Abi's Testimony - "God sought me out when I least expected it, and certainly when I least deserved it"
I don't remember there ever being a time when I didn't think about God. Sadly I cannot say I have always loved him or worshipped Him, but there was never a time in my consciousness “before God”. My parents were both keen Christians - my mother came from a Christian home herself and had put her trust in Jesus as a child. My Father was not from a Christian background but a friend's faith in his teens had so impacted him that he began to search things out for himself. His friend invited him on a Christian sports camp, but plans went a bit pear-shaped when he suffered an injury. He had unexpected time on his hands to consider the bible teaching about Jesus, whilst other boys were off training and competing. The investigation changed his life!
Growing up in a home with believing parents meant I was surrounded by gospel truth - in the conversations we had, the music we listened to, through family bible teaching and prayer, in church life, but also just through observing two people doing life with God at the centre. Their witness had a profound impact on me and still does to this day.
At the age of 3, I was at my Grandparent's church and there was a children's talk. What a novelty! We rarely had such things at the very conservative and sombre church I grew up in ! It was Easter day - resurrection day. The elderly pastor warmly encouraged us children to receive the best gift of all - better than chocolate eggs - the gift of sins forgiven, a renewed heart to love the Lord Jesus and hope of new life which would be eternal and unshakable. It sounded wonderful. With his words ringing in my ears I was whisked off to Sunday school mid-service, where a film depicting some of the events of the Easter story was played for us. I whispered in the dark of the room to God to forgive my sins and found myself shedding tears of thankfulness knowing the cross was something I had contributed to. I knew He had heard my confession and felt such joy that day as we drove away from church in the dazzling sunshine of spring knowing I was His accepted child.
I had an outgoing temperament. I really liked to be liked, and accepted by my peers, so throughout my childhood I often found myself conflicted, caught between behaving in a way others would enjoy and I would get popularity points for, versus doing the right thing. I took to the role of class clown and would get into trouble at school although I would generally talk myself out of things before they escalated too far, and my parents were largely none the wiser. I developed a bad habit of lying and covering my tracks.
As a teenager, things got tougher still. There was now a huge gap between what I claimed to believe and my behaviour at school and amongst my friendship groups. I had never been in the habit of reading the bible and praying for myself - I just piggy backed on my parents faith. I grew disillusioned and unsure whether my faith was real at all. Or whether any of it was real. After all, I had been so little when I had encountered God, maybe I imagined it. By the age of 16 I had pretty much determined to turn my back on Christ, at least until He had proved himself to me (oh the arrogance!), but I didn't want to hurt my parents so continued attending church for their sake. I was even baptised. I knew enough of the gospel to convince everyone of my desire to follow Christ. But the day to day cost of following the Jesus who I sung about every Sunday just felt too high. I wanted it all. The popularity and kudos at both church and at school. The perks of the gospel but the perceived freedom and fun of a lifestyle without boundaries. God was gracious to me. He sought me out when I least expected it, and certainly least deserved it. I came to my senses early one morning, having made a string of bad choices the night before. On previous similar mornings I had felt proud of the little kingdom I was building in which I was god and I could do as I pleased. But this morning was different. I felt ashamed and I felt totally lost. A godly Christian friend from school "happened" to call in on me that morning and I read the parable of the prodigal son with her. (Luke 15) We prayed together and I cried as I felt once more the loving embrace of a forgiving father who welcomed me back into relationship with him. I had had my "pigsty" moment, and having followed the course of hedonism to its end, had an ugly realisation that it didn't deliver on its promises. I asked God to forgive me, to come into my life and make me new - to truly make me a "new creation" from the inside out, not just to have the appearance of Christianity to those I respected like my parents, dear church members and my youth leaders. The change was radical and powerful. I remember most, the joy and my insatiable appetite for scripture. I couldn't put my bible down ! I copied precious verses out and put them all over my bedroom. I turned up the praise music, and I chased after godliness with the same passion I had chased after popularity and human acceptance. Of course, I was still prone to wander back to my old ways of life, but I knew I had the Holy Spirit within me to fight my battles and make me whole, and the promise of Jesus that "if I confessed my sin, he was faithful and just to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness". (1 John)
Next came A-levels, then university and all the while the Lord was lovingly teaching me. I grew in my understanding of grace, and also of serving others and using every part of my life and giftings for Jesus and His kingdom. I discovered I really loved sharing the gospel and telling people of Christ's love! I discovered the power of prayer!
Sadly, in my twenties, not long married, and in a job I loved and became totally addicted to, I discovered that the "old me" hadn't quite died off. I wanted to fit into my working environment. I wanted the safety net of God's forgiveness... but I resented the call to godliness and purity. I believed the lies of the world again - that I could have it all. I grew very dry spiritually, not helped by working long hours and having very few close Christian friends living near me to speak sense and truth into my life. I listened to lies, but I also found myself speaking lies. Lies in church when people asked how I was doing. Lies at work when people asked me what I have done at the weekend. I found myself back in my "double life" of being a Sunday Christian and I didn't know how I would shake it.
But once again, God had not let me go.
After a turbulent couple of "wasteland" years, I encountered His grace on a packed out underground carriage. I had long ago deleted all christian music from my ipod (I didn't want my conscience pricked thank you very much) but the Holy Spirit used the words of a secular artist to speak sense to my deadened soul. I was on my way to a drinks evening with colleagues and the light went on - I knew I had to return home. Literally ! And spiritually. I got off the tube at the next stop, weeping (poor commuters didn't know what to do with so much unBritish emotion!), and got the escalator going the opposite way. Going home. I sat on my train and a man opposite me was reading the bible. I asked him - almost begged him- to let me read it. It was the first time I had picked up a bible for myself in months. I can't remember what I read. But it felt like I was eating a meal having been starved. Later that evening a friend read with me in Hebrews 12 these words: "let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
I came to an end of myself. This time it wasn't just the realisation that I was a sinner. It was the realisation that I was a serial sinner - and a serial liar who hadn't truly faced up to the depths of my capacity to sin ! I needed to understand that "sin so easily entangles" and that my only hope was to fix my eyes on Jesus. Not just once, but every day. Since that time of wandering, I am so grateful to say God has sustained me and kept me. I have encountered God in miraculous new ways. I would love to tell you more. I have experienced times of great closeness to God, but also days of weakness and coldness towards Him. The difference is, that I have learnt how to detect my wandering much earlier, and put patterns and habits in place to help me keep running the race of faith. If we think we can run in our own strength, we are doomed before we've even begun! We need grace and forgiveness every day, to keep short accounts with God and not allow weeks and months to go by without calling upon Him. My story is one of MY faithlessness but one of HIS great faithfulness and mercy. I love my Lord Jesus so much for all He has done for me and cannot wait to see Him face to face one day. The old hymn summarises it well:
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
And to rescue me from danger
Gave for me His precious blood
Oh, that day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely face
Clothed then in the blood washed linen
How I'll sing Thy wondrous grace
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry
Take my ransomed soul away
Send Thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above.