I’m currently going through the membership process at my church. Part of the process is to reflect on how I became a Christian. Below are my thoughts and reflections on it.
I became a Christian when I was 8 years old. I hadn’t gone to church much up to that point but my sister and I were staying with my grandparents for the summer and they took us to vacation bible school. Each day during the week, they had an invitation where everyone put their heads down. They didn’t play music or anything, they just asked people who wanted to put faith in Jesus to raise their hand. My sister and I both raised our hand the same day…I think it was Wed or Thurs of the week-long vacation bible school. We then went to the back to meet with a pastor and he asked us why we raised our hand and led us in a prayer where we professed our faith in Jesus. I believe that was a true moment and even looking back, I don’t think it was emotional manipulation (which sometimes happens in churches really wanting lots of ‘decisions for Christ’ made). While I didn’t understand all the implications of putting my faith in Jesus (my sister and I felt we really needed to throw away our Backstreet Boys CD’s now that we were Christians), I think there is something to that childlike faith I showed then. I’d like to think it’s the faith Jesus talks about when he says have faith like a child.
Fast forward to age 17. I had gone to church on and off throughout my teens, but I really hadn’t started to try and understand the Bible. I started to read books of the New Testament, specifically Romans. I was pretty confused about all the circumcision talk. I asked one of my youth pastors about it. He said it meant ‘circumcision of the heart’ but didn’t really elaborate. Not much help there. Shortly after that, I remember praying and asking God to help me understand what it meant to follow Jesus; whatever it was, I wanted to know and I wanted to experience it. I knew that it was more than just trying to be a good person. I wanted to connect with God. Within a few weeks, I had connected with a pastor who would mentor me for the next 3 years.
College was a time where I found myself coming into leadership within Christian organizations; leading Bible studies out of necessity since there was no one else to lead them. Teaching the Bible forced me to understand the Bible much more than I did. I had two unique experiences in college that were pretty extraordinary but happened in such ordinary settings. Once I was driving to work, I looked up into the clouds, and had a sense of awareness of the greatness of God. It wasn’t a cheesy OH HOW GREAT GOD IS! I was scared. I felt I couldn’t open my mouth and my breathing became heavy. It was intense. The second time was a little bit different. I was walking by a Taco Bell near campus and it’s almost like all the fogginess over what Jesus taught had completely cleared. The idea of loving others and serving others seemed so obvious! I felt that I could have corrected any wrong I had with anyone; that forgiveness was obviously so much better than bitterness. There was a clarity and deep understanding of the love God had for people; in that moment, I felt that love for people stronger than I ever had. By the time I got to the dorm, the feeling had gone.
When I reflect back on those moments, I see them as gifts from God; not something to keep trying to experience again, but fuel to move forward in what I know to be true even when I struggle to believe it. I have doubt in my heart (my name is Thomas) but working through it has made my belief in Jesus stronger. My biggest struggle with doubt is the question of whether this is all just my own little mind game and something I look to for comfort and purpose. I continue to work through the doubt because I feel I can’t NOT work through it. I know some may interpret that as me grasping at straws and not wanting to come to grips with not believing, but I believe it’s the Spirit of God not allowing me to just succumb to unbelief. If something is true, it’s true whether I feel like it’s true or not. I’ve resolved in my mind that the message of Jesus is true and THAT has implications on my life whether I’m feeling connected to God or not. I believe that pull towards Jesus is the strongest sign that I belong to Jesus.