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Peace at last

December 1998 | by Ivy Hirst

Until I reached fifty-seven, my visits to church had been few and far between. I always said I believed in God and thought I was a Christian, trying to lead a good life, but in fact I never really had time for God – I was always too busy. My life was wrapped up in my family and the material things of life. I did try to read the Bible, but found it boring and hard to understand, so I didn’t bother anymore.

Five years ago I was invited to a coffee morning at Pontefract Evangelical Church. This was the start of a week of special services. I was nervous about going in, for all my life I had found it very difficult to mix with people. Making conversation was, for me, almost impossible. However, I forgot all that as I listened to the sermon. I had never heard preaching like it – it was almost as if the service was aimed at me. I came away that morning feeling full of guilt, as I began to realise that I knew little about the God I said I believed in.

Panic feelings

I couldn’t keep away. I was eager to know more, but each visit brought a terrible feeling of panic inside me. I was terrified that the Minister would come and speak to me. What would I say? So when the service ended, sad to say, I couldn’t get out quick enough. But even this fear couldn’t keep me away. The Christian message spoke of the joy of knowing sins forgiven and peace that comes within. I wanted to know that joy and peace.

When the special meetings finished, I continued to go to church each Sunday morning and slowly the Bible began to make sense and come alive to me. I felt the Lord was speaking to me through its pages. I knew I was a sinner and there was a longing inside me to be forgiven and feel right with God. I confessed my sins in prayer and I asked the Lord to forgive me. But in the months that followed I began to despair. Where was the joy and peace I wanted?

Seeking and finding

I started doubting. Still I continued to go to church. Oh, why did I feel such a struggle within me? I didn’t understand why I still felt so lost. I had my family all around me, yet never had I felt so alone or my life so empty. In tears I cried out to the Lord, ‘Please help me, I don’t understand why I feel so far from you’.

As time went by I foolishly tried to cope with these feelings of confusion and doubt on my own. However, at a Tuesday morning service taken by the Minister, Bill Dyer, I found that I could hide my anxiety no longer. Bill, full of concern, asked if he could help. I explained how I felt and he gave me a book to read called Seeking and Finding. From the very first page the Lord reached out to me, for the heading read: ‘You shall seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart’ (Jeremiah 29:13).

I realised the cause of the struggle was myself. I was a half-hearted seeker blowing hot and cold in my endeavours to find the Lord, sometimes going days without seeking at all. I’d been eager to find forgiveness, but not so eager to find the One who gives forgiveness. I was filled with shame at the shallow way I was seeking to ask the Lord into my life. I felt so unworthy of his forgiveness and love.

But I knew the Lord loved me, with a love so great that he had died for me and, unworthy as I was, his loving arms were being held out to me. In the quiet of my home, I prayed to the Lord, ‘Have mercy on me, forgive me, come into my heart and into my life’. A quiet calm came over me.

The Lord in control

Now the Lord is in control of my life every day and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My great desire in life is to serve him and my prayer will ever be, ‘Thank you Lord for loving me, with a love so great you died for me’.

I’ll never be a great conversationalist, but talking to people has become easier and the fear of trying to mix and make friends has gone away. I’ve made so many friends in the church; it is like belonging to a family, which grows bigger every year because there is a welcome there for anyone. But most of all God has given me a desire to reach out to others with his message of love.