Hundreds of Empty Chairs

From the LYWB Blog Team:

Hey, readers! I’m excited to introduce you to my sweet friend Hayley, the manager of our “big sis” blog, True Woman! Hayley and I both share a devoted love for dark chocolate and books and, most importantly, the chain-breaking freedom of the gospel. At the True Woman ’18 Conference a few weeks ago, we saw God’s power to set us free from lies and bondage on display in awesome ways—and Hayley is here to share her experience with you! Trust me, this is good stuff.

PS: If you were at the True Woman Teen Track, you’ll totally know what we’re talking about! Read all the way to the end to see some Teen Track photos.

— Samantha

Hundreds of empty chairs. Whenever someone asks me about the True Woman ’18 Conference—my impressions, how it went—I always go back to the empty chairs.

My assignment during the conference was to listen and capture quotes from the messages for the social media team. As our writing team huddled together, our laptops open, I heard Truth coming from the platform in full force. The truth about God, the truth about ourselves, the truth about our sexuality. Not one of the speakers pulled any punches as they shared honestly from their lives and powerfully from the Word of God.

For me, the real moment was after Dr. Eric Mason’s first message. He challenged us to surrender our strongholds to God: the thought patterns that were keeping us from believing God’s Truth—the seemingly inescapable cycles of lies that could create devastatingly deadly cycles of sin. (Or as Dr. Mason simply calls it . . . “stinkin’ thinkin’.”)

A Flood of Women

At the end of his message, Dr. Mason invited any of us to come to the front for prayer. A few brave women started up, and then a few more, and then a few more, and next thing I knew, there was a flood. The entire space between the stage and the front row and up the aisles in the first section were filled with women . . .

Women confessing their sin.
Women confessing the lies they’ve been believing.
Women humbly running to Jesus in their brokenness.

The space at the front was full . . . and the chairs were empty. The women who had sat in those chairs were so moved by God that they were not afraid of what others thought of them. They were willing to get up from their seats, humble themselves, and admit, I need Jesus to help me. From where I was sitting off to stage right, I saw as many empty chairs as full. And I started weeping. God was at work.

I leapt up from my chair and ran to where the rest of our social media team was sitting behind the stage . . . like Mary Magdalene running from the empty tomb (John 20:1–2). God was at work, and I didn’t want them to miss it! Samantha Nieves and I embraced each other and cried. As blog managers, our heart has been to see God set women free. We’ve been praying for this moment. This is what we were asking God to do . . . and He showed up and brought freedom.

Seeing women find freedom in Christ is why we do what we do. (Samantha here! Hayley is right—we truly want to help you say “no” to sin and say “yes” to Jesus. True freedom. Now back to Hayley’s story!)

But for some of us, it was even more personal than that. Well, for me anyway.

You see, I may not have been one of the women who streamed to the front during that Friday night session at True Woman, but I have had plenty of my own “empty chair” moments.

I am a woman who Jesus has set free from sin’s bondage, from strongholds. Deeply rooted ones. And my heart is for other women to find the same freedom through the Truth just as I have.

If you’re stuck in a stronghold of lies today, I want you know the Truth really can set you free!

Getting Up from My Chair

Ever since I was a baby, I’ve been in church. My parents came to know Christ shortly after I was born, and I grew up singing the good old hymns, memorizing Scripture, and hearing that Jesus died for sinners.

At a young age, I made a profession of faith and was baptized. Yet somehow I never had confidence that I really belonged to Him. I always had this feeling that I needed to work for God to accept me. Perhaps I hadn’t “prayed the prayer” right? Perhaps I just needed to read my Bible more?

I worked and worked at being the “good girl,” excelling in my studies and serving at church whenever the doors were open. Yet it never seemed to be enough. I would still stare at the ceiling at night, praying that God would save me again, and hoping no one could see the real me through the façade.

This doubting came to a head in college, when several strongholds took over my life. The lies I was believing caused me to fall apart in every area of my life—physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental.

My secret feelings that God couldn’t accept me had turned into suicidal depression. My idolatry of appearance had developed into extreme anxiety. My bitterness toward authorities in my life had fueled unusual, unexplained health problems. And a secret stronghold of lust had devolved into a spiraling pornography addiction. And as the lies took over, I began to doubt if God even existed.

Yet I still held onto my image of perfection. Letting God or anyone else see the real me behind the mask seemed impossible. I thought it would kill me.

During that time, God graciously kept pursuing me.

As I began to realize how messed up my life really was, I began slowly sharing pieces of it with a friend. She encouraged me to confess, to be honest with those around me, to be willing to let people help. But I didn’t want to hear that advice. Getting out of my “safe” chair seemed impossible.

I continued to read the Bible, and verses about confession and secret sin leapt off the page at me, as if they were brightly highlighted. But the lies I believed and the shame I felt spoke louder to me than the truth that was right in front of me.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,e ven when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:4–5, emphasis added).

One day while I was sitting in a church service, I really heard the gospel of Jesus like I never had before. Jesus dying on the cross and His resurrection didn’t just mean hope for after death. It meant life for today. I didn’t have to work for God to accept me. All that was required was for me to throw off the mask, give up my idol of “perfection,” and confess that I needed Jesus and nothing else.

No more hiding. No more image. Just Jesus and His perfect record before God. Only grace.

That day I truly believed the Truth for the first time. And then God began the painful process of cleaning up the sin in my life. It’s a process I’m still in.

The Path of Obedience

God doesn’t want us to hide in the dark but to bring our sin and pain to the light so we can be forgiven and healed.

Believing the Truth doesn’t just mean a change in your thinking, it also means you have to be obedient to that Truth. The Truth I believed was that God doesn’t want us to hide in the dark but to bring our sin and pain to the light so we can be forgiven and healed.

For me, that meant confessing my sin of pornography to several people close to me, including my parents, whom I had lied to.

It meant being honest with others that I often thought of killing myself.

It meant saying, “I’m not perfect, and I need help.”

It meant going before my church and confessing my new faith in Christ—most of whom only knew me as the “good girl” who played piano for church.

It meant confessing other sins that God revealed later to people who could help me.

And one day, it meant picking up the phone and making an appointment with a counselor.

Even now I still struggle with that desire to hide. The stronghold of “I have to be good enough” has been torn down, but every once in a while the lie tries to take back over. Shame tells me that I can’t be honest about my temptations and pain. Perfectionism says, “If you let people see you fail, then you’re a bad Christian.”

But here’s the truth: There’s beauty in an empty chair. When you confess your sins, God is faithful and just to forgive those sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). And when you confess your sins to others so they can pray, there’s power in those prayers (James 5:16).

God’s power is made perfect in your weakness, so don’t stay in your seat, where you can continue to look strong. Get up; leave an empty chair. Humble yourself before God and others, and He will lift you up. This is the Truth that will set you free.

About Author

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