God gets our attention in unique ways. As we are all individuals, with our own combination of personality and life experiences, God meets us where we are at with what we need to hear.
I believed in God (in my head), all my cognizant life. I was fortunate to be raised in a God-fearing home, although God wasn’t actively talked about much. We attended church regularly, and many in my family participated in church ministry. I made a decision to follow Christ (at least, I thought I did) in my own backyard at Bible club – at the age of 4. Because I most certainly didn’t want to go to hell.
I would pray the “Sinner’s Prayer”, and “sign the card” many times over the next few decades, following the “4-step plan” and the “Romans Road”. Never entirely feeling secure in my salvation. Sure, I had experiences of ups and downs in my spiritual journey. Times when I “felt” close to God, and (many more) times when He was on the sidelines…religion just one thing among many interests that took up my time. (Was I like the soil that kept sprouting seeds – withering them – sprouting new seeds- choking them?)
It was my heart I struggled with – my heart would wane from enthusiastic, to wandering, to doubting.
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Romans 8:16. If this is God’s job, I realized, surely He is good at His job. Why then, did I feel such unease in my spirit? Why did I not have assurance of salvation? Why did I doubt? Well meaning people assured me that it was just the enemy’s attacks. Trying to rob me of joy and peace. Was it? Or was it God’s Spirit, nudging me, telling me to examine myself, to see if I was in the faith? I did not have this inner witness, this peace of assured salvation. It was this I struggled with for decades.
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Can’t you see for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you–unless you actually fail the test?” 2 Corinthians 13:5. Was I failing the test? Was Jesus Christ not in my heart?
I had only been casually following Jesus, despite calling myself a “Christian” – whether I was a “prodigal child” or completely unsaved, I don’t know. I had a lot of intellectual Bible knowledge. I could look the part, say the right words. I was pretty moral, felt guilty about the “right things”, hung around the “right people”. I went to Bible college, went on several missions trips, led others to Christ. I just couldn’t seem to get close to God, other than sentimental experiences here and there. Don’t get me wrong – I genuinely believed I was seeking God when I would commit to reading the Bible or praying with others. But with God, it always comes down to the heart. It comes down to the WHY, not the what.
Did I read the Bible because I loved God and wanted to hear from Him, or because I wanted to tick off all the chapters and books and feel good about having read the whole Bible? Did I pray because I knew I should and it was right, or because I genuinely believed that God hears and answers prayer? Was I seeking *God*, or warm fuzzy feelings?
I didn’t have a passion for Christ. I couldn’t maintain a commitment – I would try for awhile (sprout), and then give up and focus on LIFE (entertainment, work, buying things, hobbies) (wither/choke out). Church, for me, was about friends, and sometimes about good feelings. And while I didn’t find the Bible “boring” to actually read, getting over that HUGE hump of starting to read it was too much effort for me most of the time.
Even though I had grown up “Christian”, I struggled with not having boldness to share my faith – or even to admit I had faith when people were openly mocking Christianity. And then I finally wondered, DO I have faith? I had intellectual knowledge, I had emotional experiences, I wanted salvation (at least, I knew I wanted to go to heaven), I had “prayed the prayer”, I was even baptized as an adult – I was *IN*, wasn’t I??? Then, why didn’t I feel it? People assured me over and over again that I was saved, quoting scripture.
Why didn’t my head and heart agree?
This verse terrified me:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23
Could I be a “Christian” all my life and yet not be a Christian???
Several years ago, our family went through some big changes. I had challenging health issues. I prayed to God for a fresh start – a time of spiritual awakening. And I committed to wrestling it through.
It wasn’t a fast or easy process. It was very much ongoing – day by day, week by week, month by month. I like quick fixes as much as anyone else. But I have had to struggle through these issues of faith. Why, when others seem to “get it” so easily? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s my personality (type A perfectionist, like to control and analyze everything), or maybe it’s just God’s chosen path for me.
