I grew up in a wonderful family. My parents loved me, spent time with me, cared about my choice of friends and set limits. Our home was full of love.
Generally speaking, my parents were not churchgoers, outside of Christmas Eve services. However, as a young child my mom felt my brother and I should go to Sunday school. My brother did not enjoy it. I did. Week after week, I’d be ready first thing Sunday morning, excitedly waiting to go, not minding that no one went with me. The Lord was preparing my heart even then.
As I grew older, the Lord sent people into my life that encouraged my interest in spiritual things at various churches. A friend at school invited me to Crusaders and Sunday school at the Pentecostal church. She moved away, but I kept going. I sang the songs. I heard the Good News. I believed Jesus loved me. I would have said I was a Christian. In fact, in sixth grade, we had a debate on Creation versus Evolution. We were required to choose a side. I hesitated at first (all the cool kids went to the evolution side), but in the end, I chose the creation side. I believed in God, the Creator.
Another friend invited me to go to Sunday school at the Wesleyan Church and I later started attending Youth Group there. My mom also started going regularly on Sunday mornings. God was still wooing me. I continued to learn about the person of Christ. I believed that Jesus was God; that He came to die on a cross for sinners, that I could have eternal life. I believed in Jesus, the Saviour. The Bible says the demons also believe and shudder.
Mark 12:30 says, “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” That pretty much covers everything, doesn’t it? I knew I did some things that God wouldn’t like, but was I a sinner? That seemed rather harsh. On balance, my family was thoughtful and kind, nice to most everyone, and I thought that, overall, I was a pretty good kid, too. I did well in school, was respectful to my elders, and obedient to my parents (for the most part). Admittedly, as a teen, I thought it was fun, even okay, to walk a little on the wild side, as long as I was responsible most of the time. I liked making my own decisions, good or bad, and having some “harmless” fun. I resisted making Jesus the LORD of MY life. I did not love Him with all of my being. I did not believe in Jesus as Lord.
I would go to summer camp and to youth rallies and I would feel the need to “rededicate” my life to Jesus, when in reality my life – that is, my whole life – had never been dedicated to Him. My life fit into neat little compartments: Janet-at-school, Janet-with-friends, Janet-at-home, and Janet-at-church. Thank God, He knew the real me, and He loved me anyway…He didn’t stop calling my name.
One summer I met my future husband at a Wesleyan summer camp. He had come to visit his sister, and we struck up a friendship. A few years later, our friendship grew into love; and he asked me to marry him. My Love was saved as a boy, but lived his teen years as a prodigal, doing his own thing. However, he belonged to God, and God never let him go. God persisted in speaking to his heart, too. Shortly before we were to be married, My Love commented that he thought perhaps he should go back to school and become a pastor. I didn’t oppose the idea; in my mind, I’d spent many years going to church and one job was as good another. My only response was, “But I don’t play the piano or the organ!”
Well, he didn’t follow through on that plan (at least not until much later in life), but God did put him in a job where one of His own was working. Steve reached out to him, with discussions and tracts and challenges.
We had only been married a short time when My Love started going to Bible Studies with Steve, and spent a great deal of time with the Christians involved there. He brought the literature home for me to read and we began reading the Bible together each night. While I enjoyed that part of it, I was not interested in going with him to the studies, and I resented the time he spent away. We were newlyweds, after all. I was plain jealous – of God, and of those Christians.
Eventually, as we read together, God revealed Himself as Father to me, Jesus as a personal Saviour, and I realized that God wants a relationship with me. My sin was exposed in all its ugliness though wrapped in a form of outward morality. My lost eternity was imminent to me. I realized nothing I had or did could make me acceptable in His sight: not good living, not going to church, not even acknowledging that there is a God. It was then (I don’t remember the exact date), I knelt beside my bed and confessed my sin and my need for a saviour. I admitted my inadequacies before Him. I asked Jesus to be LORD of MY life. Not just to save me from hell, but to LIVE for Him. Not just Sundays. Not only when it was convenient. Everyday. Always. It was not a dramatic conversion full of fireworks, but it was genuine.
One of the most precious verses for me as a new Christian was 1 John 3:1 “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” Imagine! An adopted child of the God of the Universe: the One who created all, knows all, sees all. Joint heirs with His precious Son, Jesus. He loves me as He loves His only begotten Son. Amazing!
The story of my salvation is only the beginning of my testimony. My Christian walk has not always been easy. I have times when God feels closer than others. But the fact is, He’s always there, I’m just not always seeking Him – not reading His Word, not spending time with Him in prayer. I wish I could tell you that I have been a model Christian. I have not. At times, I have even been ashamed to admit I belong to Him. Thankfully, He is always faithful, even when I am not. I haven’t always trusted Him as I should. He is always faithful. I still do those things that hurt Him, disappoint Him. He is always faithful.
God has allowed some hard things in my life as a Christian. I’ve lost my dad. I’ve dealt with the shock and heartbreak of losing my brother, who took his own life. I’ve held my son, only 2 weeks old, as he teetered on the edge of life and death, struggling for each breath. There has been deep grief over my daughter’s broken marriage and the feelings of parental failure as she chose a sad and dangerous path. I’ve worried as my grandlittles threatened to come far too early and required special care. There have been spiritual trials, health trials, relationship trials, and financial trials. Times of overwhelming discouragement…I often wondered if God was truly listening. Certainly not what we would choose to face, but many of us endure, nonetheless. Here’s what I’ve found: while these things threaten to overcome us, He is waiting to comfort us, heal us, and teach us, and most of all to make us more like His dear Son. Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Also in James 1:2-4,12:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing…Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
Every situation in my life has been allowed by God to be used for His purpose: to perfect me. Little by little, He’s changing me. I look forward to the day when I am with Him and complete in Him. Perfect.
I can also testify that there can be joy in the Lord in the midst of such trials. When we put our trust in Him, we do not face these things alone. How thankful I am that He has been by my side! He has sent me comfort and encouragement through prayer, through His Word and through His people. I am always amazed when I see a pattern in the messages and portions of Scripture I hear and read. I am amazed when just the right person reaches out to me…one who knows where I’m at and understands. Amazed when I’m praying and a feeling of calm washes over me like a hug from Him. Joy in knowing He cares. David understood this. In Psalm 28:7 David writes:
The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him.