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‘Gentle but persistent’ – pursued by God

December 2021 | by Mr Benjamin Saunders

My childhood was, in many respects, fairly typical for a poor, working-class family: my father worked multiple jobs for us to get by; my mother took my siblings and me to school and looked after the home; and life was plain.

Despite all that might be expected to follow my formative years in a gritty, post-industrial town, I actually grew up to be quiet, gentle, and reserved. My earliest memories are ones of being in the corner or on the outside of a group. I was not confident, and I never wanted the attention of being the person at the front.

Although a shy and nervous boy, lacking confidence in anything public, I was always confident in my own abilities. My confidence above all rested in my intelligence: I was certain to have an excuse for every wrong; an answer to every question; and the final word in any discussion.

Even though I disliked being centre stage, I would dominate a debate or argument and, more often than not, do everything I could to showcase my understanding of the topic and to make everyone else involved look as stupid as possible.

Paradoxically, from a very young age I remember feeling that I had something important to give to the world and would go out of my way to try to find it and share it. I wrote and performed music, did public speaking, and involved myself in politics all while feeling uncomfortable with anything public.

To most people who knew me I would appear to be wholly confident in myself even when I didn’t have the skills to warrant such confidence. But in private I loathed myself: replaying the failures of my life many times over and in despair at having to live with these memories for many years to come.

I sought to overcome these feelings of inadequacy by indulging any desire that I might have and I put my intelligence to good use in that respect. I was selfish, dishonest, and manipulative. If there was any way to get what wanted, I was resolute in finding it.

In my late teens I became more and more depressed and isolated myself from almost everyone. I sought only to try and satiate whatever lust would present itself. At this time I had started reading some anti-Christian books and had easily thrown off the loose shackles that my light Christian upbringing had placed upon my life.

This journey further away from any influence of God intensified when I studied at university and discovered philosophy. I was so taken up by the power, self-indulgence, and pride that philosophers like Nietzsche and Deleuze offered that I really thought I was going to understand the whole world. I would finally have the gift for the world I had sought after.

Within months of finishing my degree I suddenly had a desire to read the Bible. I didn’t want it, and did my best to push it away, but it was persistent – gentle, but persistent. It continued, and eventually I succumbed, getting a Bible and opening it randomly in the New Testament.

It had opened at Matthew 5, and once I had read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount I suddenly knew that these were the real words of a real man. He was not some figure made up to manipulate people; his were not a jumble of teachings from many sources arbitrarily attributed to one name. No – he was a real person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Even though this was significant and God was leading me to salvation, at this point almost nothing in my life changed. I was still proud and covetous and had simply changed my philosophy from Nihilism to Christianism.

From this point, however, God started to bless me in great abundance. He began to stir the hearts of my parents and, most importantly, the heart of my wife. Through my new-found interest she became interested, and the Holy Spirit worked in her over the next few years. Her desire to know God increased, and she was converted shortly after.

After that, a noticeable difference arose: my wife’s desire to go to church and meet Christians was strong, whereas I, satisfied in my philosophy, felt differently. I went along to church not unwillingly, but with the wrong heart and as the critic, rather than the submissive sheep going to be fed.

After one Sunday morning service, I told my wife how little I enjoyed going to church and she responded, ‘If you don’t like it, pray and ask God to make you like it!’

The sharp point of her remark pierced deeply and on our way home real repentance started to take hold of me: I knew something was wrong with me. This wasn’t the remorse I had known in the past, the shame and embarrassment of my failures. Rather, I had sinned against God and I knew what that meant for me.

That afternoon I asked God to change me and he answered powerfully: rather than one service every few weeks, we attended every Sunday. I also began to go to the prayer meetings and wanted to pray, though I was too scared. The revival prayer meeting was a highlight of the month, and I immediately noticed a change related to the church: suddenly they were my people and I was theirs.

Within weeks, I felt a burden to preach. I tried my best to suppress it not only because the idea of preaching was terrifying, but because I felt unworthy and utterly incapable of doing it. But the urge continued to grow and became overwhelming and unceasing.

The message I had sought to find within myself was now there: not my own, but God’s good news of Jesus Christ. I knew something of the apostle Paul’s compulsion: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the good news’!

God has taken my family through severe illness and hard times, helping us, protecting us, and training us for a lifetime’s worth of service. After completing studies at London Seminary in June this year, we were able to survey the strength and grace that God had given us.

He had truly enabled us to do what had seemed almost impossible just two years before. God proved, and continues to prove, that since he has given us his only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, he will freely give us all things.