I remember going down the aisle, tears streaming down my face. I had been trying so hard to find the answers to my problems. It now seemed so clear. Of course I was always unfulfilled and felt out of place in the world! I needed a relationship with God! I could hardly believe I was seeing the reasons why my life had been so messed up. I was so happy!
The world had never told me that I needed God in my life. No one had. I was glad to be hearing the message I was hearing. In order for my life to go anywhere, in order for it to have any meaningful impact on others, I needed God to have a part in my life. And I was being told that the only way to God was through His Son, Jesus Christ. It seemed so clear. Now my life could have purpose and I could know God, too!
“Young man,” someone called. I looked and an older man motioned to me, “Come over here and I’ll pray with you.” His presence comforted me, seeing that he was an older man. I was looking for someone to lead me. I was beginning to see that I needed God in my life, but I didn’t have any idea how to go about knowing Him. This man told me I was a “winner.” He then proceeded to pray with me, telling me to ask Jesus into my heart to be saved. Before I left he said, “Son, find yourself a Bible-believing church.” I continued to cry, thankful that somebody understood my problem. I drove home, a new believer in search of a Bible-believing church.
Not knowing where to start, I started going to different churches. As I entered I’d ask, “Are you a Bible-believing church?” They’d all say, “Oh yes, come on in.” I’d take my seat alone. I didn’t know what to look for, except that I was looking for people who had some passion for God and wanted to do something real. I tried not to get too disappointed with what I was finding. Everything was all too reminiscent of my days going to Catholic Church — quiet, stale ritual, void of any passion. I kept looking.
In the meantime, I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life. The summer was almost over. Time was running out. I was now a Christian and I needed to decide whether I was going to go back to college. I decided to give school one more try. Maybe I could change the views of some of my old friends or some other students. I got an apartment and registered for classes. I went a few weeks early to get ready. I quickly saw I was not going to change anybody’s mind.
Then one night my friends took me out to eat. I liked them a lot. They were peaceful, kind, and funny; but we didn’t agree about anything. They talked me into going to a bar. Before long I was pretty loaded. I hurt deep down. My fears of ending up right where I was a year before were coming upon me. They even got me stoned before the night was over. I went to bed depressed.
I felt so out-of-place. No one understood my heart — and I could hardly express it. It became clear that if I stayed, I’d end up ridden with the same guilt I had tried for five years to free myself from. I’ll never forget that night. I was scared. I didn’t know where to turn. I hadn’t found my Bible-believing church. I had no friends, knew no skills, and to quit school meant pumping gas or McDonald’s for sure. For the first time, on my own initiative, I got down on my knees and begged God to give me a meaningful purpose for my life. The next day, the first day of classes, I cashed in my books and told the Registrar’s office I was quitting. My friends thought I was crazy.
What happened in the next week convinced me that God had heard my prayer that I’d have a purpose for my life. With one phone call to a man for whom I had only done two weeks of temporary manual labor, I had a full-time salaried job with advance pay so I could have my own apartment. Not only that, but the company did what fit right into my conservative, patriotic philosophy. What truly amazed me was that I got the job being totally unskilled. The president didn’t want to train a computer expert who already “knew it all.” I told him I had never even sat in front of a computer. It didn’t bother him. I believed that God had answered my prayer.
I still hadn’t found a Bible-believing church. I had found, however, a Christian bookstore, so I was beginning to really learn a lot about God. I wanted to know everything about God there was to know. I began to see there were many differing views. I stuck to the conservative-oriented ones — they made more sense to me. I really had great hopes that with God now in my life, I was really going to be able to affect some things in the world. It was obvious to me that what the world needed was God. Maybe someday I’d even write “The Book” that could make sense of things. I didn’t get into the Bible too much. It seemed all anyone ever did was misinterpret it (or so everybody said of everybody else). I never could understand too much myself. I liked Christian books better.
Work became my life. By age twenty-three I had advanced substantially within the company. My income had about doubled in two and a half years and would continue to do so. I came to conclude that the greatest thing I could do as a Christian was to become a productive, positive element in society and give God all the honor and glory for whatever I’d accomplish.
The company I worked for taught businesses how to properly manage themselves, thus strengthening the free-enterprise sector of society. With my conservative political views, I felt good about what I was doing. I loved the praises I got from men as I explained what I did. It sounded very significant to others. We had our own private planes with our own pilots. I traveled places with men twice my age. I had a future. I was gaining more in my understanding of conservative politics, governments, world issues, etc. I had money to have a decent new car, nice clothes, recreation, and I was looking at buying my first condominium — and all with God on my side.
Then, like a storm from out of nowhere, a flood of temptations swept over me. My life felt like it was going to fall apart. One day, in the middle of work, I asked to have the day off. I couldn’t handle work anymore. I drove to my Bible-believing church and found one of the pastors. I spilled my guts to him. I could tell he felt for me. That first meeting with him didn’t give me any answers, but only the suggestion to consider that maybe God didn’t want me to work my job anymore.
As the weeks went on, the pain and stress of my emotions grew greater. I began despairing of life itself and seriously considered suicide on several occasions. On one such day, I poured my heart out to my pastor. Unable to encourage me or answer my questions, he attempted to pacify me by telling me not to forget that I was going to heaven someday. Unfortunately, heaven was too far off. I needed help then.
Every day was torture. I had lost all desire for my career. All seemed futile. I was becoming exhausted. Even though everything around me was falling apart, somehow I still believed that God was real and that one day He’d make everything clear to me. That was all that mattered anymore. I began to figure there were others as desperate as I out there, and if I could help them someday, maybe my life would be worth something. I wanted to know God and give Him everything. “But how do I do it?”
