It has now been 25 years since my wife and I, along with my brother Jon and three friends from college, started Community Christian Church. During that time, I’ve had the privilege of journeying with thousands of people who describe their salvation experience as finding their way back to God. Over the years, we began to notice that certain events seemed to happen over and over again to almost everyone as they came to faith. We never took the time to label those events, but we would notice similarities in people’s spiritual journeys.
It wasn’t until Jon and I started working on our newest book, Finding Your Way Back To God, that we focused on identifying these similar spiritual events. We chose a select and diverse group of 25 people and did in-depth interviews with them. We listened closely to each of their stories and studied their individual experiences. In time, we were able to name the parallel events that everyone experienced on their journey to God. We call them the “5 Awakenings.”
At the same time, our study of Scripture led us to the story of the prodigal son. I’m convinced this is the greatest short story in literature and that Jesus told this story as a narrative for how to find your way back to God. So, out of 25 years of experience, intense interviews with a diverse focus group and studying Scripture, we discovered “5 Awakenings” that we believe everyone experiences on their way back to God. Here’s a brief overview:
The Five Awakenings
Awakening to Longing This is the feeling that “there’s got to be more.” We all feel the longing for love, purpose and meaning. The quest to satisfy these basic longings sends all of us on a journey. The common experience lies in not understanding that God gave these longings to us, so we try to satisfy those longings by running away from God rather than toward Him.
Awakening to Regret We pursue those primitive longings without God and when we do, we find ourselves alone, directionless and confused. Regret finds us saying, I wish I could start over. Many people get stuck repeating these first two awakenings. Jon and I call that repetition the “sorry cycle”–pursuing God-given longings outside of a relationship with God, which leads to regrettable decisions and actions. Many people get stuck in the “sorry cycle” for months, some for years. Others never escape it.
Awakening to Help After repeating the “sorry cycle” of trying to fulfill these longings without God and ending up with regret over and over again, we acknowledge that something has to change. We come to the end of ourselves and say, I can’t do this on my own. We hit rock bottom. We come to our senses. We need help. And that help is Jesus.
Awakening to Love Jesus is the one who leads us back to God. As we come back to God, we’re ambushed by grace and discover God, loves me deeply after all. However, a shadow of shame and guilt follows us home, and we struggle to believe we’re loved just as we are.
Awakening to Life Through following Jesus, we discover “life and have it to the full.” The New Testament uses two words for life: bios and zoe. Bios refers to chronological life as in days, months and years. But zoe has a deeper meaning, referring to life as it was meant to be lived. Zoe is eternal life. When Jesus offers to His followers, “life and have it to the full,” He uses the word zoe. As we experience this final awakening we realize, Now, this is living!
How We Find God & How You Stay Close To God
One of the surprising personal discoveries in writing this book is how helpful the “5 Awakenings” have been for me. Like Alcoholics Anonymous says, “You work the 12-steps to get sober and to stay sober,” I would say, “You work the ‘5 Awakenings’ to find God and stay close to God.” I now use these awakenings on a weekly basis in my own prayer life. Finding your way back to God is something you do the first time, but also again and again.
Inherited Faith to Investigative Faith
We live at a very important time in the spiritual trajectory of our country and world. According to Gallup, 92 percent of people in the United States believe in God. When asked with whom they affiliate, the majority responds, “none.” “None” is how the majority of Americans now identify their religious or spiritual affiliation. This group of “nones” is in transition, on a journey and searching. A generation ago, people inherited faith from their parents. If mom and dad were Presbyterian, then you were Presbyterian. But “nones”–while still believing in God–have left behind an inherited faith and are now investigating faith on their own.
Jon and I wrote Finding Your Way Back To God as a guide to those who are investigating faith and searching for a God who feels distant or non-existent. But I also wrote this book for me. I’m still a prodigal who finds myself far from home. As we walk through life, all of us–whether we’re leading a church, came to faith decades ago, went to seminary–all of us need to understand how to find our way back to God.
Dave Ferguson is the lead pastor of COMMUNITY an innovative multi-site missional church that’s passionate about “helping people find their way back to God”. COMMUNITY has grown from a few college friends to thousands every weekend meeting at fourteen locations throughout Chicagoland and was recognized as one of the most influential churches in America. Dave provides visionary leadership for NewThing whose dream is to be a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches. He is an award-winning author of books such as The Big Idea, Exponential, On The Verge and Discover Your Mission Now!. He recently released Finding Your Way Back to God.