a hollowed-out shell of a man. Despite having some kind of a religious experience when I was 15, it had been a long time since I had walked in the pathways of God.
I certainly had high expectations for the program. And, on the one hand, I was probably a model student. My chores were always finished on time and I put my heart and soul into the homework. I got along with the other students and tried to work hard while on the job.
But on the other hand, I was deeply troubled. God had been opening my eyes to see the reality of my life, and I was horrified. First, there was the stark truth that I had taken advantage of multiple girlfriends and committed heart adultery with thousands of porn stars. But I was far more deeply disturbed by the discovery that my life bore almost no resemblance to the Bible’s depiction of a true believer.
Far from having a life full of the Spirit’s fruit, I was a gaping hole. I was plagued by unbelief, cynicism, fear, self-centeredness, and on and on.
Desperation began to grip me. For months I agonized over my condition, but I couldn’t seem to find any way to improve it. No matter how many times I prayed, there didn’t seem to be Anyone listening at the other end. I sought refuge in the Scripture, but my Bible seemed only to contain Scriptures that condemned wicked men. Men just like me.
Despite the agony, I persisted in seeking God, knowing that He was my only hope. I didn’t know if He would have me, but I knew that must I find Him, or die trying.
At some point along the line, things began to improve to some degree. I wasn’t as hopeless. Cynicism wasn’t as deeply-rooted. My thought life was improving. I was even fighting against the temptations of sexual sin, and winning.
Then, 3 weeks before graduating from the program, I accepted a challenge. Pray Psalm 139:23-24 each day until God answers. "Search me," I prayed. "Try me. Test me and know my anxious thoughts, and see if there's any wicked way in me, and lead me in the Everlasting way."
For a couple of weeks or so I prayed this every day. Nothing much happened, but then again, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Maybe that’s why I was so shocked when God answered.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was sitting in one of my final counseling sessions before graduating the Pure Life Ministries Residential program. Suddenly, words came rushing out of me. I began to break, as I confessed things to my counselor that I hadn’t even consciously thought of before.
“I desperately want to be different,” I told him, “but I am not sure that I actually am different. I see Jesus in so many of the guys around here, but I don’t think I know Him the way I should. I’m afraid that if I graduate next week, I will go right back to my sin.”
I will never forget the look on my counselor's face when I finally looked up. He was obviously as shocked as I was.
The next day he told me that they had decided to extend my graduation for as long as four months. That was fine by me, because I really wanted something to change in my life.
Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, 2008, I left the chapel after a Friday teaching video. It was a frigid December night, beautiful and perfectly still. Under a full moon I walked to the old rugged cross that stands near the campus, and I knelt and began to speak to God.
It was simple, desperate, and from my heart. I had spent nearly 8 months here, and what to show for it? I still wasn’t sure I knew God. But then He spoke. And what He said changed my life. Looking back at that exchange, I realize now that it wasn’t the content of the conversation that was so profound, but that Life Himself was speaking to me.
When I awoke the next morning, I knew that God had come to me. And as I reflect on these past 8 years, I know that He has never left.
Nate Danser is the Director of Ministry Outreach at Pure Life Ministries. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, PA. He has served in our Media Department since he came on board in 2009. Nate is very passionate in his desire to see young people come into a real life with God.
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