HOW A 60’s GENERATION ATHEIST, POLITICAL ACTIVIST AND NEW AGE SEEKER FOUND GOD
by Dale Walker
Something wonderful happened to me in the early 1970’s which changed the quality and trajectory of my life radically and introduced me to a joy, purpose and new realm of life that I never expected to find. I share it here because this life-changing blessing is available to anyone who might want to experience it themselves and because many people do not know how to obtain it.
Having been a skeptic, atheist and unbeliever for many years, I don’t expect anyone to immediately embrace what I now believe based solely upon reading this story. But I present it as worthy piece of evidence for that there truly is a God and He is able to reveal Himself to any seeking heart who is open to finding Him.
If reading how God broke through my prejudices, misbeliefs and spiritual ignorance and graciously revealed Himself to me can help even one other person to find the joy of coming to know Him, the effort of sharing this story will have been worth it.
For the first 30 years of my life I was quite sure that there was no God and did not even consider the question to be worth seriously exploring. In fact, becoming a Bible-believing Christian was near the very top of things that I hoped would never happen to me!
I grew up in Montpelier, Vermont, a small, picturesque New England city with a quality of life so good that I never heard a single person speak about having a need for God or desiring to have a personal relationship with Him. In fact, I never knew that such a thing even existed.
Though I had two wonderful parents, was raised in a wholesome atmosphere and given a good education, I never had a serious conversation about God with anyone who believed in Him or professed to know Him until I was 31 years old. In fact, I don’t recall God or the Bible ever being mentioned a single time in my home or among my friends.
To say the least, Montpelier was certainly not a part of the Bible Belt and God was nowhere on my personal radar. I concluded (without any serious thought or examination) that He did not exist and by my early teens began calling myself an atheist. This included refusing to say “One nation under God” when the Pledge of Allegiance was being recited at school.
I do remember hearing the phrase “Christ died for our sins” once during a church service, but I took took this to mean simply that Jesus, whom I assumed to be a good teacher, had been killed by some very bad human beings.
At the age of 10, I was asked to officially join the church which my parents occasionally attended despite telling the pastor that I did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. He told me that this didn’t matter, made me a member of the church and gave me a Bible which I never opened and read until I became a believer 21 years later.
A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
My journey from unbelief to faith went through three stages: an atheistic phase, a searching or agnostic phase and a period of unexpected discovery. Here is how it happened:
PHASE ONE: ATHEISM
Someone has written that that it is impossible for anyone to know with certainty that there is no God, because to know this, they would have to be able to scan every cubic inch of this vast universe simultaneously and see all that it contained, visible and invisible, in both the physical and spiritual realm.
This, of course, did not stop me from claiming that I knew that there was no God. I prided myself on my rationality and ability to argue this point of view, although, in fact, I had no argument other than my own personal experience. The argument, essentially, was that I had never experienced God, therefore there was no God. This, actually, is not a very good argument.
PHASE TWO: THE SEARCH BEGINS
In 1962 I left Montpelier to attend Wesleyan University, a former Methodist Seminary in Middletown, Connecticut. In the fall of 1966, I graduated from Wesleyan without knowing who John Wesley was, what Methodism was or who God was. I then headed off to graduate school at Michigan State University where the Sixties Revolution was entering into full swing.
There, I discovered an underground newspaper which published some of my creative writings and was immediately introduced to a whole cast of characters which typified the late Sixties: “hippies,” anarchists, communists, anti-war protesters and a whole parade of people whose common goal was to reform “The System.” This was to happen through some combination of leftist politics, “consciousness-expanding” drugs, “free love” and other alternative lifestyles. While I was at M.S.U., Dr. Timothy Leary the famous L.S.D. researcher, spoke to the student body urging everyone “turn on, tune in and drop out” of society – something which I later ended up doing.
This was a very turbulent time socially and politically and the Vietnam War cast a shadow over our whole world. I joined those around me in questioning what our society stood for and trying to arrive at a set of values which I could call my own.
Those who recall the Sixties know that the dream that a better world could be produced by psychedelic drugs, communes, sexual freedom without commitment or responsibility and a wholesale overturning of traditional values largely turned out to be an illusion.
After contracting mononucleosis, at MSU I returned to Vermont where I then had to deal with the military draft in one way or another. The daily headlines of American soldiers dying in what seemed like a pointless war bothered me to the extent that I was willing to risk three years in Federal prison by refusing the draft.
Fortunately, through an unusual set of events, I was granted Conscientious Objector status by the Presidential Appeal Board and was allowed to serve two years at a psychiatric hospital in Vermont doing psychological testing and group therapy for the Chief Psychologist. This was followed by three years as a social worker for the Vermont Welfare Department. In both of these venues I found the world to be filled with many problems and no viable solutions.
