September 9, 2011

What was it Like?


Do you remember when you became a Christian? Can you tell in a single sentence what it was like? It seemed a simple enough question to pose to a congregation of believers. But when individuals were pointed out to give an answer, my mind went scrambling for words. What was it like?

I’ve always considered my ‘testimony’ to be a rather boring thing, lacking the before’s and after’s of more dramatic accounts of meeting Jesus. In fact, my memory serves me so sketchily that I have few particulars of the occasion. Perhaps that’s why I am an inveterate journal keeper. I have boxes of assorted journals, mostly informal spiral bound versions, but way back in the beginning, there was a little black “One-Year Diary” with a little latch and a key. That was the first one. I guess I was about 10 then. And that’s the one I cannot find today. It’s the one I hoped would say what it was like when I prayed to ask Jesus into my heart. I know where it’s supposed to be. Its green twin from 1974 used to lie with it. But now just the green one is at hand. It talks of puppies and riding bikes, of picking strawberries and going to Girl Scouts…And laced throughout are mentions of reading my Bible…when I got up, when I was afraid after watching a movie, and when I was trying to ‘catch up’ with my OneYearReadThru plan… I was twelve then, growing up in a sheltered Christian community, Christian school, close-knit church, Christian parents and grandparents and cousins, aunts and uncles…What was it like in this context to ‘become a Christian’? I feel as though I’ve been one all my life.

But there was an evening at the altar one balmy summer’s night… It was ‘Campmeeting’ week. Nightly services for the faithful. Lots of hymn singing. Exuberant marching around the pews sometimes-- exulting in prospects like ‘Beulah Land’ and ‘marching on to glory with the faithful few’. Energetic preaching and always an altar call. Those were the days of real ‘altars’, well, long wooden backless benches up front where people knelt in rows to pray aloud after the service. And that’s where I ended up one such night with my two childhood friends, twins I’d known since Kindergarten. An old saint of a lady named Mrs. Wolfram knelt beside me and asked me if I’d ever asked Jesus to be my Saviour? I don’t remember just what she said, only the sense that Jesus had died for me personally and I could personally acknowledge this and he would be my Saviour.

Now I look back and wonder what I really acknowledged that night. Did I understand all the implications of depravity and repentance, of humility and grace? I doubt it. I was good little Lindy, the quiet pupil with straight A’s and little to add to the report card but “Linda needs to speak up in class.” I was a pleaser belonging to a community that excelled in measuring goodness by conformity to certain standards. Praying at the altar was the right thing to do. Asking Jesus into my heart was the obvious thing required of me in this setting. And that night I was ‘saved’ along with my friends who said their prayers somewhere along that bench. What was it like? Was I filled with rapturous wonder? Was I ecstatic? Was I transformed from that moment on? Thinking back I only remember being happy. My outgoing friends were more demonstratively so. We celebrated by running outside in the summer darkness to share our joy.

I woke up this morning with an old Sunday School song in my heart: “Happiness is…”  Do you know it?   It goes like this:

[Press CTRL and click to listen] [or, for the happy wordless version listen here.]

Happiness is to know the Savior,
Living a life within His favor,
Having a change in my behavior,
Happiness is the Lord.

Happiness is a new creation,
Jesus and me in close relation,
Having a part in His salvation,
Happiness is the Lord.

Happiness is to be forgiven,
Living a life that's worth the livin',
Taking a trip that leads to Heaven,
Happiness is the Lord.

Real joy is mine,
No matter if the teardrops start,
I've found the secret,
It's Jesus in my heart.

And that makes a pretty good summary of my own testimony. A simple one, more of a continuation in the path I’d been born into really. Not remarkable in most respects and yet… When I consider this God who humbly accepts such a child’s prayer, when she in all likelihood doesn’t comprehend His glory or her need... Who chooses her to have a heritage of believers preceding her and surrounding her…Who preserves her from being tempted or drawn into a world of sins she never samples…Who bears with her in her prideful self-righteousness, her silly legalisms, her deficient capacity to love well…When I consider this God inviting me to know Him and waiting as I grow into what that means… I see a remarkable story in the simplest of testimonies.

Later I would question my salvation when I compared my ho-hum existence to the enthusiastic inner joy and unconcealable delight my best friend found when she asked Jesus into her heart one night at Youth Group. What did she see that I’d missed? Every morning she’d bring to school a little snippet of paper with a verse on it that thrilled her, in hopes that we could exchange verses. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I prayed privately just case I’d missed something the first time around welcoming Jesus to re-ignite the joy of my salvation and was soon just as ‘fired up’ about the Word as she was. I look back now and see her friendship as His mercy, drawing me back to my first love

There were other strategic moments, quiet transactions with this God who was for me a wonderful shepherd. He met me in my insecure shyness and brought me gently along, to trust Him, to commit my days to Him as His bondservant, to do things I can only look back at now in wonder at what this quiet least-likely-to-leave-home girl would do with such abandon. Who’d ever heard of Alberta, Canada? How did I end up there for my last year of highschool, leaving the classmates I’d spent over a decade with, leaving family and beloved woods and sheltering church community…confidently following my Shepherd? This too is my testimony.

It’s a quiet one of circumstances woven to shape my life despite my inherent foibles. Of the Spirit bearing witness with my spirit that I am His child. And always, of this Shepherd drawing me to know how much He loves and forming in me a heart to love Him more. I haven’t had dramatic experiences, terrific revelations, or awesome visions. His Spirit moves quietly and unseen. I see my testimony in Peter’s words:

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” I Pet.1:8,9

And my mind scrambling to compose a succinct testimony to describe ‘What was it like’  is calmed and settled. This joy of being personally related to the One who knows me most and loves me best is inexpressiblenot meant to be circumscribed entirely with words and passed around like the latest news. It is not the ‘feeling’ of the moment that counts, but the long getting to know my first and best True Love. As the service ended that day, this song played and sang for me my heart’s own song:

“First Love”

[I highly commend it to you for a listen. May your heart sing along.]

Although I am changing You’re unchangeable oh God

You will be my first love, be my first love

And for all the changes that You lead me through oh God

You will be my first love, be my first love

Every morning when the sun comes up

And every evening when the day is done

You will be my first love, be my first love

Even when You fill my heart’s desires

Even when You are consuming fire

You will be my first love, be my first love

Although I am shaken, You’re unshakable, oh God

You will be my first love, be my first love

So let my idols crumble You’re unshakable oh God

You will be my first love, be my first love

May every day and every way I live bring glory to You Lord. (x3)

Be my first love. –Jeremy Horn

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“Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears  we shall be like him, because we shall see him as He is.” (I Jn. 3:2)

May every day and every way I live bring glory to You Lord,

--LS

2 comments:

Heather said...

I really enjoyed reading this!

Linda said...

I'm glad. Seems so long ago and far away...but He who began the good work continues!