I’m not an early riser. I’m more prone to see sunsets than sunrises. Still, adjusting to an eight-hour time difference can help you wake before you normally would. I stumbled out of my hotel room in Tiberias while it was still dark, eager to see the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee.
I walked out to the end of a dock which stood about ten feet above the water level of the lake. I sat down, dangling my legs over the edge, and began watching for the sun to crest over the Golan Heights on the opposite side. While I waited, I began to pray, remembering the sunrise I experienced while sitting on another dock half a world away.
It was exactly twenty-seven years ago today that I sat on the edge of a dock looking out on a small lake in rural Alabama. I had come there on a retreat with a friend’s church youth group, and it was the last night of the retreat. The youth pastor, who talked about God like He was someone he knew personally, had just invited us to pray a prayer and “ask Jesus into our hearts.”
Somehow, I knew I could not come to Christ simply by praying a prayer in a noisy youth meeting. I knew I had to be alone, and I lit out of that meeting as soon as we were dismissed. I headed straight for the end of the dock because I knew it would offer some solitude.
Not brought up in the church, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about how to pray, so I just began pouring my heart out to God: confessing my sin, my futile self-reliance, and all the reasons I was unworthy to come to Him. I understood that I was a sinner, and I was keenly aware of my need for God.
There is a famous quote, variously attributed to Pascal, Augustine, or Ambrose, which says, “There is a God-shaped vacuum inside each of us which only God can fill.” For me, that vacuum was all too real and palpable. As I sat there praying to God, I remember looking up at the vastness of the night sky and clearly sensing that He was there all around me, filling every space—every space except the comparatively insignificant void inside of me. Then it dawned on me that in His divine greed, He wanted to fill that space too!
While I can remember the perceptions and emotions of that night quite clearly, I recall almost nothing of the things I actually said in that prayer. The only thing I do remember saying is this: “God, I don’t know what kind of servant I’m going to be for you, but I want to be the best I can be.” That moment when I spoke those words is the closest I think I’ve ever gotten to genuine humility. My pride was broken, my vanity spent, I knew I had nothing to offer. And yet, somehow, I knew that God wanted all of me, and I wanted nothing more than to be of some use for Him.
As I got up from the dock and headed off to bed that night, I remember feeling as if an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I had just been freed from the burden of my sin, and all the separation, guilt, anxiety, and utter loneliness that go with it. That night, my step was light, and my heart was full.
I’m not sure I realized that night just how much I had experienced the dawn of a new day. I could see it all too clearly, however, from that dock overlooking the Sea of Galilee. As the morning sun cleared the horizon, scattering the darkness in the sky and igniting the waters below, I rejoiced that the God who had ordained that sunrise had likewise ordained that His Son rise in my heart, forever dispelling the darkness that hung over it like a shroud.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8–14, NIV)
Twenty-seven years ago, I woke from the sleep of death to find Christ shining on me. It has made all the difference in my life. It has been the difference between night and day.