“Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon the earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
I am going to Trinidad in a few weeks for my senior missions trip and we were asked to type out our personal testimony in case the opportunity to share arose. The last time I wrote about my testimony was in an essay required to attended high school at KCC. That was sophomore year, and since then, I haven’t really thought about it. So here is the story about how I became a born-again believer…for real this time.
I was probably eleven or twelve years old when it happened. I’d grown up in the same church all my life. So I knew exactly what being a Christian was all about. I had all the role models, all the stories memorized, everything. I was even heavily involved in Sunday School, doing weekly skits and sometimes speaking about tithes and offering to the younger kids. I would spend weekends with my pastors sometimes, having sleepovers with my pastor’s wife and a few other of the girls. We would go shopping and there would always be a lesson of the day that my pastor’s wife would cleverly sneak into our conversations. I was doing everything right.
But I was doing everything extremely wrong.
Even as an eleven or twelve year old, I knew the difference between going through the motions to fit in and actually living my life for God. No, I wasn’t secretly going to parties with other hardcore twelve year old’s, I wasn’t smoking behind the church, I wasn’t cussing (God knows I’m still deathly afraid of bad words coming out of my mouth), I wasn’t a bad kid. I was normal.
But I wasn’t a Christian. I was a pretend Christian. A softy. A well-my-parents-go-to-church-so-I’m-saved-too kind of person. I knew all the right things to say, how many hours of service I needed to get noticed by the leaders, where to sit so I looked mature, how high to lift my hands so I looked religious enough, who to talk to so people saw me as “one of the most respectful and God-fearing children” they knew. People would brag about me to my parents, about how holy I was and how totally and completely in love with Jesus I was. But I didn’t even know I could be in love with God, much less how.
I wasn’t saved, not truly.
That summer, my church was having a revival on a piece of property they’d just bought. They were going to construct a new building there soon and decided to have church there for a few weeks. Well, I shouldn’t say a few weeks. It went on for literally a month. As impressive as that might sound, I’m going to be honest: It was terrible. It was hot and sticky the whole time. We weren’t in a building, but in a massive tent with hay for a floor and metal chairs for pews. Everyone was sweaty all the time, most people smelled really bad, there was a horde of insects waiting to devour that one person who forgot to wear bug spray, and don’t even get me started on the Porta-Potties.
Everyone was pretty miserable even though they’d never admit it. But God still moved. In the midst of all that gunk and mess of odors, God’s Spirit could be felt every night. It was during this prolonged heat torture that I realized how utterly worthless my view of Christianity was.
A man by the name of Diga Hernandez was guest speaking. If I could describe him, I wouldn’t do him justice. This guy is so on fire for God, and not just in the insane if-you-don’t-sweat-while-you-serve-God-you-are-wrong kind of way, but in that quiet, still way that demonstrates God’s complete and perfect love for us. And he was only in his early twenties when he spoke at this revival. I was jealous of him.
As he spoke, he captured everyone’s attention. Except, it seemed like he didn’t even know there were two hundred people hanging on his every word. He looked like he was just talking to God, simply enjoying His presence. I thought, why can’t I be like that? I want to be in love like that, I want to be so enamored that nothing else matters.
During his message, I glanced around at the other kids my age. They were sitting in the back, talking and laughing and texting and flirting. Just yesterday I would have been envious at their lack of attentiveness. I would have wished that my parents were as oblivious as theirs. I would have longed to go sit with them and be stupid too. I knew they were wrong, but I wanted to be wrong with them. I wanted to be rebellious and ignorant, it seemed so much more fun and adventurous.
But at this moment, I only felt a deep sadness for them and all of my jealousy melted away. After seeing the zeal and fervor of someone as young and as happy as Diga, I wanted what he had, not the foolishness of my friends. I wanted to stop amusing myself into spiritual death, I wanted life. I wanted intimate passion for God, sheer adoration for my Creator. I wanted to be different.
That night, I struggled with this newly found revelation. I wasn’t sure what I should do next. I’d been saved so many times (and by saved I mean I went to the altar after a number of services and said the sinners’ prayer out of fear of hell) that I didn’t know how to make this time different. I didn’t talk to anyone about this until years later, and even then, it’s hard for me to personally convey my feelings unless someone asks the right questions. So I went through this alone. I prayed a few times, asking God what I should do. But I was so confused by my own squandered mess of a religion that I couldn’t even think straight. It seemed like Diga’s beliefs were of a completely different faith.
The answer came the next morning. It was a muggy Sunday in the Tent of Heat Stroke and our head pastor was speaking. I couldn’t really pay attention because I was thinking about my own problems. I’ve often found that during a church sermon, I can really sort out my thoughts and feelings; sorry if that’s a little blasphemous, but there is something about sitting next to those who love God, listening to a sermon, feeling God’s quiet presence, that makes my mind a little more clear even though I might not be listening.
By the end of the service, the pastor asked if anyone wanted to dedicate their lives to Christ. I’d heard the same invitation a million times before, but today, it clicked.
I needed to dedicate my life to Christ.
I still don’t know why that obvious information didn’t come until a day later, but I peeled my twelve year old legs off the metal chair and slowly walked to the altar (well, actually it was just a bunch of mini stages pushed together to look like an altar, but God was there just the same). I think two or three others joined me, none my age though. I braved the judgmental stares and annoyingly sympathetic smiles, and focused on God. I closed my eyes when I reached the altar and began to pray. My mom, the piano player, played something in the background. An adult tried to come pray with me, but I kept my eyes shut and tried to ignore them. (Side note: no offense to concerned adults, but geez, back off sometimes. Kids want to be alone with God too.) Finally, she left me alone.
I don’t remember exactly what I prayed, but the gist was something like this, “God, I’m done messing around. I want to truly live for you. Please don’t let me be like those other kids. I want to be like Diga. Please come into my life, for real this time, and help me to follow You, always. Amen.”
And that’s pretty much my testimony. I don’t remember anything that happened afterwards, I probably cried (I was an emotional adolescent) and then went home. But till this day, I try to stay passionate. Even if I can’t express it outwardly as eloquently as Diga can, I still strive for that same eagerness for God.
Today, I tend to express that aim in my questioning authority and tradition, which most people see as disrespectful, but I don’t mean to be. I just want the truth, I crave it. It’s not fair for kids to be tossed aside with Veggie Tales (even though Veggie Tales is magnificent) and stupid Sunday School games while the adults get to have all the fun. We should ALL be seeking God and thirsting for truth.
It’s what fuels the vigor we should all posses.