First published 6 December 2012
I thought this time I might share with you the story of how I came to faith in Jesus. It’s a bit self indulgent, but then again that’s what this blog is all about – my reflections on experiences and stuff! And anyway, I do sometimes get asked.
I don’t call it ‘how I became a Christian’, because I think I would have always called myself a Christian. My mum and dad are Christians, so I would never have considered myself anything else. So in that sense I wasn’t ‘converted’. I didn’t ‘convert’ from atheism or Hinduism or Judaism to Christianity.
However, as kids do, when I was small I used to believe everything Mum and Dad told me, just because they said so. And there’s nothing wrong with that. What else can you do as a child? You learn everything from your Mum and Dad, so if they say that Jesus saves us from our sins then why would you question that?
But there does come a time when you do start to ask whether what your mum and dad believe is true. You start to need persuading, even about what clothes to wear, how to behave at school and what time to go to bed. So you start to ask whether God is real, and whether Jesus really is the Saviour of the world.
So I was sat in church one Sunday morning, listening to the vicar give his talk about the Bible. I was about twelve years old. I don’t even remember what he was talking about. But I remember suddenly realizing that what he was talking about was real. It wasn’t a made up story or a myth. It was stuff that actually happened. God was real. Jesus was real. And if they were real then Heaven and Hell were real. What I’d been taught about the world, God, Jesus, sin, being saved all made sense to me in my head. But suddenly I knew that if all this was real and true, then I could not go on in life without it affecting the way I lived my life.
I suppose I realized that Jesus was calling me not just to believe in him, but to follow him. This wasn’t just something that I could keep for Sundays only. I had a real Heavenly Father, and a real Saviour, who had saved me from a real Hell, and given me the hope of a real eternal life in a real Heaven – just as real as everything I could see, hear, smell and touch. And that meant it affected every day and everything, not just Sundays at church.
So I prayed that God would help me to live as a Christian every day and learn to follow him.
I don’t think at that age I really realized everything that meant, and I still have lots to learn even thirty years later, but for me that was the start of the journey.
Was I a changed person after that point? Well, yes, but not in a dramatic way that anyone would have really noticed. And I don’t remember being really committed to prayer and reading my Bible until I was seventeen. In between I was a normal teenager with normal interests – I played cricket, and I learned the guitar and started a rock band and started writing songs. But what I do remember is that when I did read the Bible or hear a talk at church, I heard it like it was something that would apply to me. And when I prayed at church or with Mum and Dad I knew that I was really speaking to my heavenly Father, and so I used to pray more and more on my own. It was a bit like waking up from a dreamy sleep.
Of course, life is the only test of whether faith is real. We live out what we really believe. Self-deception is possible and indeed common. So I am constantly aware of the need to fight off the influences of an apathetic world that is constantly trying to kill my faith with a thousand hours of TV-banality, atheistic smugness and shoulder-shrugging peer pressure. We have to persevere to the end to be saved, and only perseverance to the end will prove our faith to be real.
Of course, the hardships and the bad things that happen in our lives should be seen as trials to prove our faith genuine. “…now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
And I can certainly identify a few times of hardship in my own life – 4 redundancies and 4 significant periods of unemployment, 2 bouts of cancer. This blog is testimony to the way I have searched for that “proven genuineness” of faith. I have sought to apply what I have learned from the Bible, and believe in my head and in my heart, to the situations I find myself in. I have wrestled and learned even more in the process. And I hope that this will result in “praise, glory and honour” for Christ.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that the purpose of life – yes, I believe that life does have a purpose – is God-centred and not me-centred or even man-centred.
But even when life is easier, our faith is being tried and tested. In the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20) Jesus talks about four types of soil representing four types of people who hear the Word of God. Only one rejects the Word outright. Two produce seedlings that did not last and become fruitful – one because of hardship, the other because “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” choked the life out of them (v19). So even the successes, the good things, family, friends, possessions, wealth, happiness, fun, enjoyment – all these things can try our faith.
They are things that can suck the life out of our faith simply by getting in front of God. We become too busy to pray, to go to church, to read the Bible. Before we know it we are doing things and saying things we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing before. Then we feel guilty. Then we forget that God’s grace is to sinners, and we perversely tell ourselves that God won’t have us back… and then we don’t look back. It happens time and time again.
If you are one of those people that has reached the end of that progression, please remember that God welcomes us like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. None of us deserve His love and forgiveness, but He is merciful to all who come to Him through the Lord Jesus in faith and repentance.
For my own part, I have also had more than my fair share of smooth times too, and have experienced complacency and regretted it. Paul said, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) I knew that verse like the back of my hand and still didn’t see the fall coming. Perhaps this is why Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians (5:15-16), “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
Anyway, so that’s my story. I hope that you have found it helpful. It’s not earthshattering or miraculous, quite undramatic. But it’s me, and it’s real. So I’d encourage you to ponder the real God, who in different ways is doing real things in the lives of real people day after day. And if you are a Christian, please keep striving for that “proven genuineness” of your faith in good times and in bad – because both will come. If you’re not a Christian, wake up and stop living in a dream world where meaning is elusory, purpose is meaningless and actions have no real consequences. Repent and start living in the real world, with the real God, with real purpose and meaning, and where there really is an eternal life through Jesus Chris after this one.