For me, the Holy Spirit pricked my heart when I read 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper (actually, when I heard a portion of it read at my grandma’s funeral – and subsequently bought the book). Regardless of the story’s truth, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to consider that heaven *IS TRULY REAL*. Surely, I believed this on an intellectual level. But for the first time, I think my heart caught a glimpse of what that really meant…
I was left with two choices (as we always are when faced with the Holy Spirit nudging us). I could ignore it, or I could explore further. I chose to confront the following questions:
1. Do I believe there is a spiritual realm?
Well, I did, mainly because as a young child, I had repeatedly seen (literally, with my open eyes) an image of a demonic face. (Note, my sister had also seen “spirits” when she was a child, and my daughter has also seen a demonic manifestation). So, despite this being a very negative and terrifying experience, it definitely convinced me that there is a spiritual (usually unseen) realm. And, while I would have much preferred to see a (good) angel, pretty much everyone in the Bible’s response to seeing one of those is also falling on their face in fear. If there is an unseen, spiritual realm that is REAL, then something (outside of humanity) has to explain it.
2. If yes, then what best explains it?
After studying how Jesus fulfilled so many Bible prophecies, the only religion that made sense to me was Christianity (did you know that over 25% of the Bible is prophecy? And that they have always been fulfilled – except the ones that are yet to come? It continually is self-validating). No other religious book has the track record of archeological and historical proof that the Bible does. And while we can’t explain everything yet, new evidence keeps coming forth in favor of the Bible. Intelligent as we are, I think it’s a pretty big stretch to say that mankind “knows it all”! If Christianity explains it (an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God who is actively involved in loving and disciplining His creation as a loving Father), then God is REAL.
3. If the Christian God is real, then because the Bible is His Word, it must be true. If the Bible is true, then what implications does this have for how I live my life?
I decided I better start reading the Bible again. I began by reading the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). I hadn’t really read my Bible (or attended church) in years. It is amazing how just reading the Bible for yourself, praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and understanding, clears up so many misconceptions and answers so many questions. For the Bible to “speak” into my life evidences to me its’ power as the Word of God. It was written 2000 years ago (and some of it as much as 3500 years ago) and can still represent society and the hearts of humanity today.
Previously, when I did pursue God, I would give up if I didn’t seem to get what I wanted (a feeling of closeness, answered prayer, etc). I now believed God was worth pursuing relentlessly, that what the Bible said about Him and eternity was true.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
I spent a few months reading through the gospels and John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus by flashlight at night while everyone else in the house slept. Through this, God showed me that I was holding out on Him. I wanted to add Jesus as a “part of” my life. A comfortable part. The part that would send me to heaven when I died, avoiding the whole lake of fire thing. The parts about dying to self, making disciples of all nations, and being persecuted for my faith….not so comfortable. I remember praying as a teenager for a boyfriend/spouse – for someone who was a Christian, but certainly not a missionary or a pastor. (I believe now that all who follow Jesus are missionaries – ambassadors for Him – wherever we are at all times. We are just cleverly disguised in our roles and careers…)
Jesus doesn’t work that way. There is no Jesus-Lite. With Jesus it’s all or nothing – if I’m not FOR Him, I’m AGAINST Him.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Matthew 12:30
If Jesus is going to be my Savior (and get me to heaven), this includes submitting to him as my “master”. (“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 6:24). Either I am following Self (fun, entertainment, materialism, etc) or I am following Jesus. The Bible doesn’t leave any room for a middle road. It’s either the narrow one that leads to life, or the broad one that leads to destruction.
The Cost of Following Jesus (Francis Chan) – because he says it so much better than I do!
Jesus is a gentleman; He didn’t force his way inside my life. If I ignored Him, He went away.
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13
ALL my heart. Not just a bit of my heart. Not just most of my heart. ALL my heart. That is where I had gone wrong for so many years. I was keeping Jesus on the porch, trying to entertain him through the screen door. Never did I step aside to let him come in past ME. To make any kind of progress, I had to decide to open the door and let him in… All the way.
I was scared to invite God to examine the dark corners of my heart. I was scared to look myself – afraid of what I would see! When I consciously volunteered my heart to God – his forgiveness was so freeing!
God’s light consumes our darkness, but only if we let it in!
