We have thrilled to the stories of our sisters here this year haven’t we? What a variety of testimonies. Mine is not very exciting or dramatic but just as desperate a rescue.
There are those in every church group who don’t know the LORD and are just quietly going about their lives, filling their days with good things, all the while in the back of their minds looking for something . . . something . . . . They regularly participate at church–maybe they have for years. Maybe their lives look successful. Maybe they are happy. Maybe they seem pretty satisfied with life. I was one of those.
I was born into an air force family that eventually included 2 sisters. Daddy was a pilot and taught men to fly. My childhood was pretty carefree and very stable. I went outside in the morning to play and came back in for lunch and then back outside. Visits to my grandparents on both sides are warm memories with cousins, dress-up, walking to the store, playing in the fields and barns.
I followed the rules, was responsible, and was in church almost every Sunday of my life. Church was a cherished tradition for both sides of my family. When I was 8, my family moved to Alaska. I still remember the first time I went to chapel Sunday school on the base, feeling very alone and new. The song we sang that day was “This is My Father’s World.” The hymn was very familiar to me, and I remember how comforting it was to me in that unfamiliar place. Looking back now, I can appreciate how God took notice of a little girl in a plaid dress who was feeling lonely and far from home.
Early school years came and went–high school, friends, dances, band practice, clubs, clothes, learning to drive. Then came graduation and college far away from home. Mother and Daddy had moved to Virginia just outside of Washington DC while I was in college, and I was home for the summer. We went to a Roger Williams concert at Wolf Trap Farm. I can still picture the setting. For the finale, Williams played his pastor-father’s favorite hymn, “Abide With Me.” It was a heart-touching, soaring arrangement, and I had a welling up of emotion that embarrassed me. I didn’t understand it, and I hid it as best I could.I married and continued a safe, stable suburban life with an air force husband, two kids and the station wagon. Again, church was a huge part of our lives. (If I had spent any more time with church activities, my family wouldn’t have eaten nor had any clean clothes.) My husband and I both sang in the church choir, and there was this one anthem that we sang called “The First Song of Isaiah.” Every time we sang it, I loved it and yet dreaded it, as I again had an emotional reaction to it that embarrassed me. I hid my tears. What was going on?
Each time those things happened with hymns and songs, I pushed it away. I ignored God. I guess I liked my life the way it was. What was I worried about?
- I didn’t want others to make fun of me.
- I wasn’t ready to die.
- I didn’t want to be different than my church friends.
- This was the way we did church.
- I also didn’t want to go to Africa.
There was a divorce and a remarriage and the time between was short enough that I never felt very insecure or unstable. Bill and I met in 1989 and married in 1990, but I still kept God at arm’s length in favor of church activity. I never thought I would go to heaven because of my church work or my goodness . . . . Actually, I never thought about heaven at all.
But . . . while I was avoiding God, He was pursuing me through my son Matt’s prayers and the prayers of several people here at Lincoln Berean. Matt had begun inviting us here to Sunday College Hour but we always told him, “We have our own church.” Matt prevailed and one Sunday in 1993 we came. We heard Dan Lehman teach the truth about Jesus and having a personal relationship with him.
It was like a cold drink of water in the desert. We wanted more. It changed our lives dramatically.
As I processed through my story in the questions and the 3 exercises in the Scandalous Women class last semester, it hit me that this was completely a God thing. It was an answer to Matt’s prayers. We hadn’t been searching at all. I can’t remember a time when Bill or I said, “We need more of God.” We hadn’t hit rock bottom at all. We were very happy. We had the usual questions about the meaning of life, of course. All I can think is that God moved in both our hearts through Matt’s prayers and the prayers of others. All of a sudden what we needed became crystal clear to us–both of us–on the very same Sunday morning. Matt never gave us a verse. He never gave us a tract. He loved us where we were and prayed. He was a respectful, considerate son–very winsome.
I remember when Bill and I were dating and listening to classic love songs, every old familiar song seemed new to me. It was very, very romantic. Every song seemed written just for me–for us. It was just like in the movies! What a love affair it was. And still is!
And when I fell in love with Jesus, every hymn I knew by heart became new and alive for me and filled with meaning. As we sang them in worship Sunday after Sunday, every hymn seemed written just for me. All of a sudden, I understood what all the words meant. They thrill me still.
Now, I see that God had been pursuing me all along. He had always loved me. He loved me before I loved Him. He cared for me before I cared for Him. In fact He sent His own Son to die just for me. There is a word in the book of Titus describing what happened when God sent Jesus to earth. God “manifested” Jesus to the world. The word manifest means “to reveal” and it includes the picture of God watching for the world’s response to Jesus–even my response and your response.
I don’t tell you what a good girl I was to brag, but to say that to others it looked like I had it made. It looked like I was faithful woman who was this close to Jesus. But this close is never good enough. Close only counts in horseshoes. This close is actually this far when close is all there is.
And the teacher in me wants to ask you, “Where are you today? Have you felt God touching your heart over the years or maybe just lately? And what was your response? He is watching and waiting for your response–your heartfelt, ‘Yes’!”
What about all those things I was worried about?
- My life is better than I could have imagined.
- I see now that it is better for Him to be in control of my life.
- I am very grateful to be different.
- God has taken away my fear of dying by teaching me about heaven.
- And now, He’s brought Africa to me. [Sara has a new grandson from Uganda.]
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’” Jeremiah 31:3
That word “lovingkindness” is the Hebrew word, “hesed,” which comes from God’s nature. He loved us before we loved Him. He cared for us before we cared for Him. He knew us before we knew Him. He drew us before we came to Him.
To know that His love for us depends on Him and not on us is the beginning of the way out of our busy, meaningless lives and religious activity.
Listen to this quote from The Power of the Blood Covenant by Malcolm Smith (pages 62 and 64):
“You and I are loved because we are alive and breathing – as if we are the only humans in existence and without reference to our behavior. We are loved by God not because of who we are or what we have or have not done, but because of Who He is.
God was there at the delivery to welcome each one of us into the world. It is His love for us that draws us to Him even in the years when we do not recognize His voice. He puts the questions in our hearts concerning the emptiness of our existence; He creates the longings for a love we could not find on earth. He put within us the discontentment with our search for happiness and stirred up the longings for endless joy. He inspired all our yearnings after Him.”
Our response to this kind of love is personal to each of us and the most important decision we will ever make. I do shudder at the number of years that I spent presuming on the great patience of God toward me. And I rejoice at my rescue!!