Treasures in Darkness

(This is Part 2 of a weekly blog series I’m calling “Who Will Go?” about my journey of sharing the love of Jesus with the adult entertainment industry. You can read Part 1 here.)

The week that I made the decision to apply for the strip club outreach team, the devil did his very best to intimidate me and make me change my mind.  Over the course of just a few days, my household  became just a little bit like the house of Job in the Old Testament.  We could have been the subject of a country song where everything goes wrong.  Our refrigerator died, our stove died, we had a major plumbing disaster, one of our children was diagnosed with a parasite, another child got the stomach flu, I got the stomach flu, our car needed thousands of dollars-worth of repair, our bank account hit zero, I came down with shingles for the second time in a year, and we experienced a major relational rift with one of our children.  Amongst other things. 

But the devil’s efforts at intimidation only served to strengthen my resolve.  His obvious techniques only heightened my awareness that this was a ministry close to God’s heart.  I became more aware than ever before of the invisible warfare that was going on over my family.  Inspired by the movie War Room[1] and Priscilla Schirer’s book Fervent[2], I began writing out Scriptures to pray over each person and area in my life.  I taped them to my wall next to my bed, where I would see them every morning and every night.

Honestly, I felt fearful and anxious about participating in a strip club ministry.  I had so many questions that I didn’t know the answers to.  What if I found it sexually arousing?  What if I slid into sin myself through exposure to that world?  What if I couldn’t get the images I saw out of my mind?  What if it affected my relationship with my husband?  What if I was so disgusted with the customers that I could not be loving towards every person I encountered?  What about my physical safety?  As I prayed about it, the Holy Spirit led me to several different passages of scripture.  I wrote them out and taped them on my bedroom wall. I prayed through them out loud any time I was starting to feel fearful, and they gave me courage and peace every time. The first pivotal Scripture He gave me was from Isaiah 45:2-3:

I will go before you
    and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze
    and cut through bars of iron.
I will give you hidden treasures,
    riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
    the God of Israel, who summons you by name.

God told me that he was going ahead of me and would break down barriers on my behalf.  He promised that I would find hidden treasures in dark places.  I’d always thought of God as only being in the light; but now I learned there were hidden treasures I would only find by venturing into those dark places.  I would find greater intimacy with him through depending completely on his mercy and protection.  I would grow in my understanding of my identity and of His.  As I left my comfort zone, He would teach me things I could not learn any other way.

Next, he highlighted Isaiah 42:6-7 for me:

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

This passage echoed a word I’d received from him two years earlier. I felt it cemented my calling to be a part of this ministry and I also knew that he would be holding my hand all along the way.  I knew that God had called me to be a light, to open eyes, to free captives, and release people from dungeons.  I could not think of a darker place than a strip club.  The spiritually blind eyes and the soul bondage the employees and customers experienced was obvious.  I could see the strip club employees as captives in prison, sitting in dark dungeons, and I wanted to help set them free.

In Isaiah 43:1-2, he promised me that I would not be harmed as I walked through those dark places:

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

I belong to Him no matter what.  Because I am called by his name, He will be with me every step of the way. I could walk through rising water, rushing river, or fierce flames, and not be harmed.

I had one final concern about participating in the strip club ministry.  Team members were required to commit to regular attendance on outreach nights, occurring the same Saturday of each month.  For years, I had frequently been ill for long periods of time, but I told God, “If you want me to participate in this ministry, you are going to have to keep me healthy enough to do it.” 

For three years, I never once had to miss an outreach due to being ill.


[1] Written by Alex & Steven Kendrick, and directed by Alex Kendrick, War Room, released 2015

[2] Priscilla Schirer, Fervent, B & H Publishing, August 2015

Tell Them I Will Set Them Free

 

(This is post is Part 1 of a weekly blog series I’m calling “Who Will Go?” about my journey of sharing the love of Jesus with the adult entertainment industry.)

So, how did a girl that used to have a problem with pornography end up in strip club ministry? 

Only God. 

(I’ll give you more of my porn addiction background story in my book.) I’d had an increasing awareness of the problem of human trafficking over the years.  I’d always felt burdened for the children and women who were caught up in it, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it other than donate money to anti-trafficking organizations.  When I suddenly found myself leading women’s ministry at my church, I read two books which changed my life: Lioness Arising by Lisa Bevere, and Undaunted by Christine Caine.  Both books were incredibly inspiring and encouraged me to rise up and step into my purpose.  Both authors told stories of women and girls who had been trapped in sexual exploitation.  My heart broke for them.  In tears, I cried out to God, “Father, this breaks my heart! What can I do?”

