Sometimes, I inadvertently make good Southern Baptists really nervous. It's because I'm not a good Southern Baptist, or really a Southern Baptist at all, though I've always gone to Southern Baptist churches. I'm a Christian, and I hope to be a good one, but that's as far as I like to be labeled about such things. People have argued with me that if I don't have a denominational label, like "Southern Baptist," then people aren't going to know what I believe. Well, I argue back that if I call myself a "Southern Baptist," people STILL won't know what I believe. I do believe most of the things that good Southern Baptists would claim to believe, but I'm a Christian. If you want to know more about what I believe, a label isn't going to tell you. I could call myself a "Southern Baptist" and believe that pink monkeys in sailor suits grant my wishes every time I pray. The only thing that will help you know what I believe is asking me questions and getting to know me--or reading my blog, since I explain myself better in writing than I do in speech.
One thing I don't think I've ever really liked about good Southern Baptists is that most of them stress the importance of having a "personal testimony." I understand what the point and purpose is, and I know that a lot of people will respond to a personal experience more easily than they would respond to Scripture. My problem isn't that I don't think "personal testimonies" are important, but I never really understood what they were supposed to be.
Some people have really awesome "personal testimonies" that are easy to tell. "I was a drug addict for seventeen years, lost my job and custody of my four kids, was at the end of my rope and ready to just give up on life...BUT THEN I FOUND JESUS! Now I have an awesome job, contact with my kids, and I haven't touched drugs or alcohol in years. But most importantly, Jesus has saved my soul and I have hope of living with Him forever!"
I'm not making light of those testimonies. They're amazing. I've heard of so many wonderful stories of how God has changed lives, and God is using those changed lives to change the lives of others. It's a beautiful thing.
Far too often, though, I hear a testimony that is a lot like I think mine is supposed to sound. "I was raised in church every time the doors were open. I was 'saved' as a child. I fell away in my teenage years, but God got a hold of me. Now I'm living every day for Him."
There's also nothing wrong with those testimonies. God uses them, too. I just think they're boring. And they kind of make me feel like salvation is a thing of the past.
You wanna know something that will make good Southern Baptists shudder? I don't know when I became a Christian. I "walked forward" the day after my ninth birthday and told a minister that I'd accepted Christ. I was baptized a week later, on Easter Sunday.
I didn't become a Christian at the age of nine. It was before then, though I'm not exactly sure when. I remember being afraid of hell and of demons. I remember lying awake in bed at night and knowing I wasn't alone. I remember wanting with all my heart to believe in God. And I don't think there was some kind of "sinner's prayer" or grand change in my life. I think that my salvation was something as simple as slipping my hand into the Hand that was extended towards me. The action was so simple that I don't remember when it happened.
God had been pursuing me all my life, in a way I couldn't ignore. Though I was a little hellion as a toddler (okay, and after I was a toddler, too...and okay, when I was a teenager...and right now), I can't remember my life without Christ. He's always been a major part of it. So, as uncomfortable as it makes good Southern Baptists to hear this, I kind of believe that, in a way, I've always been a Christian. I wasn't born free of the curse of sin. I wasn't sinless. I didn't come out of the womb professing my faith in Christ. But God has had His hand on me all my life. I can't ignore that fact, or what it means...but more about that in just a bit.
What I just wrote is not my "personal testimony." See, I've learned that my testimony isn't so much about how I've become a Christian. I can't remember that. I can't remember the moment when I slipped my hand into God's Hand. All I know is that He's never let go.
Did I fall away from faith? I don't know. I guess so, but not really. In my early teenage years, I certainly worried more about my own image than I did about representing Christ. I was slightly more solid in my faith in my middle teenage years. But then, when I was nineteen, I became an atheist for 10 minutes.
I couldn't feel God. I was suffering from my first real bout of seasonal depression (but I didn't know what it was then--I just thought I was literally going crazy). My friends at the time were not the best influences or encouragers, though I'm not blaming them. It was a season God wanted me to walk through, but He didn't leave me there.
I was in the tree house in my backyard, praying. And I had just had enough of everything. So I told God, "I just can't believe in You anymore." And I sat there, wondering what to do in my new found lack of faith. The funny thing was, I wanted to pray about it, and I had to remind myself that I didn't believe I had anyone to pray to. I had no idea how not to believe in God. After a few minutes, my eyes fell upon one of my journals. I opened it up to a random page. There was a poem I'd written while watching the sunset a few nights before. I recognized my handwriting. I remembered the occasion when I wrote down the words. But I didn't recognize a single word from the poem. And the Holy Spirit said, "I wrote this. Read the words, because I wrote them through you." It was a simple poem of praise. I hadn't written it. The One who wrote it was the God whose Hand was still heavy upon me.
Having God's Hand upon me is a curious thing. It means I'm protected. It means I'm guided. It means I belong to God.
It also means that my life doesn't belong to me, anymore. Not that it ever really did....
I was such a horrid little toddler because I always wanted my way. I was a horrid child because I wanted my way. I was a horrid teenager because I wanted my way. And sometimes I really am a horrid adult because all I really want is to have my own way.
But I can't. I can't because God isn't really all that interested in giving me what I want--especially not right when I want it. God fulfills my needs. God gives me more than I deserve. But God doesn't cater to me and my demands, but He demands that I regard Him as holy. And sometimes that's really hard to do, but I have to--because His hand is upon me.
And because His hand is upon me, because I'm dependent upon His guidance, I'm in a fearful place. I have all the blessings of Christ, but it as C. S. Lewis wrote "...He's not a tame lion..." It's hard to trust in God's provision and strength in the darkness. Because even if God is able, that doesn't mean He has to give me what I want. Because even if God is good, that doesn't mean He won't lead me to something that is incredibly difficult. Because even if God is merciful, that doesn't mean He won't lead me to something that hurts me immensely. Because even if God is strong, that doesn't mean He won't lead me to something that might even cost me my life.
...not that my life was ever mine anyway. That's such a hard lesson to learn. Thankfully, I have a patient, loving Teacher who has experienced all the beauty and strife of humanity (yet was without sin).
But that's my testimony, isn't it? It's not that "one big moment" where I chose to give my life over to Christ. It's the thousands of little moments where I still choose to give my life over to Christ. It's when I'm still the child in the darkness, afraid of demons, afraid of the unknown, but still knowing I'm not alone. It's when I have all the things I want to do and I want to have and I want to be, but I hear the still small Voice telling me that I belong to Him. It's when I still make the choice and reach up to take the Hand that's been extended to me--and walk, one step at a time, into whatever He leads me to.
God loves me, but He's not interested in my way. And I'm pretty sure that my way leads to destruction anyway. His way, the only way, leads to life. I might have to lose my life in order to find it in Him, I might have to lose the world in order to gain my soul. It's not a bad trade off, in theory, though it hurts like crazy in practice.
But at the end of the day, all I can do is be thankful that God wants my ruined life for His glory. All I can do is be in awe and wonder of a God who can take someone as selfish and simple as me and give me a purpose beyond anything I could ask or imagine. All I can do is worship the God whose grace is so complete that it not only provides a way out of the monotony of working on things that I think will bring me glory, but allows me to come alongside God in the work that He is doing to bring Himself glory. All I can do is be amazed that the Creator of the universe loves and wants me. It's unbelievable.
Yet I am not able to not believe it.
I've never been not able to believe it.
And the One who reached His hand to me in my childhood--He's still holding on.
That's where my true, my only Hope rests. My ruined life? It belongs to the One who has redeemed it.
That's my testimony.