The early Seventies were for me a time of lost hopes and a continuing search to find something meaningful which, if it didn’t revolutionize the world might, at least, change me and help me to find a livable and satisfying life.
One summer I took a trip to Nova Scotia, Canada, where the stunning landscapes of Cape Breton (akin to Big Sur in California) made me dream of moving there, living a “back to the land” life and spending my time just enjoying the beauty of nature.
Not long after this, someone gave me a book about “The Farm” – a spiritual commune founded by a hippie guru named Stephen Gaskin who mixed Eastern religion, Christianity and New Age ideas together as a way for people to find peace and meaning in their lives. Though I still did not believe in God, I found his ideas about spirituality to be intriguing.
SEEK, AND YE SHALL FIND
In particular, I was heavily impacted by one teaching in the book which I later discovered to be a quotation from the Bible. It was: “Seek and ye shall find.” The idea was that if a person honestly searches to find the meaning of life, the “Universe” (Gaskin’s closest idea to God) will guide them and direct them to it.
In 1971 I decided to leave the bureaucratic, coat and tie world of social work and set off on such a search. Occupying a desk, shuffling pink, yellow, blue and green papers around and collecting a government paycheck had become a form of living death for me.
I was still haunted by the idea that I needed to find some kind of a deeper meaning which was worth living for. I felt that there was something missing in my life, but didn’t know what it was. The Welfare Department, however, was definitely not it!
As Janis Joplin said: “If you ain’t got nothin’ you ain’t got nothing to lose,” so I set off on The Great Experiment. I bought a red Dodge Van, equipped it as a camper, put $2000 in cash under the mattress as the possible down-payment for a house and headed for Nova Scotia telling my bewildered colleagues that I was off to find a new life. Along for the journey, I brought a book about the Communist Revolution in Russia, another one about E.S.P. and, also, the book about Gaskin’s New Age commune. There had to be some truth in there somewhere!
Like a lot of people in my generation, I was looking for “peace” and “happiness” – but certainly not for God! The New Age book referred to the “Universe” as a kind of God, so I thrust out on my journey saying: “O.K. Universe, here I come! Whatever is meant to happen, let it happen!” Little did I know that it was God (in whom I did not believe) who was going to take me up on the deal.
The first crack in my materialistic universe came from the book on E.S.P. It detailed some astonishing experiments which had been conducted in the Soviet Union. The one which made a lasting impression on me involved taking a mother rabbit to the bottom of the ocean in a submarine.
According to the book, no form of sound, electromagnetic, radio or other wave known to man could communicate with a submarine at that depth. But whenever scientists touched the rabbit’s offspring on land, the mother rabbit (who was attached to biological monitoring equipment) registered a strong response.
Though I can’t explain it to this day, what this told me was that there may be forms of energy which we have not yet discovered which can link one living creature to another. Suddenly my materialistic worldview that nothing exists except what we can see see, feel or touch was shaken and I became open to the idea that there might be other forces (maybe even “spiritual forces”) of which I knew nothing.
My reading then turned completely away from politics and economics as the solution to what is wrong with the world and I began to investigate anything I could find about the Unknown Forces which might explain the known universe. I bought book after book on mysticism, Eastern religion, U.F.O.s and psychic phenomena of every kind. Each one of them opened my mind a little more to the spiritual realm in some way.
Meanwhile, my own journey to the Promised Land of peace and happiness was taking on a supernatural aspect as well. After failing to find what I wanted in Nova Scotia, I decided to explore nearby Prince Edward Island, asking Whoever or Whatever was in charge of the Universe to guide me.
One day I felt something telling me to visit the eastern part of the Island. I pulled out a map and picked out the village of Montague (population 2,400) to visit. Arriving there I found a little real estate office where the manager happened to be away. The clerk, who was filling in for him, showed me pictures of several available properties. “And then we have this one,” she said, “for $1,500.” Hardly believing my ears, I asked for directions and within minutes was standing in a large field looking at a two-story, gray-shingled farmhouse ten miles out in the country which was to become my home for the next three years.
The asking price was supposed to be $2,500, but, because of an error by the clerk who read me the “lowest acceptable price” instead of the “asking price,” I was able to purchase the house for less than the amount of money which I had under my mattress) and pay it off in full! Now the Great Experiment had a home!
The house had electricity, but no running water. It sat half a mile back from a dirt road and was an ideal place for me to live close to nature as I intended. It was completely furnished with antiques and contained one bookcase in which I found three books: a large 1865 family Bible, a book on Bible prophecy and a biography of the great evangelist, Dwight Moody. All three books were promptly placed in the attic. These, in my mind, were not the kind of books which a self-respecting hippie mystic-adventurer would want to read although they later became very dear to me.
