My Life with Christ
I gave my heart and life to Christ at the early age of six. That’s right-SIX. It’s quite young, I know. But my Dad was (and still is) a man totally committed to the Lord. He and my Mom taught me Scripture daily. They read Bible stories to my sister and I. When we were old enough to go to school, my Mom drove 30 minutes each direction to take my sister and I to a Christian school (Which may not sound like much, but if you calculate it out–that’s 2 HOURS of driving she did EVERY day.) Some may think these things are irrelevant, but I know better. My parents knew that the most important thing they could teach me was my need for a Savior. I’m so grateful they knew this. It’s a little bit surprising that they did, as they were both fairly new Christians when they were married and started a family. Regardless of the age of their faith though, the Holy Spirit lived in them. And God guided their daily activity. I’m so thankful they were obedient to His work in their lives, and in mine.
As I got older, my parents taught me how to serve God with my life. This wasn’t them forcing me to go to church, or “pushing their faith” on me. They didn’t need to push. They just taught by example. The thought never even crossed my mind that I might not go to church, because a life committed to serving God was all I’d really ever seen. I grew up reading and studying God’s Word, memorizing Scripture, helping with Vacation Bible School, and doing Backyard Bible Clubs. I remember tagging along with my parents as my Dad stepped up to help out with mission teams that traveled to the area. I remember going with them when they worked with the Salvation Army to give food, clothes, and even toys to those in need. Serving God was the purpose of life. As I went through High School, I followed that premise. I didn’t go to parties. I never had sex, or tasted alcohol. I was a leader for FCA. I went on mission trips, led Backyard Bible Clubs, and worked with kids at my church. I taught VBS at my church each summer, and every year MY CLASS had the most salvations! I gave my best for the Lord. There was no act of Christian service that I would turn down. I was up for anything!
I had a really hard time deciding where to go to college after High School. I could live with my parents and attend UT-Martin, a branch of the University of Tennessee that was only 10 minutes away from home. Or I could go to many other Christian schools in the country. I visited several colleges, and applied at many more. By May I had narrowed my options to UT-Martin, Liberty University, and Union University. It was a huge decision. I began applying for scholarships at all three schools. By graduation, I should have already decided (or risk losing deposit money). But I just didn’t know yet. Prayer had never been a strong suit of mine. Service I understood, but prayer was hard. There were no hard and fast rules to prayer. No quick methods to help you become a powerful pray-er. So I tried to make practical decisions. UT-Martin had granted me a full ride through their “University Scholars” program. Liberty had granted me various scholarships totaling $10,000 a year (which still left about $6,000 to pay). Union had granted me….NOTHING. Not one cent. Sadly, Union was my top pick. I really wanted to move out and live on my own, but Liberty had a lot of rules that I wasn’t so sure about. There were three people in a dorm room there, and students were required to wear professional dress to classes and chapel. Chapel was three times a week, and there were room-cleanliness checks just as often. There was a strict curfew, and mandatory weekly meetings with your floor. The school was impressive, and had many great opportunities. But it was so strict. So in my mind, Union was the best. It was close to home, the dorms were amazing, and the rules weren’t so overbearing. Yet, it was still a Christian environment. I KNEW it was the best choice, so WHY were no scholarships coming through? Each scholarship that I sought out, I was told that I didn’t qualify for. I had saved up some money, but there was no way to rationalize going $80,000 in debt for my education. So regardless of all my grand 18-year-old “wisdom”, I had to say no to Union. It was then time to choose between Liberty and UT-Martin, and I’m not really sure how I ended up choosing Liberty. I hadn’t wanted to go there. I thought the rules were ridiculous. But somehow it’s what I chose. In the back of my mind, I seem to remember thinking that I could be a “light” far away from my family. A “light” to the fastest-growing evangelical university in the world. I’m not really sure what I was thinking there. But nevertheless, it’s what I chose.
