There was a time in my life when I thought that being a Christian meant belonging to an established religion while trying my best to adhere to a set of rules and regulations based on a combination of biblical truths and religious traditions. Eventually I grew tired of going through the motions and rarely went to church anymore. It seemed as though almost everyone I knew shared my feelings and attitudes about religion. Boring, repetitious, unsatisfying, uneventful, and empty!
I had to ask myself, “Is this really all there is to it! Is there nothing more to the experience of God in this life than reading a bunch of moralistic stories in the bible, going to church, trying to do more good things than bad things and then someday after I die, finding out whether I passed the test!? Wouldn’t a God who is portrayed as holy, kind, merciful, and loving by most of Christianity make some kind of opportunity for me to experience the reality of his existence?” I decided that I could never accept any teaching, any theology, or any amount of religious knowledge as a substitute for a real experience with God. But still, I wondered; was it even really possible to have an authentic personal experience with God? I didn’t realize it at the time, but my very willingness to investigate these matters (despite my doubts) was essentially an invitation to the Spirit of God to begin to reveal the reality of God’s existence to me.
Letting God Out Of The Box
There came a time, through some unusual circumstances related to my job, that I stayed for a few days at the home of a Christian pastor. Eventually, we began to have conversations about God. The things he almost casually told me about his personal experiences with God seemed quite unbelievable. He told me that God spoke to him in many ways and that God was involved in every aspect of his life. He spoke of miraculous physical healing and even introduced me to a woman who had experienced the healing of one of her legs the night before through the prayers of a traveling evangelist.
This pastor claimed that I could come to experience God in the same way that he was experiencing God on a daily basis. He told me that God reveals Himself to all those who truly desire to know Him and are willing to submit to His authority in their lives – to all those who truly desire to change their self-directed lives and follow Him instead. He began to explain to me that all I needed to do was to accept Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins. I only had to pray and ask to receive God’s salvation through my faith in Jesus’ efforts on the cross! This seemed too good to be true. Too ridiculously simplistic! How could it be that simple?
My Own God Box
Now, I had long ago understood the basic concept of Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of humanity. But I had always thought that His death was only meant to provide me with an opportunity. An opportunity to try to gain acceptance to heaven by trying very hard to be a “good” person in this life. I believed that Jesus only died to restrain God’s judgment upon people so that they could have a chance to earn their way to Heaven. I thought that the so called Jesus freaks and “born again” Christians were just very religious people that were trying to earn their way to heaven, just like the rest of us; only probably doing a better job of it.
No God Box at All
As we were out driving one day, the pastor suddenly asked me if I would like to meet the traveling evangelist that had prayed for the woman who was healed. I told him I would and he gave me the phone number. So, I called the itinerant evangelist to set up a meeting with him to discuss these new Christian “ideas” the pastor had been talking about. We made an appointment to meet the next morning at a local restaurant.
The next morning, as the evangelist and his wife drove up to the restaurant and parked their van; I couldn’t help but notice that the van was packed from floor to ceiling with personal belongings. It looked as though everything they owned was stuffed into that van. This man’s written testimony said that he was an ex-outlaw biker who came to the profession of evangelist after having been pronounced clinically dead (and then revived) three times as a result of drug-induced motorcycle accidents. His testimony was that Jesus then appeared behind him one day and tapped him on the shoulder. As he turned to see who was tapping him on the shoulder he saw Jesus standing there. Jesus simply said, “Follow me” and then disappeared. That was the beginning of the evangelist’s ministry. They packed everything they could into their van and prayed and followed what they believed was God’s direction for their lives from that day forward.
As they entered the restaurant I noticed that their clothing was old and worn, and that they had a generally grubby appearance. As they sat down, I observed that the evangelist was covered with strange looking tattoos all over his arms and neck. Their mannerisms were gruff and their words unsophisticated. They began to argue with each other over which of them should speak to me first. He started out with, “The Lord has given me some scripture that I must read to him.” She replied, “Well, I think the Holy Spirit is leading me to talk to him about something else.” I’m not sure how the argument was finally resolved, but eventually one of them began to speak to me.
They read a multitude of scriptures to me that I did not understand at all. They told me that most of my past religious beliefs were initiated by the devil. Then they read more scriptures to me that I still didn’t understand. They told me that demons were behind most of the religious activity of the religion I grew up in. Finally, they told me that I was currently going to hell. I could tell that they were only trying to curry my favor with their lavish compliments… (joking). I really had no clue as to whether these people actually knew what in the world they were talking about.
Eventually, they asked me if they could pray for me. I said, “Yes.” ( I wasn’t really sure that was the best answer). While they prayed I directed a specific thought in my mind toward them over and over. It was something the pastor had talked about earlier. I kept thinking “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus, I rebuke you in the name of Jesus.” It was my understanding that this was supposed to protect me from possibly harmful demonic intentions. I figured it couldn’t hurt to play it safe. For all I knew, they may have been from the devil themselves!
