I’ve been a Christian for just over 7 years now. It seems so young, yet I feel I’ve been a Christian forever. I can’t imagine living my life without God in it. Whenever I’m asked to share testimony about my faith, I think it’s such a privilege to be able to do that so I say ‘yes’ immediately.
Then, I panic. I spend days agonizing over what I’m going to say because, no matter how ‘young’ a Christian we are, our lives are full of incidents that have led us, and are still leading us, to that moment of commitment to God. I call these God Incidents.
As we journey through life, each new experience brings a new experience of how God is working in our life, whether we believe in Him or not. And because testimony changes through these experiences, I never know where to start, where to end, what to put in, what to leave out, which experience to talk about, which experience not to talk about. I tie myself up in knots and become anxious about it, wondering if I’m doing it right. Then, when I finally remember to stop trying to do it on my own and give it to God, I calm down. And do what I should have done in the first place. Pray about it.
I do this by bringing myself closer to God through scripture and this is the passage that I use when I’m preparing to speak about my faith:
It’s from Jeremiah Ch.1 verses 4-9:
4The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 6“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” 7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. 9Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.”
From my heart, I believe that God has already brought whoever needs to hear my story today to this place.
The phrase ‘God’s love’ kept coming to mind during the quiet time leading up to this writing and I was thinking of how I first became aware of God’s love in my life. How God touched my life with His love, even before I came to have a personal relationship with Him. I remembered incidents, coincidences, moments in my life when I had felt God near me, nudging me, I suppose waiting for me to open the door of my heart to him, to Jesus, initially. I call these God Incidents now. All links in my journey to God and, since, with God. All part of God’s plan for my life, even before I was born.
I’m going to tell you about two incidents today that instigated a search which brought me to the core of God’s love for me.
The first incident had more of an impact on me than I realised at the time and this was a conversation I had with an RE teacher (Religious Education) when I was a bit of a rebellious teenager at school during my 15th year. I spent each lesson debating the existence of God. It was purely that I was so full of anger towards God then. I wanted someone to blame for things in my life that were wrong.
It stemmed from my home life. My mother had led a very difficult life, dogged by mental health problems, and was always being carted off for electric shock treatment (or ECT as it was known at that time in the 1960s). Each time she came back home there was a little bit more of her missing. She was unable to show love, was scared to show love. She said once it was that she didn’t want us (her 5 children) to love her too much because when she was gone it would hurt us. It was hard for the whole family living with this barrier to love. We could never speak about it with each other while she was living – or even after she passed. It didn’t stop me (us) loving her though and I (we) knew that she did love me (us) even though she couldn’t show it.
It was during a period of her ‘absence’ that the conversation with the RE teacher happened. I was aged 15, my two sisters were 14 and 9, my brother 7 and half-brother 3 months. My mother had been in the psychiatric wing for a month this time, and I was made responsible for the cooking and cleaning in the home, my 14 year old sister was responsible for seeing to the baby’s needs.
None of us had ever been church goers but we had experienced glimpses of church-like things through our lives, eg, weddings, christenings, funerals. We all went to Christian schools where they held assemblies etc., so we were aware of God through those and the bible stories in scripture class. But always this barrier to my mother’s love made it difficult to believe there was a God who loved me (us).
So back to the RE teacher incident – it was my final class with him and he asked me why I didn’t believe in God – almost immediately I said, ‘cos I can’t see him’. He then asked ‘what do you believe in then?’ I said, ‘love’. He said, ‘but you can’t see love either.’ ‘I know,’ I said, ‘but you can feel it, can’t you?’ He just looked at me, smiled knowingly and walked away. I never understood why he smiled like that, until almost 30 years later, at my mother’s graveside, when I ‘felt’ God’s love for the first time.
The vicar was reading from 1 Corinthians 13 but I wasn’t really listening until he read verses 4-7. My head jerked up of its own accord because I’d felt a strong need to hear the words about love.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’
I felt it was God talking to me about my mother and the last part of the reading, verse 13, was directed straight at me:13 ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’
It was as if God was saying that my mother was okay, she was at peace, because she had known the love of her family, she had taken the love with her and was with Him now, God. God who was love itself. I felt comforted. That was the beginning of God’s call on my life, the beginning of me opening up my heart. He’d broken down a barrier in me.
It took me another 10 years to open the door to Jesus, and let God in completely.
That moment came in the middle of an Alpha Course when I’d finally ‘got it’ about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit being one and the same. (I’ll tell you more about this in another letter soon). I felt God’s love and forgiveness pouring through me as I told Him I was sorry for all I had done in the past that was wrong, and I let God come into my heart and my life. I have never looked back.
All those years, I’d been scared to open the door to Jesus because I knew I would never be good enough, worthy of his love, I felt I would have to do things I didn’t want to, give up things I didn’t want to, but when I finally did take the first step and open the door, God accepted me as I am – or was then – on 10 march 2007. He began to change me from the inside, simply by loving me. Thank goodness God never gave up on me, and kept nudging me with God incidents until I chose to take notice, because now I love him so much that I want to be the person he wants me to be. He doesn’t see us how we see ourselves, he sees the potential in us and he has already written our names on the palm of his hand, and planned out our lives, even before we were born.
It’s never too late to open the door to Jesus. It seems so hard on the other side of it but once you open it and let him in to your heart you wonder why you didn’t do it years ago – it’s that easy.
I’d like to share a final scripture with you, to end this letter, if I may. It makes my heart brim over with love for God and all people.
It’s from 1 John 4: 7-17 (NIV)
God’s Love and Ours
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.