I heard him speak very clearly to my spirit.  “Courtney, I want you to go to the hurting, the broken, and the enslaved, and tell them I will set them free.”  I felt immediately that God was talking about getting involved in the anti-trafficking movement somehow, but the first thought that sprang to my mind was, “I can’t do that! Remember my own history of looking at pornography? This will just cause me to slide right back into it. This kind of ministry is for other people, not for me.”  Though I had obtained significant freedom from that sin in the last few years, I still felt vulnerable in the area of sexuality.  I was extremely nervous about my effectiveness and holiness if I forayed into the dark world of commercial sex.

I asked, “But Lord, what about my own shameful history with sexual immorality, and the ways that I helped fuel the industry by watching pornography?”

Again, I heard him speak clearly: “I want to redeem that for you.”

I had no idea what God meant by that, and no idea how he wanted me to respond.  It seemed like only a miracle could redeem my history with pornography.  I had just started a job leading the women’s ministry at my church.  I assumed that sex trafficking mostly took place in foreign countries.  Between my position at church and my family responsibilities at home, I was not in a position to leave the country any time soon.  So, not knowing what to do, I began to pray about it.

While I prayed, I researched.  For almost two years, I researched every organization I could find that was working to end trafficking.  I read a lot of statistics and a lot of first-hand accounts.  I learned early on that pornography fuels the sex trafficking industry and every kind of sexual crime.  There is a direct link between the two, and it is common for those featured in pornography to be trafficked victims.  Sex buyers can only watch porn at home for so long before they began to act out their fantasies, and that’s when victimization of women and children occurs.  While some prostitutes claim that they “chose” the life, nearly all of them started out as victims.  They had been sexually abused as children or sold for sex early on, and they believed the lie that their bodies had no value other than to make money.

I discovered that sex trafficking was not just a problem overseas, but was also rampant in my nation and in my own city.  I live just outside Portland, Oregon, which has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of strip clubs per capita in the nation.  Oregon has some of the most liberal laws in the nation concerning the sex trade and strip clubs.  Prostitution is legal in Oregon, as long as it is under the guise of a performance.  It is legal for a stripper to “perform” sexual acts with a client for money, as long as they are on a “stage”.  This has created a state that is an ideal location for strip clubs. 

For many young women (and men), stripping is usually the gateway to prostitution.  Many strippers are being trafficked, and don’t even realize that’s what’s happening. They often have a boyfriend or pimp who encouraged or forced them to strip, and now they have to hand over some or all of their income to him.  They got sucked into a life that promised them financial freedom, but gave them over to bondage in many ways, instead.

Some anti-trafficking organizations focus their efforts on trafficking prevention and rescue by ministering to the dancers and other employees in strip clubs.  By bringing gifts and providing needed resources, they establish trust with the employees and are available should a dancer ever need help.  They hope to offer help and resources to women in crisis before they make choices that could result in loss of their freedom, but in many cases, women who are stripping are already being trafficked. 

I now began to envision the girls involved in pornography as daughters, not sex objects.  Whether they realized it or not, they were victims, not fantasies.  Finding out about the connection between pornography and trafficking put the final nail in the coffin of my pornography addiction.  Before, the consequences of my actions had seemed limited to affecting my walk with the Lord and my relationship with my husband.  Now, I realized that my clicks had also been helping to fuel an entire industry that stole people’s freedom, worth, identity, and futures.

I discovered there was a church in my city that had recently started an outreach to strip club employees.  Intrigued, I set up a meeting with their leadership to find out more about their ministry.  My women’s Bible study regularly took offerings that we donated to other local ministries, and I thought this could be one of them.  It turned out God had something so much more in mind.  By the end of the meeting, I was feeling God’s call to be involved with the ministry myself and join the outreach team.

To say this idea scared me would be an understatement.  I wanted more than anything to protect my purity.  But I couldn’t shake God’s command to go “…to the hurting, the broken, the enslaved.  Tell them I will set them free!”  I went home and prayed about it for a few weeks.  I knew there was a whole world full of people who were never going to walk into a church to find God.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, doesn’t just wait for the lost sheep to come home.  He leaves the ninety-nine to go after the one lost sheep.  I could feel the Father’s heart yearning for these lost ones that he loves.  I could hear him saying, “Who will go for me?”  I knew He wanted me and my fellow believers to do more than sit at church on Sundays and hope the pastor’s message somehow reached “the lost”. 

