Brought up in a Christian family, I believed in God and Jesus, heaven and hell. But there is a big difference between believing in Jesus and trusting in him.
My upbringing kept me from much wrongdoing but by my late teens I was no stranger to lying and drunkenness. When I left home at 18 to go to university I decided to stop going to church – but found myself still attending. If asked, I always said I was a Christian, because I was a ‘good’ person and went to church. What’s more, I prayed for God’s help before every exam and kept passing!
At this time I started living with a girlfriend. I knew it wasn’t right and that God’s Word spoke against it, but I ignored my conscience and tried to rationalise it – it was OK because we were ‘in love’. But cracks appeared and I started having problems with both the relationship and myself. I remember praying, ‘Lord, help me’ – but what I meant was ‘Please fix things the way I want them’.
God answered my prayers in an unexpected way. Within the space of a week, all I was building my life upon began to crumble – both in terms of relationship and career. What should I do? I went back home!
On the train home I sat next to a woman reading a Christian book. I told her I was a Christian and was having a bad week and asked if she would pray with me. She did and gave me a book on prayer.
I read it without really understanding it, but asked my Dad if he had any books on prayer. He gave me one by Thomas Watson on the Lord’s Prayer – written in the 1600s!
I started to read this book, which went through the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer and explained them. For example: ‘Our Father…’ How is God our Father? If he made us but we turn away from him, how can he receive us as children?
Answer: he sent his only Son to save us by taking the punishment due to us for our wrong so that we can enter a Father-child relationship with him. Again; ‘…in heaven’. What is heaven like? How can we get there? Answer: only through faith in Jesus Christ.
A new heart and a new life
As I read, and over the next few months, God opened my eyes to these great truths and what Jesus had done for rebels by dying in their place on the cross. Although I cannot pinpoint a moment of conversion, as I looked back I could see that God was changing me.
But I wanted to have my cake and eat it. I wanted to have this new Christian life but keep the pleasures of my former life. I went back to my old ways. But things were different – what I had lived for previously no longer satisfied me, plus my conscience was stirred.
During this period, I would wake at night – afraid that I might die in my sleep and have to stand before God while living contrary to him. Or even worse, that God would simply leave me to myself and my sins.
I am ashamed to say it took me a long time to learn that I was not a good person, but was guilty before a holy God of rebelling against him and his ways – of breaking his law and living in God’s world as if God had no say in how I ran my life.
But in his great mercy, he enabled me to turn from my sin and trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for sinners – receiving forgiveness for all my wrongdoing, together with a new heart and a new life.