In their place, over a three-year period, I bought every book about meditation, the occult, reincarnation and the the search for enlightenment that I could find in the Island’s little bookstore. I even ordered esoteric books from a New Age publishing house, the Lucis Trust (renamed from the “Lucifer Trust”), which promised to reveal “the secret wisdom of the ages.”
Unexpectedly, my readings on Eastern religion kept confronting me with the reality of a spirit world of which I knew nothing. Though I read these books seeking to find a psychological path to inner peace, I found time and again that those who pursued these practices often had experiences which could only be called supernatural.
For example, biographies of a number of spiritual seekers reported encounters with mind-reading gurus who could make objects appear and disappear, people who had out-of-body experiences, and New Age practitioners who encountered various kinds of “spirit-beings”.
In one case, while a man was meditating, a spirit-being grabbed him by the throat, threw him up against a wall and left marks on his neck. The next day, he reported this to his guru master who said: “Oh, one of those! I’ll take care of it.” Another meditator regularly had two spirit-beings come and sit on each side of him and escort him on out-of-body travels into the “astral plane.” This was initially fascinating, but then he added that whenever he was in the presence of these beings, he always had a “yucky feeling.” I decided that these were not the kinds of experiences I was hoping to have!
During this time, I experimented in every way that I could find to improve my own spiritual condition, find inner peace or tap into the Unseen Reality in which I was coming to believe. This included typing words on small pieces of paper which I would place in a brass bowl and then draw out one by one in the attempt to receive a “message.” I also tried consulting the I Ching and doing various breathing and meditation exercises recommended by the celebrated psychic Edgar Cayce.
YOUR TEACHER WILL APPEAR
Although I had discovered that there was a spirit-world of some kind, I began to wonder who or what was in charge of that world. Which guru or “enlightened master” should I follow and and to what Unknown Force could I entrust my soul? One common theme which I gathered from my New Age readings was that when a person is “ready,” a “Teacher” will appear and lead them to the truth. I was intrigued by this prospect and hoped that at some time in some way my “Teacher” might appear.
One of my favorite practices was to take long walks into the woods and fields around my house and to sit quietly observing nature and opening my mind to whatever thoughts might come to me. It was on these walks that two of my most important experiences happened.
One day I sat on an old tree stump and began to meditate. After a few minutes I realized that the stump I had chosen was a “ladybug factory.” As I watched, I noticed hundreds of the beautiful little red and black-spotted creatures coming and going from their colony inside the rotting stump. The more that I studied nature, the more it astounded me and, in this case, I sat wondering who had given these little Volkswagon-like bugs their perfect paint jobs. What Artist had so delicately hand-painted each of these creatures?
I had a similar awe for the whole natural world – the swirling galaxies, the brightly colored flowers, the beautiful lace-like designs of snowflakes captured on film by Snowflake Bentley’s photo-micrograph. While I had no explanation for this wondrous universe I began to feel that it reflected a brilliant and creative Mind of some sort. I longed to somehow merge with this Creative Force, to blend in with it, find my role to play in its drama as even the most insignificantly small insect or forest creature seemed to so un-self-consciously do.
On another walk I realized that no matter how much I meditated, I still felt a separateness and inner emptiness that wouldn’t go away. (If you’ve ever tried to merge with a tree, you’ll know what I mean.) Man, it seemed to me, was uniquely ill-at-ease in this universe. He alone sat and pondered on life’s meaning, went through identity crises and found it a very difficult thing just to “be.”
This was not true of my cat, Barney, a beautiful sleek and athletic cat Master whose un-self-conscious grace put me to shame. Why was it that Barney, without a thought or doubt, could so perfectly be what he was meant to be but, I, with my college education and hundreds of books did not even know what I was meant to be? It bothered me that I was somehow out of touch with the Ultimate Reality which had produced this amazing universe and I didn’t know how to get in touch.
At the same time my personal life was tangled into a series of knots which I didn’t know how to untie. I had come to P.E.I. on a search for a life which worked and hadn’t hadn’t been able to find it. At the age of 31 I was empty, at war within myself and losing hope that I would ever find what I was looking for.
One evening a wave of desperation swept over me and, for the first time in my life, I pondered the possibility that my search was simply going to fail. I felt that if something didn’t happen very soon I was going to lose my mind, kill myself or perhaps just die from the implosion of the emptiness and meaninglessness of my life.
This frightened me to the point where I did something I had never done before. I got down on my knees in the red Prince Edward Island soil, looked up at the sky above me and prayed the first prayer I had ever uttered in my life. Since I didn’t know “Whom” or “What” to pray to, I desperately intoned: “IF THERE’S ANYBODY UP THERE, PLEASE HELP ME!”