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5
If you search for doubt, you will find doubt.
If you don’t search for anything, you won’t find anything.
If you search for God, you will find God.
At one point, we choose faith in something. Whether that’s another god, or the wisdom of mankind (including our current understanding of scientific and historical discoveries), or the God of the Bible.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6
I had worked through a belief in heaven and the supernatural. I had committed to seeking God until I found Him. I had confronted my heart, and the fact that I had been keeping Jesus out on the porch.
Now I faced a choice. Would I choose God, or would I choose doubt? This came in the form of stumbling across an evangelical-Christian-turned-atheist’s website. It was very well written. Reading his story was very convincing. He had wrestled with some big issues, and his conclusions led him away from God. I believe the enemy led me there in my weakness, to attempt the same with me as this other man.
Throughout the history of mankind, there have always been the two competing voices in our spiritual ears. We know this. It’s the battle of good and evil for our hearts. We even make cartoons about it.
We have God’s Holy Spirit convicting us on the one side, and Satan’s hiss on the other. Both sides want to be “found”. Our free will allows us to CHOOSE which one to listen to.
My faith was slammed up against the wall. It wavered. A lot. I saw stars and dots for a day or two, but when I recovered, I deliberately CHOSE GOD.
You want to know why? In the end it came down to another conviction. I believe that our time is short. That signs indicate that Jesus will come back – SOON. As much as I am tempted to spin around the hamster wheel and not get anywhere, I don’t think any of us have that “luxury”. We are in the sunset of this age. God has given us signs so we can prepare our hearts and spread the Word.
Now, I say I *chose*. Perhaps the correct way to state this is that God allowed me to “choose” – God’s Holy Spirit must enable us to see God’s truths.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4
While we can’t open our own spiritual eyes, we can certainly choose to close them – we don’t see what we don’t want to see.
Faith, like love, is a CHOICE. We all put our faith somewhere. I am consciously CHOOSING to put my faith in God, and trusting that He will take it from there.
I had confronted my beliefs intellectually. I had examined my heart. I had chosen God. These all led to “emotional” experiences, of feeling my heart and head lined up temporarily. But I KNEW I didn’t get something still! I had no idea what it was.
I knew I desperately wanted to be saved. I wanted Jesus to be my Lord. I knew my head and my heart still didn’t agree. But I still didn’t react right.
I thought, okay, I’m going to convince my heart to believe like my head. How many times have we been told “act as if”? Smile and you will start to feel happy? That may work with confidence and good feelings, but I can tell you that it doesn’t work with salvation.
I tried to reconcile my head and heart by joyously throwing myself into God’s work. I wanted to change direction of my life and let Jesus be my Lord. I truly believed I was being led by the Holy Spirit. I didn’t consciously do these things to try to earn salvation, but because I wanted my actions to line up with what my head believed. I was trying to “make” my heart believe, by acting on what I believed. WHY WAS MY HEART SO STUBBORN?
By the way, this is “works-based” salvation (which doesn’t save – “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. Matt 5:20) instead of true “faith-based” salvation (clothing ourselves with Jesus’ righteousness is the only way to “exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees”).
I kept searching and read articles about salvation by “faith alone”. These suggested that if you believe you need to have good works to demonstrate salvation, then you are trying to earn the free gift of God. In fact, to try to earn saving faith (through works, penance, donations, sacraments) is stating that Jesus’ finished work on the cross wasn’t sufficient. Our works can’t add to or maintain salvation – I might do enough good things to build a great toboganning hill… Mother Teresa built a Mount Everest of good works… But neither of us reached the Moon.
This verse came to mind:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6
This was a rocky time for me. My inner dialogue went like this: Faith without works is dead, but if we work for our faith Jesus will say to us “I never knew you”. I believe that saving faith results in works, so I am trapped in a “no win” situation. Either I am trying to add to Christ’s finished work by heaving filthy rags at it, desperately trying to prove how much I yearn for salvation, or I choose not to do good works and get pruned off and burned.
