In honor of Christ sacrifice this Easter I want to make known what His forgiveness has meant to me. Here is my story or at least this is how it began. There is so much more that has happened since.
I didn't Know that I didn't Know
I grew up in church, the daughter of a minister and thought I was "saved" at a young age. Most of my life I thought of myself as "good". People had always told me I was good and even labeled me a "goody-goody". It wasn't until college, though, that God really changed my life, opened my eyes, and showed me the truth. I was living on my own, completely self-sufficient, working several jobs and going to class. I was enjoying being single. I worked days at a minor league baseball team and spent nights hanging out with friends, flirting, going out dancing or to see bands. I was arrogant, selfish, and full of pride. I bragged about everything. And even though I had so much going for me, it never felt like enough. I was constantly looking for the next thing to make me happy. I stayed so busy. When I went to church it was mostly out of routine until I finally stopped going all together. Then one day an old friend from my youth group days came back in town. We started dating. He was different from the crowd I had been running with and it felt good to be reminded of those days. Being around him and talking about God made my new life seem empty. One night, alone in my apartment, I picked up my guitar to play. I went through stacks of sheet music looking for a praise song to play. They had once been all praise songs, but now there was only one. So I picked up the song "Take My Life" by Third Day and played it. The words spoke to me and I stopped and said them to God as a prayer...
"How many times have I turned away?
The number is the same as the sand on the shore
But every time You've taken me back
And now, I pray You do it once more
Please, take from me my life
When I don't have the strength
To give it away to you"
Over the next few weeks God faithfully and gently answered that prayer. One by one all the things in my life that I was prideful about began falling away…My job, my plans for school, my group of friends, my roommate and close friend moved away, my health and self image. It was wierd how some of these things just came to an abrupt halt. Then finally my boyfriend ended our relationship. When he did, he pointed out some things about me that I knew were true. I was very easily angered. I snapped at the slightest offense. I was full of myself. God allowed me to experience a time of extreme loneliness I believe to focus my thoughts on him. I spent so much time praying. I realized that He was the only one who could fix my life, fix the things in me that were broken. That I NEEDED Him to make me different! Then one morning I went to my friend's wedding. They read the love chapter from 1 Corinthians 13
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
I had heard those verses many times, but this time I HEARD them. God brought to mind specific parts of my life where I was not patient or kind. I was proud and angry. I had hurt or disregarded people. I realized I didn't have a single quality on the list. I didn't have love. I realized like a smack that I WASN"T good. Immediately I remembered a song I learned when I was little based on 1 John 4:7-8 that said "He that loves not, knows not God. For God is love." I realized I didn't know God. I couldn't stop crying. I had to leave the wedding early. I began reading the Bible, praying, searching with my whole heart. My childhood salvation experience had nothing to do with repentance. But this time I was overcome by my own sinfulness and God's grace to love me anyway. I committed everything to Him and asked for forgiveness. I was asking God specific question and he was answering me with his Word. For the first time I experienced a back-and-forth relationship with God. God began speaking to me in themes. He was revealing my sins to me one by one and cleansing me. For a week everything I read was about anger. Every book I was reading spoke about anger. Every preacher preached about anger. And I felt convicted over specific instances and people I had hurt. I apologized to the people I needed to and I asked God to change me in this area. Then the theme of my Bible study changed to slander, then pride, then selfishness, etc I KNEW God was speaking specifically to me.
The same verse kept coming up over and over in book, sermons, conversations. I began writing down every time it came up and the list just got longer and longer. The verse was Ephesians 3:20 "He is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine." This has become my Life's verse. I had made my own plans based on my own shallow and selfish desires. My goals were meaningless and self serving. But God was calling me into an amazing adventure, giving me a new purpose and new desires and showing me that is has so much more for me and is able to do SO MUCH MORE than anything I could plan or comprehend.
All my life I had thought I was saved. I thought I knew what a relationship with God was like. I didn't know that I didn't know. I was just doing what I saw everyone else at church doing. But I was bored. Reading my Bible and praying were boring to me because one-sided religion without a real relationship with Christ IS boring. Hearing from Him is what makes it exciting! Everyone thought I was saved and so did I. I thought that if I went up front at church and prayed the prayer and just believed that I would be safe from Hell. I thought believing was enough. But it isn't enough! Even the devil believes that Jesus died and rose again. Jesus said to the disciples "Follow Me" and they got up and left everything. They committed everything to Him and they experienced amazing miracles. He ask us for the same. You cant just believe. You must also get up and follow Him. That means living your life for him. Committing it all and telling him he can use your life for His glory. It means that you don't just read and have a quiet time to check it off your list, but that you actually seek to KNOW him, that you ask Him for direction, that you ask questions and listen for His answers. I believe there are SO many people who think they are saved like I did. That they are missing so much. of what it is to know Him. The Bible says
"wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and MANY enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)
It also says
“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. 22 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?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me (Matthew 7:21-23)
That means that there are MANY people who think they are saved like I did. They have the appearance of being saved and they are even doing good church work, but they don't know Christ personally. They aren't really following Him.
There were so many times in High School when I felt like there was something missing. I thought "is there really all there is? Shouldn't I be feeling something more?" I even wondered "What if God isn't real? What if there is no Heaven?" There were so many doubts. But I have this great memory of this one day in college after I had become a true follower when God spoke to me in a specific way through something I had read in scripture that day. I KNEW I was having a conversation with God and I had this epiphany! I remember thinking "Oh my goodness I'm never going to have to feel that doubt again. Theres no question anymore. I know Him for myself and I'm experiencing Him for myself." So, If you are wondering too, stop right now and ask God for wisdom. This is the most important piece of advice I can offer. The Bible says God gives his wisdom freely to anyone who ask (James 1:5). So just ask Him for it. Ask Him to give you wisdom and spiritual understanding and start seeking to know Him. I can't begin to tell you what a difference He has made in my life! This new life is real and its exciting and fuflling. I don't ever want to go back to being distracted by stuff that doesn't last. There is nothing in the world like seeing God call you to do something, being obedient to what He ask, and watching amazing things happen! It is not always easy. There are ups and downs. But God is big and He is good and He is sovereign. I can't wait to see where He leads me next.