Sometimes people know exactly when believing in God happens to them, but sometimes people just ease into it and never realize how it happened. Sometimes people are just believers all their lives.
But however it happens, God meets you where you are, in relation to him, and if you are willing, he leads you and gives you what you need to grow into a deeper relationship with him. As Oswald Chambers says in his Sept. 29 entry,
If a man or woman is called of God, it doesn’t matter how difficult the circumstances may be. God orchestrates every force at work for His purpose in the end. If you will agree with God’s purpose, He will bring not only your conscious level but also all the deeper levels of your life, which you yourself cannot reach, into perfect harmony.
This is the story of how I came to have faith in God through Jesus.
For 51 years of my life, until March of 1994, I considered myself to be a Christian. But there was a little contradictory question I had: Is God real?
I was baptized when I was 8. My parents took me to church, and I learned about God. But I never got to know him. To me, he was just kind of out there on the edge somewhere, watching over things in a kindly way.
When I was in college, I came to the “intellectual” conclusion that there was no way to tell whether he was real or not. After this decision, I had a strange, empty, disappointed feeling.
As I went on with my life, I had a lukewarm, sort of distant belief in God--I prayed now and then and took my 3 children to church fairly often, “doing my duty” as a responsible mother. I thought moral goodness and unconditional love were the most important things I could teach my children. As they grew up and began to do things on their own, the emptiness that started when I was 19 began to grow again.
In 1988, my father was hospitalized, very ill with pulmonary fibrosis. He was always a sincere, loving, quiet but straightforward man who had rarely been sick. He hated fooling with hospitals and such things, and the emotions of those who loved him distressed him. He said, "I don't know why a fellow can't just go on when it's his time." In spite of his living will, he was put on a respirator in the midst of a crisis, possibly a heart attack.
He struggled. When he tried to pull out the tubes, they tied his hands. He tried to chew the breathing tube in half until he was exhausted. He tried hard to tell us something; he wanted something. On the seventh day, we bought a child's chalkboard and helped him hold the chalk so he could write what it was he wanted. In a shaky hand, he wrote the word "peace."
Shaken, I went home, took a long walk, and prayed the first truly earnest prayer of my life. I reminded God that my dad had been a good man, had taught us honesty and kindness. I said to God that my dad hated having to struggle with that respirator--and worst of all, knowing he was near death, he hated seeing how upset we all were. I said, "God, if there is no possible way for him to recover, then I pray that he won't have to keep on suffering like this for very long--but that he can just have peace." God honored my request and answered my prayer--and my dad died the next day.
I was shaken all the way into the deepest part of my heart. I felt many different emotions: grief over my father's death; a little guilt as if it were my fault to some extent; profound gratitude that he didn’t have to go on suffering; deep awe of my glimpse of God's caring for us and his power--and. . . I was terrified.
I didn't tell anybody else about my prayer for my dad for six years.
I see now that what I was afraid of for 6 years was this: If I acknowledged the truth about Jesus, I would have to completely reorganize my life with him as the center of it. At the time, all I could think about that possibility was that if I believed God was real, my life would undergo countless difficult changes.
So. . . since I had always been good at lying to myself, I tucked away this shattering encounter with God and went on being noncommittal.
In the fall of 1993, my two sons, then 18 and 21 and in college, turned to the Lord in a strong way. I was glad to see how joyful they were. They said, “I am a Jesus freak.” They said, “I’m a pew-jumpin’, Bible-thumpin’, tongue-talkin’, devil-chasin’, wide-eyed, sanctified child of the livin’ God! Hallelujah!”
One morning we were talking about all that had happened before, which shall remain vague here. Through tears, Brian said to me, "Mom, God gave me back my life--what could I do other than give him the rest of my life?" I was overcome with joy and sorrow and grateful thanksgiving.
I made an appointment to have a long talk with God several days later when I would be driving a few hours alone. While I was thanking him for sparing and saving my sons, God just swooped down and enfolded me. I am sure there was really no audible roaring and thundering wind outside, but there was certainly some there in the car. For the first time, I experienced the power of his love, protection, and mercy. I finally realized that he is incredibly real and that he loves me; immediately, my life began to curl itself around him. After years of active resisting, I began my journey to a fulfilling relationship with him.
During my encounter with God, he saved me from a growing, gnawing emptiness and filled me with such love and wholeness that I was not about to shove him out again. I began to study my Bible and pray, and I couldn't get enough. After a few months, I asked God to forgive me for being so lukewarm all those years and to find a way to use me. About a week later, our new pastor called and asked me to chair the Outreach Committee in our church. This in itself was amazing because for twenty-three years, I couldn't even remember which committee I was on. I knew this was an answer to my prayer. I spent a lot of time in prayer about the work of this committee, and God led me to understand that he wanted me to get involved in his work in the Volunteers in Mission program, through helping with mission trips to Mexico.
The Bible assures us that God has given us everything we need to live a truly holy life and to be a living reminder of Jesus Christ. If we trust in Jesus, we believe just that--we already have what we need, so we can do it (2 Peter 1:3-4). Through our knowledge of Jesus and our openness to be a channel of God's spirit to others, we come to share his divine nature while radiating the love of Christ all around us. Peter tells us that through these promises, we can escape evil; we can control ourselves and get away from the corruption of the world and be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:13-15).
Brennan Manning tells the story of the old Rabbi in his book Abba’s Child. A husband and wife were very concerned about their only son, who was disobedient; he would always leave school and go out into the forest. So they began sending him to the old Rabbi of their synagogue for instruction. They were amazed at the results; he began to go to school and obey his parents. He became kind and loving. They went to see the Rabbi to find out what he had taught their son. The Rabbi said, “When the child comes, I do not speak. I simply hold him against my heart.”
That’s what Jesus wants to do for us. He doesn’t promise that life will be rosy after we become Christians. But through our hearts, he will lead us and sustain us. Then we can hold others against our hearts.
This entry is my part of the "Bloggy Tour of Testimonies," hosted by Lauren of "To God Be the Glory." If you'd like to read some more faith stories, see the long list of participants on the page linked here on her blog. To God be the glory!