“It is where personal power seems most defeated that we are given the most profound opportunities to act in true faith.” Gerald May, Addiction and Grace
Not long after completing my first Living Waters program, I discovered I was HIV positive. The shock of my diagnosis desecrated all the high hopes I had been experiencing with my new found identity in Christ as a heterosexual. This was very early on in the emerging AIDS crisis and like most people who discovered they were infected at the time, it felt like a death sentence to me.
The atmosphere surrounding the disease was filled with hopelessness: despairing media stories, a bewildered medical community and the mass, public paranoia over getting infected. To me, the “abundant life” (see Jn 10:10) in Christ didn’t look like it stood any more of a chance than a snowball in hell.
Clearly, my faith was at a point of reckoning: I could either press forward in the belief that God still had a “hope and a future” (Jer 29:11) for me, or encamp on the inevitability of sickness unto death. I knew in my heart I couldn’t just give up and lay down—that was a descent much too dark. As Proverbs 15:24 states, “The path of life leads upward for the wise to keep him from going down to the grave.” So up it was; though I knew I couldn’t sustain an upward momentum without a lot of encouragement from others.
Though my nearest and dearest had no more understanding of AIDS than I, they had a lot of faith for my future. Through them I got glimpses of God’s goodness and favor toward me, though it would take some years before I could truly experience it for myself. Gratefully, I had a loving brother in Andrew Comiskey, who was foremost among colleagues, friends and family in pointing out the life signs I would have otherwise overlooked during the initial rocky years of ministry.
I was surrounded by an exceptional group of Christian men and women in Desert Stream and my church who continually encouraged me, embodying the gospel at work—sadly, a true rarity for most infected with HIV. Their persistent prayers would cause “the shadow of death” (Ps 23) to evaporate, enabling life to quickly come back into focus. Nonetheless, I just couldn’t shake the nagging thoughts I carried in my head that life on this Earth wasn’t all it was cracked up to be—no matter what Jesus promised about abundance!
It took some concerned, incisive observations from Andrew to get me to seriously explore the root of those destructive thoughts I battled. I began questioning the unspoken operating principles I secretly held about life in general, asking the Lord to direct my path toward truth and freedom. Of one conclusion I was certain: I was truly sick and tired of being sick and tired!
It finally came down to naming, repenting and renouncing labels of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness—essentially, the spirit of death—that were infecting my thought life and crucial relationships. That included my relationship with God Himself. Relief came immediately; my mind felt cleansed of debilitating thoughts, and I felt the Father’s love for me for the first time. I was inspired to live life more courageously, and even to help others live the same.
There remained much to be dealt with. Years of homosexual activity, promiscuity, drugs, powerless Christianity, dealing with an alcoholic father and the early death of my mother meant the greater work lay before me! There was a steep learning curve ahead for acquiring the spiritual tools necessary to live as a liberated man. I had to become ruthless about not allowing old residual ways of thinking to creep back into my mind. I had to practice the presence of “Christ in [me], the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Only then could I maintain the correct view that my transformation was a work in progress!
I learned soon enough that the enemy and the false self are only too quick to pounce on resident doubts and fan them into accusations. Upon emerging out of one identity (homosexuality) and into another (Christ’s) there is the tendency to unduly focus on what is wrong or unfinished rather than seeking out the One who is “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).
On one blessed occasion in prayer, awash with self-doubt and comparison to others, the Lord’s voice broke in: “Jonathan, you know more about what you’re not, than who you are. Don’t fret so much about becoming like your broken, earthly father. My Spirit is powerfully at work in you, enabling you to become like my Son Jesus!” Believe me, hearing that gentle yet corrective word from my Heavenly Father was received with a heart of thankfulness, living proof He was present and intent on saving me from myself for Himself.
It was in the restorative, transformative context of Living Waters—teachings I refer back to again and again in life—that I was able to identify the source of that profound mistrust and personal insecurity. I came to embrace the gift of community and relationship with other like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ on the same pilgrimage with me. Their coaching, exhortation and friendship have urged me on to finish well. Without their wise council, I doubt I’d be alive today. As Andrew notes, “Just as the false self arose in dialogue with other false selves so the true self emerges with those that can apprehend the true self and speak words that empower it.”
How grateful I’ve become for the delicious, life-giving bounty of true words of hope. They have sustained me well on that pathway of life, enticing me for more of Jesus!