No matter how much I want salvation, it seemingly eludes me. Why did I have to think about it so much? Why couldn’t I just lah-di-dah in faith carefree as many seem to do?
And I sobbed – Who am I to know my heart? My heart is a fickle thing, full of deceit and selfish motives. Even if I think I’m following the Holy Spirit’s leading I get it ALL WRONG.
I JUST DON’T GET IT.
And gently, but very clearly, God told me to STOP.
(I remember the moment clearly. I was sitting in the bathroom on the [closed] toilet, telling God assurance of salvation was just too hard for me…I didn’t get it…and I was yelling in my head – I have tried EVERYTHING…and NOTHING has worked)
And that was God’s point exactly. *I* was trying. I was reading and repeating a specific set of beliefs, a certain prayer – and knew salvation was confirmed by resultant fruit, which I was trying to produce as proof.
Was I serving others in love, or was I trying to prove my “salvation” to myself? (I didn’t care what others thought, I wanted that assurance in my heart). I was striving for assurance of salvation, and God told me to STOP.
I couldn’t save myself. I knew this intellectually, of course. But I had to know it in my heart.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6
God told me – stop throwing your gross dirty rags my way. Just – Rest. Rest in the finished work of salvation. Only then will your works be “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
So, I did. I reflected on the Sabbath, and how Jesus came to fulfill the Law so that we could rest from striving for salvation.
The faith to believe in one’s heart is a free gift of God – sometimes He just gives it, sometimes we must ask. Sometimes we must ask, and ask, and ask, and ask… Like the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8).
And finally I got it. It was as clear as day, like a light turning on. Salvation is the finished work of Christ. When we see how far short we fall of God’s glory, when we realize our utter inability to do anything about it, when we desire to clothe ourselves with Jesus’ blood and righteousness, when we TURN from following ME to following HIM, we are saved. We don’t have to SAY or DO anything. It happens in our hearts – it doesn’t even have to be a prayer.
Our heart clicks into alignment with God. We are utterly, and completely, helpless to do anything about our condition. We throw ourselves at God’s feet, acknowledging we are wretched, poor, blind and naked. “I can’t do anything, God! Please do it for me! It’s too big for me – I need YOU!” We agree that our way is the wrong way, and we choose to follow His way, with Him in control.
(It sounds so easy, but for those of us who like to be in control, perfectionists who like to analyze and understand everything, who like to follow a set of well-written instructions – the heart is a terribly tricky thing!)
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3
It’s exactly as Jesus said, we must become like little children. Salvation is described as being “born-again”. When we are born, we are babies. Helpless, dependent. Like little children, we have faith that our Father will take care of us (and this heavenly Father does so perfectly). He says what He means, He means what He says, and we choose to obey Him because we trust and love Him. If you are a parent, you know how much easier life works if your children choose to trust and obey you (ideally because they love you) – even if they don’t completely understand your rationale.
My head and my heart have found peace and salvation. The closer I get to God, the more I am aware of how far I am from God’s holiness. How undeserving I am of His love and sacrifice. But that’s exactly it. We never were and never will be deserving.
(Update: It took about 2.5 years for me to wrestle through the above, pressing and seeking God that entire time without giving up. I hope that it doesn’t take others that long, but if it does – KEEP PRESSING! God is worth it. Your eternity is worth it. You will seek God and WILL FIND HIM, IF you seek Him with ALL your heart. That’s His promise. Some people in the Bible, like Abraham, had to wait dozens and dozens of years to see promises fulfilled. NEVER, NEVER give up seeking God. It has been 3 years since my moment in the bathroom, and I am pleased to report that I have never struggled with doubt since. I have remained completely and fully confident of my salvation, in tremendous peace. For some this comes easy, but for me it did not! And because I believed in my mind in the truth of the Bible, assurance of faith was/is so incredibly important to me!)
I’m forgiven, because You were forsaken. I’m accepted, You were condemned. I’m alive and well, Your Spirit is within me, because You died and rose again.
Amazing love, how can it be? That you, my King would die for me? Amazing love, I know it’s true. It’s my joy to honor You, in all I do I honor You.
You are my King. Jesus, You are my King.