Then they asked me if they could lead me through a “salvation prayer.” Surprisingly, I found myself saying “Yes” again! Somehow, I was willing to try this “salvation” thing despite the confusing presentation of Christianity they had shared with me. I prayed the “salvation prayer” with them and when we finished they said to me, “So, how do you feel?” I didn’t know what they were looking for with that question and I answered them quite honestly. I said, “I’m just really tired and I’d like to go home.” They seemed a bit disappointed.
But then, suddenly, as I walked out to my car I began to feel a bit odd. I experienced something like a mild, but pleasantly intoxicating feeling. It felt as though I was being enveloped in a warm, flowing, loving presence. As soon as I sat down in my car, spiritual type questions began to form within my mind and immediately spiritual type answers began to form in response to the questions! I sat there in my car stunned at what was taking place. At that moment, I knew with total certainty that this was God. And yet I immediately also knew that I could never positively prove to anyone else that my own personal experience was actually an experiencing of God. I knew at that moment that it was something that could only be experienced personally. It was not something that could be proven by human persuasion or facts and figures or even multitudes of scriptures. I understood at that moment that the faith necessary to experience God was initiated simply by the desire to know the truth. And that my desire to know the truth was itself initiated by the work of the Spirit of God in my life. Nothing was my own. It was all God’s doing. I knew that I couldn’t even take credit for desiring to know him!
The Beginning of the New Life
I started out on the four hour journey to return home, as the presence of the Spirit of God continued to speak to my soul. I don’t remember driving the trip at all. All I know is that suddenly I was startled to discover that I had driven for about three hours and I was about to re-enter my home state of Minnesota. Exhausted, I crossed the border and pulled over and rested for about forty-five minutes before continuing to my home.
When I arrived at home, I found a bible and began to experience another new and delightful sensation. The words that I was reading were somehow like the most delicious food I had ever eaten. I couldn’t get enough of them! I didn’t want to ever stop reading them. The very same bible that I had repeatedly tried to make sense of in the past had suddenly become a seemingly endless fountain of exciting, personally relevant understanding and satisfaction to my soul. I had no idea this could happen.
Looking Past the Messenger to The Author of The Message
It was certainly not the persuasion of man that brought me to the experience of the reality of God on that day. I think Christians often make mistakes when trying to share about God with others. They try to push a person when God is wanting to pull them; they try to pull when God is wanting to push. In their zeal to spread the message, individual personality often gets in the way of the message itself. I hope I haven’t done that here.
Being saved is not about being a religious fanatic or going around with a “holier than thou attitude.” It is really supposed to be about how you are loved by God and who you can become through the ongoing help and power of the Holy Spirit in your life. Salvation through Christ can be a profound, life changing, wondrous experience of relationship with God. But it’s also a process. Christians don’t automatically become experts at sharing the gospel just because they are Christians. And they don’t automatically become experts at godly behavior either. It takes a lifetime of God’s work within them.
And yet, the imperfections of the people that God uses to spread His message really only point to God if you are willing to look. Because it’s not about trusting people, it’s about trusting God. If our eyes are fixed on the messenger, then our eyes are focused in the wrong place. God sent His only Son to die for our sins so that we could spend eternity with Him. The opportunity to experience the beginning of this eternal life is made available to us by trusting in the crucifixion of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. No person, no words, can ever adequately explain what this experience is like. Because it’s not like anything else. And though there are similarities, each salvation experience and each relationship with God is unique. Some start out slow, some start out fast. Don’t rely entirely on what other people tell you it ought to be like. It’s highly personal and thus somewhat subjective.
How to Begin
If you want to start experiencing the incredible actuality of a personal relationship with your Creator right now, pray this prayer. (By the way; nobody prays to receive this gift of new life from God being totally convinced and prepared to surrender the rule of their lives to God. That is God’s work in us after we get saved. So, don’t think that you lack sufficient faith and that it “won’t work for you” just because a significant part of you resists the idea of surrender to God’s authority in your life. That’s the way it always is. That’s why you need God’s salvation in the first place!)
Lord God, I’m tired of being the person I’ve been for most of my life. In the Bible, Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt.11:28,29) Lord God, I am truly sorry for the sins that I have committed throughout my life and I am tired of all that sin has done to my life. I need your rest. I declare now that I trust in Jesus that my sins are forgiven through His sacrifice on the cross and I accept the free gift of salvation which is given to all those who desire to be made new by your power. I forgive all those that have sinned against me even as I am now forgiven of all of my sins. And I invite your Holy Spirit to dwell within me as my helper and friend for the rest of my life. Amen.