I had always been really great at Math. I had even placed in some math competitions throughout high school. I had tutored a few friends, and really been able to help them out. So I decided I would be a really great High School math teacher, and chose to be a Math major with teacher certification. My first year ROCKED! The rules weren’t so bad once I got used to them. I ended up in a dorm that was only two people per room, and curfew meant we had lots of hang out time at night in the dorms! Silver lining, right? In addition to all of that, I aced my classes! (Okay, so maybe I got one B….but I still did great!) I loved it there. Each floor had prayer groups that met, and my prayer group leader was this awesome girl named Carrie. We all jokingly called her a ‘soccer mom’, because at 18 she was already “that girl” who just nurtured and took care of everyone. And as ‘that girl’, I can honestly say that she changed my life. She taught me how to pray. How to get beyond service and have a more personal, intimate, relationship with God Himself. I had never really experienced that. I’d seen my parents pray of course, and I’d always prayed before dinner. I’d prayed a short prayer at the end of FCA meetings, or with the kids at VBS. But I’d never just gotten alone, and talked with God. Carrie opened my eyes to a faith that is personal. I grew so much during the next four years. I learned more about Scripture than I had ever known. I experienced the Holy Spirit gripping my heart and molding my character into an entirely new person.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” I was finally getting it. Though serving God was good, God cared more about my heart. He wanted an intimate relationship with me. I was his child, not his employee. He didn’t care how busy I was for him, if I didn’t even know Him well enough to talk with Him. As I began to get to know God a little better, I became very convicted that I should give my life over to full-time ministry. But I really liked math. I really wanted to teach. I fully believed that teaching WAS ministry. It was a perfect profession for a mother who wanted to be home when her children were home. Not to say that teaching isn’t a ministry. I’m still convinced that it is. Our schools need Godly teachers. Our children NEED teachers who aren’t afraid to teach the truth. But that wasn’t what God was asking from me. And I knew it. Despite my rationalizations, I knew that my math major was moving me away from God’s plans. And that made it sinful. Still, though, I refused to give it up. I was Valedictorian in High School. I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed”. I was in the Honors program, and I took pride in these things. I was the responsible kid. The one who made wise plans, saw them through, and succeeded. I never changed my mind, because I never made wrong decisions. I always did the right thing. Though those statements may seem out of context here, that was my identity at the time. Or so I thought. I thought I was identified by my accomplishments. Changing my major would mean changing my identity. No longer could I be the girl who never made a wrong decision. No longer could I be the smart, responsible, successful girl. I would have to become the humble girl. The one who doesn’t plan for her future, but follows God’s ways. Even if He leads somewhere completely crazy. This tiny decision, a changed major, would re-define my entire existence. And I wasn’t ready for that. So I stuck to my story. God had “called” me to be a teacher. He had “given” me a passion to be a witness for Him in the public schools. Everyone believed me. Why wouldn’t they? I had the lingo down perfectly.
Over the next year, I stepped up and became a Prayer Leader myself. Some really awesome girls were placed in my group, and I prepared for another fun and amazing year. To my dismay it didn’t work out that way. My prayer group was great. The girls were awesome. Each week we had a great time together. But I’d gotten a new roommate who made life very difficult. I could tell countless stories of her hateful attitude, immature antics, and annoying quirks. But I’ll spare you the details, other than to say that the semester I spent living with her was the only time in my life that I have ever been homesick. I wanted to quit and go home. I was miserable. On top of that, my math class (Calculus 3) wasn’t going so well. I tried hard to understand, but all of my study-buddies from the previous year hadn’t taken Calculus 3. I studied and studied and studied, but I just didn’t get it. After getting A’s in Calculus 1, Calculus 2, and Linear Algebra, I got an “F” in Calculus 3. How does one go from all A’s to an F, in only one semester? My English class wasn’t much better. Though previously I had gotten A’s on papers I had ‘cranked out’ in just an hour or two, I could now spend 3 weeks on a one-page paper and end up with a D. What was happening to me? I was, after all, the smart girl. I’d always gotten A’s, and I’d rarely ever had to work hard for them. Why now, when I was finally working hard, was I failing so miserably?
