I recently wrote about Rahab. (It’s here in case you missed it.)
As I’ve read and reread her story lately, the phrase we have heard really jumped out to me in a new way. Rahab says it a couple times.
“I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live int his country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:9-11)
The Lord whispered to me: Who has heard your story?
Or maybe, more accurately, stories. Day after day, month after month, year after year, God has been faithful. And so, I wanted to start telling more stories of what the Lord has done for me.
Big stories. Like red-sea-parting stories.
And little stories. Like, every-day-grace-in-the-small-things stories.
(Do you have stories too? If you want to share your story with my readers, I’d love that! You can comment below, or use the contact form.)
This is probably my “biggest” story. It’s one I’ve never written here, although I’ve shared it with a few different groups of people in the past. Funny though, I can think of a few people who know me quite well who don’t know this story.
This is the story of why I am a Christian, the defining moment in my journey of faith.
I grew up in a Christian home with parents who loved God and did everything they could to teach us about Jesus. It’s all I’ve ever known. I went to AWANA, this Christian kids program that has a huge emphasis on Bible memory. I had memorized a lot of bible verses and my parents laid it all out for me – Jesus loves you, he died for you and if you accept him as your Savior, you can live with him forever in heaven. I believed it. We attended a church where I sat under in-depth Bible teaching week after week. When I was in junior high, I began to understand on a deeper level what it really meant to be a Christian. I decided to be baptized, tell everybody that I want to live for Jesus, and really commit my life to Him (as much as my little junior high self could).
Fast forward to high school. Our church had an awesome youth group. I had a cool, young adult small group leader through most of high school that taught me a lot about being a godly woman. She challenged us to be pure, and told us all the wonderful blessings she and her husband had reaped from living lives of purity prior to marriage. She challenged me to live like the Bible says to. I really admired her and thought it sounded nice, and it was definitely what i wanted some day.
But I was on a slippery slope in the relationship world. In retrospect, I now see that my Christianity was compartmentalized. I did believe in Jesus as my Savior, but I didn’t want to let Him be in charge of my heart or relationships. I wanted to do what I wanted to do.
The whole “boys” thing started out like it does for many girls; around 5th or 6th grade I noticed that a boy was cute and I had all these awkward fluttery feelings. But by the time I was 16 and allowed to date, I didn’t care very much whether or not the cute boy was a Christian. I briefly considered that some day I would probably want to marry a Christian man, but my emotions ruled me and I did what I wanted when I wanted and ignored the little voice inside saying, “this isn’t a good idea.” So I flitted around from he’s kinda cute to how far is too far? Breaking one heart after the next when I got bored or had a moment of integrity and decided to end it with a guy who didn’t believe what I did.
A friend asked me once how that happened. She explained that she figured if a girl has an active and involved dad and a safe home and all the right Christian influences in place, like I did, well, how would she make the mistakes I did?
Honestly, I now see that it was a spiritual battle. You can’t win a war you don’t know you’re fighting. And I didn’t know I was at war. There is an enemy of your soul and he wants you to be in charge of you. He wants you to be against God. He is described in the Bible as a roaring lion, prowling around, seeking someone to devour. Slowly, over a long period of time, he devoured me and I didn’t see it happening. He told me lie after lie, and I believed every single one. Do whatever feels good in the moment. Everyone was doing it. It’s no big deal. It’s normal. But this guy really cares about me. I can change this guy. And can I be frank? The biggest lie I believed was – as long as you don’t have sex, it’s fine.
But the truth is: Sin always over-promises and under-delivers.
And the truth is, my little teenage heart was in shambles. Seeking love, affection, and attention from relationships when what I really longed for was Jesus.
You’d think I would have learned my lesson with all those tears and broken hearts from high school, but I got myself into one more mess. The final straw, if you will.
During my first year in college, I jumped into a bad relationship. It was destructive, deceitful, the epitome of everything a Christian relationship is not. Actually, slightly worse, because I had convinced myself that it was “Christian” and that this was it. He was the one. I thought we were in love. Talk about self-deceit. The thing is, deep down, I knew the truth. As soon as it started, I could hear the Spirit whispering “bad idea. Don’t do it. Don’t go there.” But I ignored the voice of the Spirit until I couldn’t hear it anymore. And then I did what I wanted. And to get what I wanted, and still try to look like the perfect Christian, I lied to everyone I loved. I convinced myself of something that was not true until I really believed it.
