I was sixteen when I understood who Jesus was. If you’d asked me before then, I would have said I was a Christian. I was baptized as an infant. I’d been through a confirmation class and joined the church when I was in the fourth grade. As far as I knew, that was the total package. But then a strange thing happened in ninth grade. I grew dissatisfied. Not with anything in particular, but with everything in general. I didn’t know who I was or where I fit in or who I even wanted to be. People tended to annoy me -- especially churchy people -- and I became a rather jaded, sarcastic soul.
Then an even stranger thing happened when I started tenth grade. I noticed something different about some of my classmates. They seemed . . . I didn’t even know what to call it. Happy? No, not so much happy as . . . what was it? Satisfied? That was the best word I could come up with. It was like they had some sort of inner light source and they walked around with a glow. Or maybe it was more the absence of something. I didn’t sense in them the gnawing emptiness I felt in myself. But I had no idea why. So I did the only reasonable thing. I started hanging out more with those friends in hopes whatever it was would rub off.
The glowy friends (there really was a light about them) spent a lot of time at church-related events. No biggie, I thought. I’m a Christian. Baptized. Confirmed. All that. I jumped right in, going to their meetings, participating in their clubs. And that’s where it happened. I went to a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting and heard a man speak about Jesus. I can’t tell you anything he said except for one sentence. “If you want to be a Christian, you have to make Jesus Lord of your life.”
Have you ever been in a situation where suddenly everyone around you disappears, and the world moves in slow motion, and you are left severely alone with yourself? Or at least, you think you’re alone with yourself, but Someone else is there, too. That’s what happened to me then. “Jesus isn’t Lord of my life,” I told myself. “I am. So, I guess that means I’m not a Christian. And, if I’m not a Christian, I guess that means I’m going to hell.”
You’d think that realization (because I really did believe it) would have been enough to send me running into Jesus’ arms, but it wasn’t. Making Jesus Lord was serious business. If I agreed to that arrangement, then I’d be giving up all rights to my life. Anything He asked me to do, I would have to do. Anything He asked me to give up, I would have to give up. The possibilities paraded before my imagination. There was the standard missionary-to-Africa thing on the “have to do” side, and then there were friends and hobbies on the “have to give up” side. I honestly wasn’t sure which I preferred -- holding the reins to my life now with hell to come, or giving up the reins to Jesus and living what might be a boring or hardship-filled life with heaven as my reward.
As I weighed these options, a question formed in my mind. “Who made you?”
“God did,” I responded.
“Then who’s going to make you happiest?”
That was it. No formal prayer. No walking an aisle. I saw, and I surrendered, and the rest of that evening I walked on air. I didn’t even know what to call what had happened to me. “Saved” wasn’t in my vocabulary. But that night I became a new creature, and like a baby bird with its mouth wide open, I craved food.
God sent some key people into my life at that point, and one of them was a very special lady. She was only in her mid-twenties at the time (to my sixteen-year-old mind, she was practically middle-aged), but she and her husband had a heart to disciple teens, and they joyfully opened their home to an energetic group of us every week. It wasn’t until much later that I realized she had longings of her own, prayers God had chosen to answer with a “no.” Her response to that private sorrow made all the difference in my life and many others.
(To be continued . . .)