My second semester of my sophomore year arrived, and with it came a new roommate! Hooray! Her name was Haley, and though I didn’t know her very well at all, I told myself nothing could be worse than my previous roommate. Boy, did I underestimate God! Haley moved in, and I was a little taken aback by how vulnerable she was. She quickly shared her innermost secrets with me, and though I would typically have thought of her as someone who ‘over-shared’, I found myself drawn to her “real-ness.” Is that a word? Nothing else can really describe her well. She had flaws, and she was open about them. I had always tried to conceal mine, so no one would find me weak. But Haley boasted in her own weakness. And it made me admire her. Though she displayed weakness, I saw strength. I saw a girl who was brave enough to be the woman God was turning her into. I was amazed. Just as Carrie had changed my life through teaching me how to pray, Haley changed my life again. She taught me how to love. How to be vulnerable, and honest. How to pursue God with passionate obedience and humility. To admit failure. To apologize. To forgive. My friendship with her changed who I was. I no longer needed to be strong or successful. I just needed to have a heart that followed after God, and that loved the world He created. It was during that semester that God began to break down my resistance to Him. Circumstance after circumstance convicted me to change my major. Though my resolve was strong, God was slowly changing my heart–and my identity with it. He had stripped away my previous identity–the one where I would have made all A’s. And now He was building a new creation. One that would follow after Him. One that would be wholly committed to His ways. By the end of the semester I had changed my major, and I began my junior year as a Religion major, specializing in Women’s Ministry.
Oh, how God blessed. During the next two years I learned much about God’s plan for the world, as well as God’s design for women. I wasn’t so focused on making A’s as I had been before. (Though I must admit I should have been more focused in my studies.) Instead, I focused on my spiritual life. I read my Bible as much as I could, sometimes having up to three “Quiet Times” per day. I looked for places and time to get away and just talk to the Lord, and my relationship with Him blossomed. I was finally learning what it meant to “know” God. I spent my free time just loving the girls in my dorm. When I went home to visit I looked for opportunities to pour my life into the younger girls there, and even opportunities to talk to older women about what I was learning. I spent a summer in the middle east, working with a missionary. I experienced God in a whole new way. I became burdened for Muslim women who did not know about Christ. A passion for discipling young women began to build in my heart. My heart was changed, and I was a brand new person.
I’ve now been out of college for almost six years. I spent 3 of those years doing Women’s Ministry on a college campus. I then followed God’s leading by going to seminary in Texas. And then, about a year and a half ago, I met the most incredible man I’ve ever met. We got married about 8 months ago, and my identity changed yet again. See, the crazy part about following God and letting Him transform your life is that the transformation will never end. I’m a totally different person than I was at age 18, and I’m a totally different person than I was at age 22. I’ve already been completely transformed (many times over!)…and I’m in the process of being completely transformed. I’ll post again later about the current transformations that I’m going through. But that’s not the point of this post. The details of my story are irrelevant. The people who impacted my life aren’t the people who will impact yours. The lessons I’ve learned may not be the lessons that God is leading you to discover, but there are a few things that remain true for all of us.
We are all sinners in need of repentance. We all have one need that surpasses all other needs. We all need Christ. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-26). Most of us know Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Our sin divides us from God our Creator, and as sinners we cannot have relationship with Him. But did you read the next three verses? We can be justified freely! That means that out of God’s grace, and at no cost to us, we can still be counted as one who is righteous. We can do this only through Christ, who sacrificed Himself on the cross. How so? Through faith! (And while I don’t intend on getting into a faith vs. works discussion in this post, I do want to point out that true faith will always lead to obedience.) Isn’t it incredible though, that Christ–who is perfectly just (righteous, holy, perfect, truth, etc.)–chose to sacrifice Himself in order to “justify” those of us who place our total faith in Him. He counts us as righteous, and then begins to transform us into someone who actually is righteous.
As Christians God pursues a deep and intimate relationship with each of us, and that relationship WILL transform us. From the moment you become His child until the moment you pass into eternity, God WILL work in you. Your identity will change many times over as you are molded into one who is truly righteous and holy. Slowly but surely, your heart will learn to love as God loves. With the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of you, you will produce His fruit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23). This is the fruit of the Spirit living inside of you, and you will possess this fruit in its entirety. Of course we all struggle with showing these from time to time, but as a child of God He WILL be cultivating them inside of you. And as your heart changes to show His fruit, your actions will become more righteous too. Romans 6 explains this transformation more clearly than I ever could. I encourage you to take out your Bible and study it–but if your Bible isn’t handy, I’ve shared the entire chapter below. I challenge you to pray as you read. Seek deeper intimacy with God and ask Him to transform your heart into one that follows after Him. And keep in mind that no matter how “transformed” your life already is, He still wants to make you more like Him.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6)