The thought of going into strip clubs was unsavory and intimidating. 

But I knew that God was calling me to do it. 

(to be continued)

Obedience Unlocks Hearing

Do you want to know one of the biggest keys to hearing God’s voice?

Obey what you hear.

Start with Scripture. It’s God-breathed. It’s His heart on the page. If you aren’t obeying what you read there, you won’t hear Him correctly in other ways.  

The more I obey His voice, the more I hear Him.  It is possible to ignore His voice so often that it soon fades away.  Even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable.  My obedience is just a natural response to love.  I love God, and I love hearing His voice.  His voice is everything to me.  I don’t want to lose that connection.  So I make every effort to obey.  Not out of fear, but out of love.  I love Him so much and feel so loved by Him that I want to strengthen the intimacy by walking in obedience.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

 “All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. – John 14:23-26

I find that when I am struggling most to obey His voice, I’ve fallen away from love.  My focus has shifted to religious duty rather than love and adoration.  It is often a sign that I’ve allowed fear to take over.  But perfect love casts out all fear.  So, when I’m struggling to obey, I ask Him for a fresh revelation of His love for me and I take a stand against fear.

Sometimes, before I go out in public, I’ll ask God if He has a message He wants me to deliver to someone I don’t know.  He will often put an image in my mind of a shirt in a particular color.  I will get a general impression of someone either male or female, and perhaps another fact about them.  This all can feel like it’s just my own imagination, but I’ve learned to trust my thoughts in this kind of scenario.  Sometimes I will get a strong picture or impression of a person and not be able to find them that day.  Was I wrong, or was it a meeting for another day?  I’ve experienced both outcomes.  It can be scary to hunt for a person that God has highlighted to your mind, and then approach them.  But it’s thrilling to partner with His Spirit to touch a person’s heart.  Most of the time, the person is very receptive and it often makes them cry and touches them deeply.  The few times I’ve experienced a person being unreceptive to God’s heart for them, it’s been hard for me at first.  But then I’ve felt the comfort and pleasure of the Father wash over me.  He affirms me for being brave.  Hearing Him love on me builds me back up.  He makes everything okay when I’m willing to do crazy things in obedience! 

I’ve enjoyed hearing God’s voice in new ways in recent years.  He speaks to me through all five of my senses.  There are certain smells that are so off-putting that I sometimes feel there is a demonic presence nearby.  I don’t fully understand it, but I pray briefly and take authority over the space, and the smell goes away.  There have been other times where I have smelled sweet fragrances in the air, and it’s been a way that God has revealed something beautiful to me about a person or situation.

Sometimes I have dreams that are from God.  I am no expert on prophetic dreams, by any means, but it’s yet another way that a person can hear from God.  When I have a strong dream I will ask Him about it the next morning, and he’ll let me know whether it was from Him, or just indigestion.  If I have a dream that I feel is from God, but I don’t know what it means, I ask questions.  As I sit in the secret place and listen, he will often reveal the dream’s meaning to me all at once.  Sometimes, he unfolds the revelation little by little, as I discuss it with a friend or continue to pray into it.  Sometimes colors show up strongly in my dreams.  God knows I love colors and they are a significant way I hear from him through visions and dreams.  Some of my most memorable dreams have caused me to take action that I would not have otherwise, such as entering deep intercession for a friend, or being prompted to vote when I had once felt noncommittal.

Because I steward most of what I hear from Him in writing, it is so encouraging to go back and read what God was speaking to me in other seasons.  I cannot remember everything I hear from Him, so having it written down is priceless to me.  I can look back and often see themes developing over time, as well as countless answered prayers.

I hear God speak to me through other people, too.  I try to either write down or record on my phone every prophetic word that someone else gives me.  I give words from other people the same test I’ve given my own words:  Does it sound like my Father’s voice or what He would say?  Does it match up with the Bible?  Does the Holy Spirit within me testify to the truth of it?

I hear Him speak to me through His beautiful creation.  I hear His voice in music.  I can be driving along and hear Him speak to me through something on the radio.  Once you start listening, you realize that He never stops talking.

Sometimes I am in awe of the fact that the God of the universe wants to speak to me.  With all that He’s got going on, with all the people in this world He’s paying attention to, somehow He still wants to speak to me.  He’s not just interested in one-sided conversations.  He wants intimate friendship with me, where we converse back and forth.  Can you imagine a friendship where someone only ever talked to you, but never wanted to hear what you had to say?  It would be difficult to get close to someone like that.