I had exchanged the truth for a lie.
Well, as promised in scripture (Numbers 32:23), my sin found me out. It all came into the open. I recently heard something that describes exactly how I felt at the time… I felt sorry I got caught but I wasn’t truly repentant. I was sorry for myself. Which was evidenced by the fact that when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped right back in. To the same relationship. Lies and everything. (You’ve figured out by now, that I was pretty slow in learning my lessons the hard way.)
Once again, my sin found me out. Of course. And this time, it was different. My eyes were opened.
I’m reminded of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace. Can you recall the end of the first verse?
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.
I saw everything for what it really was. I saw myself for who I really was. My heart was a weird mix of broken and relieved. I was glad to be done with it, but ashamed to face the truth. I felt buried underneath my shame and guilt. I didn’t know how to process it. I couldn’t believe I had broken the trust of everyone I loved, especially my parents.
Bless my sweet and gracious mom. (I was actually at home for the summer when this happened and I was a hot mess.) She wasn’t sure what to do with me, so she gave me Beth Moore’s book “Get Out of That Pit.” In the introduction, Beth Moore writes that we all experience “pits” in life. Some people are born into a pit. Some people get pushed into pits by others in their life through abuse or messy family situations. And some people dive into a pit head first. Ding ding ding, that was me! Because as much as I would have loved to blame someone else, especially that guy, it was me. Though he was in the wrong, I knew better. I could hear God inside of me telling me “this is a bad idea. This is a bad idea. Don’t do it!” But I ignored Him and pushed away the Spirit so many times… and after a while, the whisper was so quiet I couldn’t hear it anymore.
So, yeah, I jumped into the pit, head first.
Her introduction went on to say the book is based on Psalm 40:1-3 which says
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the muck and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.”
She wrote that Jesus isn’t at the top of the pit cheering us on – climb faster, push harder, you can do it. No. When he went to the cross, he entered the darkest pit of our darkest sin and He comes up underneath us and pushes us to the top victoriously. We believe in His power to overcome and He is the one who lifts us out.
As I read Psalm 40, the truth of scripture hit me harder than ever before. The Spirit spoke to my heart in a new way. I can still remember the physical change.
I felt free.
Burden lifted. Free from the sin, free from the guilt.
It was almost as if God Himself audibly spoke those verses directly to me.
I hear your cries, Renee.
I am lifting you out of this mess.
Stand on this rock, stand on me.
You are forgiven. Time to sing a new song.
That’s when I really fell in love with Jesus, and glimpsed His power to transform.
Sure, my heart had been broken but Jesus came to restore the broken-hearted. I had a new hope that Jesus could heal me… and he did. He radically changed my heart.
God intervened in my life with His grace and used that experience to restore, redeem and transform me. He ignited my heart with a passion for His Word. I soaked up every Bible study I could get my hand on. He taught me how to forgive. He led me to be discipled and to disciple others through the rest of college. The biggest visible change to those around me at the time was my view and treatment of relationships. I no longer desired that temporary and seemingly fun fulfillment that came from dating around.
I knew what the emptiness felt like, and I exchanged the lie for the truth – Jesus loves me this I know.
The freedom and redemption that came from saying ‘yes’ to Jesus allowed me to stop idolizing relationships, and by God’s grace, to put Jesus in His rightful place – in charge of my life. (And that worked out much better, by the way… a few years later, I met my now-husband.)
And that’s it. That’s why I’m a Christian.
If you made it this far, please know this:
I am not a Christian because I was raised in a Christian home.
I am not a Christian because I go to one of those ‘weird’ evangelical churches with guitars and drums and people raising their hands while they sing.
I am not a Christian because I got married & had babies young and make “good choices.”
I am a Christian because Jesus opened my heart to see that his grace was bigger than any mess I’d made.
He poured out his unending love on me, love I’d never felt before.
He replaced every desire I’d had for relationship with the deepest, most fulfilling friendship I’ve ever known.
I am a Christian because in my darkest moment of shame, Jesus whispered my name and called me forgiven.