I asked my pastor that question, “How do I do it?” He asked, “You mean go into a full-time ministry?” I didn’t really like the sound of that — “full-time ministry.” It sounded as though I’d end up as a preacher. I didn’t want that. He said to go into full-time service would require some education to gain ’credentials’. That was not good news to me. Wasn’t there a place full-time for the unlearned and the uneducated?
I had had my fill with education. But what else was there, I asked myself? I held on to my job long enough to pay off my debts and find a place to go. The only place that sounded appealing to me was Wheaton College, the ’Harvard of the Bible Schools’. There were things I had read and heard about Wheaton that seemed quite impressive. Their school’s motto was “For Christ and His Kingdom.” And Billy Graham had gone to Wheaton in his college days. Even then, I had many doubts about what lay ahead. I applied and was accepted. I quit my job and headed to the Midwest.
Wheaton lasted a total of five weeks. It was a combination of things that prevented me from settling in. During orientation we were given a list of 30 or more good, Bible-believing churches. We were given the ’freedom’ to choose which was ’for us’. In Bible class our professor wanted to teach us about how to properly view the breaking of bread. He said it was a very important aspect of the Christian life, for it records in the book of Acts that they were “continually devoting themselves” to it, and the Master had shared it with His disciples just prior to His death on Calvary. Therefore, any serious Christian must himself be devoted to it, having an understanding of its significance. He proceeded to write up on the board the various interpretations of the mainstream groups within Christianity. They varied greatly. He then said, “Now, although I have my own conclusion of what is the proper view of this most important event, I do not want to influence you in coming to your own conclusion, for we must all choose which we see is the right way.”
I felt like pulling my hair out. Seeing how no one could agree on what this “most significant” event meant, made me believe that it must not have been all that significant, since believers today couldn’t even agree on its meaning. I felt like I was being taught how to be an unbeliever! I was coming to one very clear conclusion: when I was left to choose which way seemed right, the end was always death. I was tired of ruling my life. I desired someone with authority to lead me into all truth, teaching me how to obey His commandments. I was tired of choosing for myself.
Shortly thereafter I returned to my home state. There were certain verses that were giving me hope, such as
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life shall lose it, and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. (John 12:24,25)
I wanted to die spiritually somehow and bear much fruit, and I did hate my life in this world. But how could I die?
I picked up several part-time, menial jobs to live on. I wasn’t interested any longer in finding my life in something so temporary as a job. The thought of having God be a part of my life no longer held any appeal. I was through with my life. I wanted my life to end so I could have a new life — His life. I saw that my greatest enemy was myself. How could I die and have His life in me?
The only thing that mattered anymore to me was to find out the truth. I knew the Word of God was true, but where, on earth, was His Word being lived out daily? Where could I surrender myself to God entirely so He could truly be my Lord? Someone told me of a group of people who lived together, shared all things in common, and loved the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind. This person told me that not everybody speaks well of them, that they were even spoken against from time to time. I actually took hope in that. Secretly I thought to myself, maybe these are those who are not of the world as it says in John 15:18-20,
If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own, but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore, the world hates you. No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you...
I had to find out. I went and visited. I was amazed by what I saw. I didn’t see anything flashy or glamorous, but I saw a demonstration of love and unity as I had never seen before. People were actually laying down their lives each and every day for one another. And they were happy to do it. I saw things that strengthened what I read in the Scriptures. Their love for one another was proof to me that God was living amongst these people. One problem, however — I didn’t know how to love like that.
Then I heard the best news I had ever heard: that if I would deny myself and take up my cross and follow Him, then I could be His disciple and learn to love as He and His people loved. It was shown to me that to deny myself didn’t just mean deny myself of certain pleasures and sins, but that it meant deny my SELF, my entire person. It meant absolute abandonment of everything I was and possessed. This kind of self-denial required my death, which could only happen in the waters of baptism where I could be united with the Savior in His death, and so find forgiveness. This is what I wanted. It was a sweet smell of life that I knew in my heart would lead me to life. I believed with all my heart that the Son of God was the only righteous One who could save me, and that, if I received the words of life from those who were living that life, I too could receive the Son. I also learned that as a disciple I would have to take up my cross.
I learned that the Master Himself had known about the cross from history, His own history as a boy. A Roman governor named Varis crushed a revolt in Palestine, involving the Galileans, by having 2,000 of them crucified. Their bodies were put to a slow torturous death by crucifixion, all of them hanging along the roadside to show the people the pointlessness of revolt. When the Master spoke these words,
If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me (Luke 9:23)
people’s minds would recall something very real. I saw that as a disciple of the One who Himself took up a cross, I too must be ready for a life that was as hard as that of a condemned man. I saw I must be ready to face the rejection of my family, friends ... the loss of all things. I must be prepared to walk in the same manner as He walked. I also saw that the cross was the instrument that would bring death to my self-life, enabling true life to come to me.
My ability to respond to this call to lifelong service to the Son of God wasn’t dependent on my educational credentials. I was beginning to see for the first time in my life the deep-seated selfishness that was in me. I saw how this was the root of most of my problems. I was convicted of this condition in me, but also believed that there was a way out. Faith came to me and I believed in my heart that the true Savior could save me from my helpless condition. I called upon Him to save me, fully aware that my life from that point on was no longer my own but His.
I am truly grateful now to be delivered from the snare of trying to find God on my own and the hopelessness of trying to discover for myself what His will for my life is. I am thankful to now be a part of a covenanted people that He is calling together in these last days. This has always been the desire of the God of Israel — to have a people for His own possession that He can use to show the world how great His love for all men is. Our God understands man’s great need to be loved and, by the power given to His people through the atoning sacrifice of His Son, this love and unity will be demonstrated to the world so that they too can come to believe.