How incredible to realize that we have a God who is not only a powerful Creator, but a loving Father who wants His children to know how loved they are by Him!

If you are a follower of Christ who is uncertain whether you can hear God’s voice, or uncertain whether He speaks to you, I want to encourage you with a few things:

  • You probably hear him more than you realize. Sometimes it’s simpler than we think: thoughts that are good, noble, and true; an urge to pray for someone; or even just reading a Scripture that impacts your heart.
  • He is always speaking to you. Not just to people in general, but to you.  He is not playing hard-to-get, but rather giving you an opportunity to practice and grow in your abilities to hear him.
  • Worship is the very best pre-cursor to hearing Him.  I have found that the very best way to set the stage for hearing from Him is to spend time worshiping Him first.  But we don’t worship Him in order to get something from Him; we worship Him simply because He’s worthy and He deserves it.
  • The more time I spend with Him, the more I begin to think like Him.  Knowing the Word means to know His character, His personality, His values, His voice.  It becomes hard to mistake lies for the truth when I know the truth so well.  He is giving me the mind of Christ.
  • I ask the Holy Spirit questions when I don’t understand something.  Most of the biggest revelations I’ve received from God have come as the result of me asking Him questions and waiting for the answer to pop into my mind.
  • He wants you to hear from Him even more than you want it.  Ask and you will receive.  Don’t hesitate to start praying for an increase in your ability to recognize and obey His voice.

THE LIES I BELIEVED

  • God only speaks through the Bible
  • God only speaks to “the holy few”
  • Prophesy is only foretelling the future
  • God’s voice is condemning

THE TRUTH THAT SET ME FREE

  • God speaks many different ways – John 16:13; Heb 1:1-5; Isaiah 30:21; John 10:27; 1 John 2:27; Mark 1:11; Rev 1:10; 1 Kings 19:12-13
  • God wants to talk to me – Jeremiah 33:3; John 10:27; Gen 3:8-9
  • Prophecy is hearing the voice of God and sharing it – 1 Cor 14:3; Heb 13:22; Romans 1:2
  • Unconfessed sin, judgement and offense hinder hearing God’s voice – 1 Peter 3:7; Psalm 66:18; 1 John 1:7-9
  • God’s voice is love – 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16

PRAYER FOR BREAKTHROUGH

If you’d like to grow in your ability to hear God’s voice, pray something like what I’ve written below. It’s not a formula, and feel free to use your own words; but as you seek more of Him, He will be found by you. Find a time and place where you can be alone and quiet.  You might have your Bible and a journal and pen with you to record anything you sense God might be saying.  Remember to be open to a myriad of different ways you could hear from Him.  I often read the Bible or worship first to make sure my mindset is in line with His.  Sometimes a great thing to ask initially is how God feels about you.  It will be kinder than you think.  Write down what you hear or perceive.  If you don’t get any pictures, thoughts, images, or ideas, don’t lose heart and don’t give up.  Keep trying.  God speaks in many different ways, including even in dreams as we sleep.  If you’d like to see breakthrough in the area of hearing God’s voice, you could pray something like this:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for wanting to speak to me.  I want to hear Your voice.  Please search my heart for anything that is not of you…reveal to me any unconfessed sin, any offense or judgment I am carrying. I don’t want anything to hinder or distort what you want to say to me.

Holy Spirit, I am listening.  Please speak to me.

Lord, thank you for speaking to me.  Thank you for loving me.  I ask now that you would increase my ability to hear and recognize your voice.  In Jesus’ name I bind the devil from having any influence over my thoughts.  I reject all lies and only accept Your truth.  

Encourage me with your Presence.  I want to know your voice intimately.  I want to have conversations with you and be your friend.  Help me to talk less and listen more! Please activate my ability to hear you throughout both day and night. 

In Jesus’ name,

Amen


*This is the sixth post in a blog series I’m calling, “Hearing God’s Voice”. Each child of God has a unique history with God, and unique ways to relate to him. I thought it might be fun to share with you some of my journey of learning to hear God’s voice, and the ways that’s impacted my life and that of others, too. Join me each week as I share stories from my life that will hopefully encourage and inspire you to listen to him more – because he wants to speak to you!

To read previous posts in the series:

Part 1 – The First Time I Knew God Spoke to Me

Part 2 – My First “Prophetic Word”

Part 3 – Practicing Faith in Hearing

Part 4 – Shedding Hindrances to Hearing God

Part 5 – The Mind of Christ