I’ve often thought of my brain like a computer, just randomly deciding what information it needs to keep and what information it knows is not important and dumping it into the “memory trash can.” I used to think it was random, but some memories I’m now convinced are marked to keep by my creator, God. As He’s been bringing things to the surface and healing area after area of my life, I’m beginning to recall the early days of my relationship with my Father, God.
“Restore to Me the Joy of My Salvation”
Mine is a testimony like so many where out of the blue, God through his Holy Spirit, touched my heart in an evening church service that I had been invited to as a guest of a friend. Upon accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and savior at the age of 18, I threw myself into the church and the youth group and was overjoyed to find a place where I was unconditionally loved and accepted. I was there pretty much every time the door opened, reading my Bible eagerly and worshiping my Father God joyfully – so how did I, as a believer, end up going from a place of such utter joy and freedom to a place where I was walking in fear and defeat?
A memory resurfaces from the place within my brain where my heavenly father so lovingly placed it for safe keeping. The memory is so vivid and clear that it’s hard to believe it happened twenty-six years ago, so early in my walk with God. I’m standing in our little church worshiping God and I feel His invitation. It’s hard to explain, but I hear his question from within my soul:
Will you follow me wherever I may take you, no matter the cost? Will you go all in?
Fear begins to rise up in me. Thoughts begin to come fast and furious. What might I be giving up? I’m standing next to my boyfriend (who is now my husband) and all I can think is, I love this guy so much. Is God going to take him away from me? Thoughts of having to travel to some foreign mission field and leave everything I love and care about behind start flooding my mind. I’m afraid of the sacrifices I would make, afraid of what I would give up, not realizing that the things I would hold onto for security above my Father God would one day all fail me. Even I, myself, would fail me.
As I stood there in that church, appearing calm and composed on the outside, there was a battle being waged within me. I didn’t recognize it as such then, but I understand what was happening now. I was battling the fear of the unknown; and as I’m looking back with 20/20 vision I can see that I had not placed my trust in God. I was putting more faith and trust in myself and the security of that relationship with my boyfriend. I was afraid of the price I would pay, and so I backed away. I said “no.” I didn’t know it in that moment, but I was choosing fear over freedom.
I was still standing in that church physically, but my spirit man was booking it. I ran, and as I ran I tossed excuses and justifications out over my shoulder all while trying to appease my conscience and drown out the grief I was feeling from the Holy Spirit. I can see that as I ran, I ran from the arms of relationship into the prison of religion, no longer in intimate daily fellowship but on a quest to do things “right.” In this process I was taken over from from light into night.
Fear became my prison. So began a pattern of ignoring conviction, leading to an ever increasing spiritual blindness and deafness. I tried to have it both ways, even pushing down that defining moment. To appease my conscience, I tried to follow the rules…be a good Christian, but I was in the driver seat of my life, making all of my decisions, occasionally praying if I reached the end of myself. The scary thing about this is that I didn’t see how I wasn’t truly walking in freedom. I felt pretty good about myself. I loved God. I understood I needed to follow Him and obey his commandments, but I wasn’t walking in true fellowship with Him.
I’ve come to see that I trusted myself more than I trusted God, and it took many years of me striving in my flesh, bound by the law, before I could finally get to the end of myself and quit trying to walk the fence and fully surrender. All of my fears were just a tool of the enemy to deceive me from coming all the way over to my heavenly Father. I can now see that He is a good father. He desires to give His children good gifts just like my husband and I desire to do that for our earthly children. His desire was never to strip His good gifts away from me. I truly know that God brought my husband (then boyfriend) Robert and I together, but what He wanted was for Robert to have his proper place in my heart. Like Abraham, God just wanted me to be willing to make the sacrifice.
I don’t know what would be different about my life had I said yes in that moment and allowed myself to truly, fully surrender to God. I’m sure a lot of torment and defeat would have been avoided for sure, and I would wager a guess that I could have had many more years of the intimate fellowship with my King that I now experience on a daily basis. I praise God that He is a God of second chances or however many chances we may need. I praise God that, in His mercy, He was teaching me even though I couldn’t fully see a lot of His lessons until this stage in my life.
My story on some levels makes me think of Paul. I’ve always admired him so much, but for years was blinded to the parallels between myself and Paul. Like Paul, through the years I have studied scripture for hours determined to follow the law. Like Paul, the scriptures have only truly come alive for me after I have repented and surrendered. Now that I have experienced the prison of religion and have fully surrendered and truly know what His Grace really is, I can never go back. He has asked again, and this time I have said “yes,” no matter the cost!
Father God, you are calling….calling us back to you, and you give us a choice to trust you or refuse your invitation. Forgive us for the times we have refused your invitation; for the times, like Jonah, that we have tried to run from your call. We don’t know all the details when you call us, so help us to trust and know that your way is always better. Show us our sin Lord, and reveal where we have disobeyed. Thank you that you are the God of second chances.
Scriptures for Meditation
New International Version (NIV)
~ Jonah 1:3-4 –
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.
~ Jonah Chapter 2 –
2 1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said:
“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
4 I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
5 The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
7 “When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
~ Isaiah 43:1-3 –
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.
~ Isaiah 43:8 –
Lead out those who have eyes but are blind,
who have ears but are deaf.