catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 18 :: 2004.11.05 — 2004.11.18


My faith story

Recently I was asked to share with the leadership at my church a summary of my faith story—not only how I came to faith, but my journey since. As I reflected on what I would say, it became a challenge to avoid resorting to a spiritual resum?. I had to force myself to answer a larger question: What does a faith life look like over the years, as a person travels through personal changes and growth? What does it mean to mature in faith?

Somehow we are drawn toward the beginnings of stories and their ends. I’ve often been asked about my conversion to Christ and my current Christian beliefs, but rarely about the path in between. The same goes with my marriage; people’s interests usually lie along the lines of how we met and about the day we made a commitment, not in the years afterward spent growing in love together. The assumption is that one person’s marriage or faith life is pretty much like the next but that the interesting bit is the unique way it began.

I don’t have a very unique way in which I came to God. I cannot remember a time where God was not a part of my life, where he was not spoken of around the house or prayed to at bedtime. It was at age four when I realized that God was not just provider and protector, but a perfect being who had extended mercy to us imperfect humans. I decided I wanted to be counted among God’s people, to accept that mercy, and under my father’s guidance I prayed that “Jesus would come into my heart.” Looking back, I see that I believed in God and his grace as much as any four-year-old can—which is to say with all my being, and yet incompletely. It would be another twelve years before I would realize there was more than belief, more than acceptance of mercy, more than inclusion in God’s family.

As a teen-ager, I was beginning to experience the full depth of the human heart, the awareness that I had many new responsibilities, appetites, choices, and feelings than I’d ever had. I had put behind me the simplicity of childhood and had to deal with relationships and the future and goals for my life. I was scared to peek behind some of these doors; I felt unprepared to deal with anything beyond pleasing my teachers and parents and being patted on the head for it.

The turning point came after seeing a skit at youth group that pinpointed my problem. The skit imagined a man’s heart as a house, and he freely moved about it while Jesus sat on the couch in the living room. He said “Hi” to Jesus as he passed through, and once in a while at Jesus’ invitation he’d sit down and have a talk. But he never let Jesus out of that room, never let him look in any of the dark closets of his life, let alone try to air them out. He had invited Jesus into his heart but had not made him the master of it. The man eventually signed the deed to his house over to Jesus and put him in complete control.

I understood that I had not made Jesus my Lord or surrendered my obedience to him. I wanted to keep parts of my life separate from him. And an amazing thing happened when I granted him access to the secret parts of my heart—I discovered that he was already there. In every facet of my life, from friendships and classes and movies to my innermost desires, I found that God was the engine that drove it all. He was the author of creativity, of truth, of intimacy, of knowledge that lay at the core of every pursuit. The day I prayed for Jesus to take control of my heart, I had strongly feared that it would leave me with an austere and empty life — but instead I found the richness of life by discovering the spiritual core of every endeavor.

The first stage of my faith story was centered around belief: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). The second phase was grounded in obedience: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands” (1 John 2:3). The third stage, which began when I reached adulthood and began my married life, is marked by love: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).

I thought I knew what it meant to have a deep relationship before I got married. I had strong friendships, a brother, a sister, parents, mentors. But there was always a retreat from them at the end of the day, a time of disengagement. When I was with friends, I tried to be as loving and as lovable as possible, doing my best to make them happy, even if it meant I had to pull back and recharge later. In marriage, when you go to sleep and wake up each day with someone beside you, it is impossible to keep up the energy to please someone. And what I discovered is that my wife didn’t want someone to please her all the time, to be thoughtful and attentive. That was nice, of course, but what she wanted was the real, unguarded me. She loved me even when I hadn’t earned it, and for the first time I understood what unwarranted love felt like.

This understanding also transformed my relationship with God. I realized that God wanted more than obedience to his will, he wanted my heart. He wanted the real me. He wanted to hear from me the joys and sorrows of the human life he had created for me. He wanted me to pursue him with a passion, not with simple compliance. As I began to see God less as someone who wanted to steer my path and more as someone who wanted to be with me on the journey, I stopped being so passive, stopped trying to please him by rote, and entered into a living relationship. I no longer experienced his love as a kind of approval, but as a fondness, a genuine excitement over who I was. As I was more unguardedly myself around him, I experienced more and more of that unwarranted love. It was a profound feeling to be accepted without merit, like being caught in free-fall. There was no response but to love in return, to embrace him with all my heart and soul.

Belief. Obedience. Love. These qualities have marked the three stages of my faith journey. I fully expect that as I continue to walk with God, a fourth stage will bud. I will encounter some aspect of my faith that I consider fulfilled but is really just dormant, waiting for life experience to teach me its depth. (Already, as I move into a leadership role in my church, I feel the rumblings of a new hunger, one tied with Jesus’ command to “Feed my sheep.”) It can be tempting to present a faith story that is whole and complete, but a life lived in faith is never settled.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus