My journey from cynicism to faith
I begin my story in a closed wooden doorway. It was the entrance to a tiny hilltop monastery in Italy. I had been working as the sole representative for a small British tourist company and was based in an isolated northern region for some months.
I had been growing weary of the work. This consisted of meeting, greeting and briefing my clients arriving from the UK for walking and cycling holidays, and then dropping them back off at the station ten days later, before picking up new guests again in the evening.
Every two days I did this, and between times maintained bikes, moved bags and booked hotels. There were no days off for reps, but that afternoon I made time to explore an alternative tourist attraction, a hilltop hermitage with panoramic views.
But the door was closed and no one was answering the bell. I read the inscription in white marble beside the door: ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul’ (Mark 8:36).
I was at the heart of a dream that so many of our guests were living and saving for all year round – an expensive holiday, Mediterranean climate, Italian food and wine, charming hotels, beautiful, peaceful scenery, fine art and culture.
I ate and drank the homemade food and local wine in the family restaurant for free. I lived in a brand new apartment. I drove a fine vehicle, and the company paid all my expenses – and then put wages into my bank.
Life was supposed to be good; life couldn’t get much better. Yet the words of the Scripture on the marble plaque illuminated the experience in my heart – emptiness, a barren sense of futility from which I had fled before.
I was not able to successfully suppress it. In the attempt to do so, I stumbled into many foolish and senseless ways. On one occasion I cried out to God in my misery.
Perhaps you will have heard the expression ‘Vanity of vanities … all is vanity’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2). I knew then these words to be true. All my experiences were passing and nothing satisfied.
What is your answer to this question: ‘What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?’ (Ecclesiastes 1:3)?
Wales and TV
A few months later, I was visiting a friend in rural Wales. I kept myself busy refurbishing part of his house. My friend disappeared for a couple of days to visit his girlfriend. I put the TV on to keep myself company while I worked and explored the new satellite box he had acquired.
Beyond the varieties of shopping channels, I found three stations of the ‘God Channel’. I assumed there would be as much fast selling here as on the other commercial stations. Nevertheless, I was attracted to listen, especially to one preacher who came on late at night. The next day I looked forward to hearing him again, but with some trepidation as well as anticipation.
The preacher spoke with much passion. He painted a dark and dreadful picture of Jesus standing trial before Pilate prior to the crucifixion. It was a dark scene because, as anyone who has heard of Jesus knows, he was condemned to a most horrible death in this trial.
The scene was dreadful because Pilate’s questioning revealed Jesus not only to be innocent of any crime, but also to be King of another world.
Pilate’s questions rose in a spiral pointing to only one conclusion: ‘Am I a Jew? … What hast thou done? … Art thou a king then? …What is truth? … I find in him no fault at all’ (John 18:35-38).
Who is Jesus?
The preacher pressed the questions, which Pilate had asked of Jesus, on us who were listening.
‘Who do you say Jesus is? Is Jesus a criminal? Is he a liar? Is he guilty? Then, if none of these, who is he? Who?
‘Have you gone through life up till now without asking these pointed questions Pilate asked? Ask now! Who is Jesus? Who does he claim to be? What is your verdict on Jesus at his trial? What judgement have you passed on Jesus?’
Called by the preacher to accept Jesus’ title and right as Lord and King of heaven and earth – and not only Lord and King, but Saviour who bore the sin of guilty ones in their stead and gave his life on the cross for them – I came to Christ, confessing my sin and proud unbelief. I was humbled before him.
I knew that night that I would be judged a fool by any worldly observer; kneeling and weeping before a TV screen, listening to the words of an American evangelist – ‘You must have lost your mind!’
The next day, while I continued to work, I left the channel on, listening for the Scriptures read out and worship sung to the Lord. Later, my friend returned. On entering his house he heard the TV, then looked at me and said, ‘You can turn that off, or get out!’
A lurch within me confirmed that my spiritual encounter was no ethereal matter. Jesus was not welcome in this house! The following day, with TV off, I found a Bible my friend was given as a boy.
From it, while finishing the refurbishment work, I rehearsed Psalm 23: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’, till I had it by heart. The next day I went on my way with no Bible and no TV, but with the knowledge of the Lord in my heart and his Word on my lips.
That was in 2001. Since then, by his power the Lord has kept me believing in him and has provided for my every need.
Often I have failed him yet he has never failed me. Will you follow him?
This first appeared in the Free Church Witness