By Amanda Nolan
In 1997 I left YWAM after six years in full-time ministry. I had arrived back in Ireland in September 1991 to do a DTS. After six years living in community and involved in ministry my husband, I and our one-year old daughter, felt called to leave.
Some of my biggest worries at the time were: How deep was my relationship with God and would it survive without the support and nurturing of community living? Would I have enough self-discipline to spend time in prayer and worship or intercession without the structure of community and time tabled events in my day? Would I grow deeper in my faith and mature or would I perish spiritually?
It’s now 2019 and we have been living in the west of Ireland for the past 22 years. We have four children, moved home several times, my husband works full-time and I work part-time. In all the comings and goings of family life, the ups and downs, good times and hard times, times of little and times of plenty, loneliness and isolation as well as friendship and love, there has been one constant. My relationship with God.
I can answer yes to my own questions. My faith, my relationship with God is deeper, it has developed along with me, it has not only survived, but it has grown. The bigger question is how, how has this happened?
The honest part of me will admit that I am sometimes lazy, sometimes I just don’t feel like praying or reading my bible. There are countless things that often feel far more important or even enjoyable instead. In fact, many of my encounters with God are fuelled by emotions which can be fickle, rather than by discipline. Recognising this helps me to engage my will and get with God because I recognise it is good and know it is good. Paul reminds us of this in Philippians, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14).
There is little in our area that comes close to the kind of community support we had in YWAM. We have church on Sundays, we attend a prayer meeting once a fortnight and over the years have dipped in and out prayer groups, events, retreats and Christian gatherings when we could. These events helped quench our thirst and keep us anchored to a wider Christian community. However, it has been the support of our close friends, friendships formed in YWAM many years ago that have really nurtured us, comforted us and given us courage to keep on going. Making times to visit or host these wonderful people are the great highlights of our year and we would be truly untethered without them.
Second to that, the opportunity our current home has offered us to hospitality has allowed us the amazing privilege of having so many former YWAMers stay with us and that has been a rich and joyous blessing, giving us the experience of a community that exists long after its members move on. "I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith" (Romans 1:11-12).
My DTS and YWAM years educated me about many things: Hearing God’s Voice, The Nature and Character of God, Fear of the Lord, The Father Heart of God as well as Intercession, Worship, Evangelism and Missions. It was a hot house of encountering God and responding to Him. Application of what I learnt led to growth and fulfilment. I had a different perspective on the world after that. I discovered there that I have a capacity for more.
Once out of that hot house, the opportunities to encounter and respond to God didn’t seem as intense or frequent. I learned that it wasn’t because God wasn’t the same it was because the world didn’t expect the same of me as YWAM living did. In other words, many of the people I encountered every day didn’t seek to grow deeper in their relationship with God, most of them didn’t know Him at all. Most importantly, I learnt the only thing standing between God and me is myself. I am the only one that is capable of putting up barriers between myself and a deeper relationship with God; not my husband, or my children, not money, not work, not my colleagues, not where I live or my church. Just me. I can put them up and I can let God help me tear them down.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about love, what it is and what it isn’t. He tells us that love never fails. He names the three things that are the central values to the body of Christ: faith, hope and love. It is through faith that what we see now only dimly in the mirror we will see one day face to face. Hope that is now imperfect will one day be perfect; and love, the greatest of all these will remain and will not fail (1 Corinthians 13: 4-13).
In order to continue to develop and deepen our relationship with God we, therefore, must engage our will to choose to connect with God, even when we don’t feel like it. We need to surround ourselves with members of the body whenever we can in order to stay connected and be mutually encouraged by one another. Finally, hold on to what you know, God is truth, God is love, unfailing and He will always remain.