The avocation of my life for the last twenty-seven years has been international missions. In partnership with dozens of national churches in six continents, I have sought to serve God during two week, church-to-church, evangelistic projects. In most of the places where I’ve gone, I’ve lived with a church member and grown to know and love the people in a way no tourist could appreciate during a short vacation. Always I’ve returned home knowing that I have been blessed.
Fifteen years ago, while on a partnership mission to Venezuela, I heard an old man give his personal testimony. He stood for a few seconds without saying anything. I stared at his long white beard and white hair, and wondered what on earth he could say that I, a young stay-at-home mother, could relate to.
He spoke very softly, and soon everyone was leaning forward, straining to hear his every word. He told us that God had saved him from a life of drugs and alcohol. He further explained how God had saved him and his family from the ravages of divorce and a broken home. He went on to tell us about life in prison and how, by the grace of God, he had been spared. His story was so incredible and so unlike mine all I could do was marvel at how God, the Hound of Heaven, seeks and speaks to every kind of person, wherever they are.
In the closing minutes of his talk, the man revealed that, indeed, none of these calamities actually had happened to him. “For more than seventy years,” he said, “I have walked with God. He’s been my closest friend. I’ve tried to listen and heed what I heard. Though I’ve disappointed Him many times, He’s always forgiven me, and He’s kept me from the temptations and sins that could so easily have entrapped me. But, I began my walk with God when I was a young boy.”
Wow! What a testimony, I thought, and then I realized that my experience with God had been much the same. I’d really been struggling with what to say when I talked with people through a translator overseas, and how best to share my faith with people at home. My story seemed so boring, so ordinary, so uninviting to anyone seeking a dramatic, life-changing experience.
There never was a time that I can remember not knowing God loved me. My earliest memories are of church. My first songs are the ones I learned in Sunday school. As a child I wanted to please my parents and I wanted to serve God. I learned to talk to God about my problems and my disappointments. Bible characters like Jacob and Paul were heroes to me.
Gradually I began to realize that sometimes I did things that I knew were wrong. I did them just because I wanted to. It was impossible to forgive my friends when they hurt me. I tried very hard to obey what I read in the Bible, but the older I got, the more frustrated and guilty I felt. No matter how hard I tried, I was never going to be good enough to deserve heaven.
One Sunday morning, during the sermon, I understood that, on my own, I had neither the will power nor the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to enable me to live the life God wanted. In those quiet moments as I sat in the pew, I gave control of my life, as much as a twelve year old could know of it, over to God. I asked Him to forgive me of my pride, stubbornness, and disobedience; I asked Him to empower me with his Holy Spirit.
Nothing very dramatic happened at that moment. I remember thinking how good it felt to confess my helplessness, and I somehow knew that nothing would be the same again. As I studied more and prayed more, I developed a confidence and sense of security that was not typical of most of the ‘60’s teenagers I knew.
God had a plan for my life, and I wanted to live that life. I felt God’s guidance as I made those “big” decisions as to where to go to college, what to study and who to marry. Of course, disappointments, hurts, tragedies and some painful consequences of my own willful disobedience, have come my way. I’ve questioned God from time to time about things I didn’t (and some, I still don’t) understand. But, I have a “peace that passes understanding” most of the time.
Troubles and trials come to everyone. It’s how we handle them that make a difference. Just like my friend in Venezuela, I know that God has directed my path through the difficult relationships and circumstances not of my choosing. He has, at times, given me words to say that I’d never thought of, and sometimes He’s shut my mouth. One doesn’t have to live very long to have been gossiped about, slandered by a friend, rejected, or judged unfairly. In those times, God has comforted and encouraged my through His Word.
God has taught me how to forgive, when it would have been my nature to retaliate. He has given me grace so that I can grace others, even when I don’t feel like it. These are things that did not come overnight. It’s been more than forty years that I have walked with God. I know His voice. When He gently speaks to me and I ignore His counsel, He speaks again, louder and more sternly until I humbly obey. He will not let me go.
Hearing that old man’s story gave me a new anticipation for a long walk with God. After Venezuela, I never again apologized for the lack of drama in my childhood commitment. However, it was only after my own children became pre-teens themselves that I truly came to appreciate the unique gift I had accepted as a young girl when I met God personally. It was then that I realized I wanted my children to have a “boring” testimony just like mine.