By Don Ankenbrandt*
As a new believer, I was eager to grow and learn as much as I could.
During that time, I attended a weekend retreat led by Dan DeHaan, who challenged me to spend one day a month in solitude with the Lord to learn to hear His voice. Soon after, I marched off to spend a day on top of a mountain. I committed to at least eight hours and promised myself I would not leave early.
Take Time Alone to Hear God Speak
I spent the first 30 minutes praying about everything I could think of. Then, I got uncomfortable and began to panic. What in the world was I going to do for the next seven and a half hours?
Yet I forged through the struggle. I read the Psalms, prayed through each passage, and began to experience a peace that I couldn’t describe. I started to ask God about my sin: what do I need to confess? Was there anyone in my life I needed to go and ask for forgiveness?
The memory of Mrs. Ward popped into my head immediately. Mrs. Ward taught “Word Power,” a course I had to take as a sophomore in high school. I always did well on her quizzes because (to put it bluntly) I cheated. I got an A in the class and was never caught. I knew right away the Lord was telling me to find Mrs. Ward and ask forgiveness for cheating on every test I ever took from her.
I tried to dismiss the thought, but God wouldn’t let me. It became like a splinter in my mind. Finally, I cut a deal with God and prayed, “Lord, if I run into her I will do it. Otherwise, I won’t have any way of knowing if this is really from You or some crazy idea that came from me.” I was fairly confident that I would never see Mrs. Ward again.
Take Time to Obey What God Says
Two months later, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I was at a bookstore in the mall and saw Mrs. Ward. I panicked and hid behind a bookshelf. I hoped she’d leave. I feared the worst. Would administrators take away my high school diploma? Would I be thrown out of college? My parents would kill me. My mind raced. Finally, I yielded to God’s voice and obeyed. I walked up to this sweet woman and said, “Mrs. Ward, do you remember me? I was one of your 10th-grade Word Power students.”
She remembered me.
I continued, “Several years after I took your course, I became a follower of Jesus Christ. About two months ago I was on a day of solitude and I sensed God telling me that if I ever saw you again I would ask you to forgive me. You see, I cheated on every test I ever took from you, and I want to apologize.”
What happened next was completely unexpected. Mrs. Ward started to cry.
Clearly, our conversation needed to continue, so we moved to a nearby fast food restaurant.
“I prayed this morning for God to show me, somehow, that He is there and cares for me,” Mrs. Ward explained as we sat drinking lemonade. “If nothing happened, I wouldn’t believe in Him.” She continued by asking me questions about why I had decided to follow Jesus.
I explained it all to her — how two years earlier, on a Thursday night, March 17, 1978, at the Trail West Young Life camp, I sat looking up at more stars than I’d ever seen. That night, I went “all in” that day and my life was transformed from death to life in a moment. Then I asked Mrs. Ward if she wanted to become a follower of Jesus, and she said yes. We prayed right there in the mall restaurant. And that day, Mrs. Ward came to know Jesus Christ.
It was a gracious ambush from God! He wanted to use me, including my sin, to redeem my own life and to help others understand His grace and redemption.
One year later, on the same Saturday before Thanksgiving, I was in a Christian bookstore – and in walked Mrs. Ward. We hugged in a moment of sheer joy. She went on to tell me what had transpired in her life since meeting Jesus. Her marriage had been transformed, her children had come to Christ, and that day in particular she was in the Christian bookstore trying to find a new study to use in her quiet times. After we spoke for an hour, I got in my car and cried in gratitude for God allowing me to see how powerful He is. I was so grateful for beginning to learn how to listen to His voice.
Take Time Regularly to Listen to God
That day back in 1980 convinced me that I need to continue to spend extended time alone each month with the Lord to hear Him speak. Over the years, I’ve learned that God doesn’t scream at us. He whispers. And if we learn to listen, He welcomes us into a more intimate and meaningful relationship with Him. He puts us in situations, as He did with Mrs. Ward and me, where life situations collide.
Over the past 30 years, I’ve tried to make it a habit to spend one day a month with Jesus. As I look back, I see that God has used these times alone with Him to shape my life. He has taught me more than I could ever imagine about Who He is and what His plans are for me.
He will for you, too.
*Don’s testimony is excerpted from 210 Project: Discover Your Place In God’s Story by Marc Fey, Don Ankenbrandt, and Frank Johnson. Birmingham, AL: Alliance Publishing Group, 2011, p. 171-174.