I recall thinking at the time that this had to be a significant moment in my life, but wondered how such a prayer could possibly be answered and who would answer it, if anyone.
A few days later, the answer came. I walked out to the middle of the 200 acre field which surrounded my house to meditate. Around me were grazing horses and cows as I looked up at the sky and started thinking about my lostness. Here I was in this beautiful world, but I did not know who I was or what I was to do with my life. What was the answer?
Suddenly a voice rang out in my head out of nowhere as if a freight train had just crossed through my mind. It was not an audible voice, but it was a loud inner voice that said: “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD.” This came with a suddenness and impact which immediately grabbed my full attention. At the same time as I looked around at the horses and cows grazing peacefully around me, I instantly understood what this voice was telling me.
I saw myself sitting under the huge Prince Edward Island sky in a green pasture and the meaning of the phrase became graphically clear to me. Just as these farm animals had a master who fed them, cared for them and provided for them, I too had a master somewhere up above who was watching over me. This master was called “The Lord” and he had been looking down upon me as I searched for the the truth and was trying to find the path which l should take with my life.
It’s difficult to explain the power with which this hit me, but I immediately arose and ran across the field to the attic of my house where I had stored the old 1865 family Bible. I brought it downstairs and started searching for the Psalms where, despite my almost total ignorance of the Bible, I thought the verse could be found. I finally located the 23rd Psalm and read with rapt attention the rest of the message which had come to me while I was sitting in the green pasture.
It spoke of a loving God who cared for, led and protected His people as a shepherd cares for his sheep and a farmer does for his livestock. It spoke of a path on which he would lead his people until they could find still waters and green pastures which would restore their souls. These words were like a medicine to my soul and struck me as the greatest truth which I had found in my long search for spiritual reality. I finally had what seemed to be the beginning of an answer to my search - and my prayer!
PHASE THREE: DISCOVERY
Just as it might seem quizzical to Native Americans whose ancestors have lived here for thousands of years to hear that Christopher Colombus “discovered” America, it must seem odd to the Lord when people say that they “discover” Him. But, for lack of any better way of putting it, I “discovered God” on Prince Edward Island in 1975!
The afternoon I discovered in the 23rd Psalm a clue to what had been missing in my life. And, significantly, this marked the first time that I had ever opened a Bible and had it mean something to me. The words just seemed to jump off the page as I read them. Despite the many volumes of high-sounding New Age writings I had absorbed, nothing had ever touched my heart as directly as the words of the Shepherd Psalm did that day.
I decided to preserve this revelation by typing the entire Psalm in red ink on a special piece of gold-colored paper. I encased it in a clear plastic sheath and placed in the center of the dining room table. Thinking to myself that this was the greatest piece of spiritual truth I had encountered so far in my journey, I stood it up so that I could gaze at it whenever I wanted to. Little did I know what a remarkable role that Psalm was going to play in my continuing search for the truth.
That night I turned on the television and to my amazement found myself watching the beginning of the Roy Campanella story. Roy, a famous catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, had his career end when he was paralyzed in a serious automobile accident. The film opens with Campanella in an ambulance racing to the hospital and unsure whether he would live or die.
Suddenly the movie flashes back to a moment when he was a young boy kneeling at his bedside next to his mother and about to say his nightly prayers. “I want to teach you something with me which you may need someday” she told him. And they began to say: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”
At this point the camera flashes forward to Roy in the hospital Emergency Room where the doctors were desperately trying to save his life. Beads of perspiration had formed on his brow and he appeared to be semi-conscious, but his lips were moving. I suddenly realized that in the most desperate moment of his life, he was mouthing the same words that his mother had taught him: “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD”
As I sat there in astonished silence that night I knew one thing, and one thing only, that my prayer for help and search for a Teacher or a Guide for my life was being answered. My Teacher had appeared, and to my surprise, it was not some far out swami, mystic or guru master; it was the God of the Bible!
From that time on I began for the first time opening myself up to the the Bible as a source for spiritual truth. The next night I sat up until 4:00 a.m. devouring page after page of the 1865 family Bible I had rescued from the attic. I was spellbound reading Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and, despite having read dozens of New Age books, thought to myself: “This has to be the greatest speech ever given!”
Jesus spoke with a wisdom and authority which I had not encountered anywhere else in my long search for the truth and His words arrested me like nothing else I had ever read. I was ready, at least informally, to accept Him as my Teacher.
Somewhere around 4:00 a.m. I experienced a mental block which caused me to stop reading the Bible and put it aside for several days. It involved Matthew’s accounts of Jesus performing miracles. Some remaining part of my atheistic-humanistic-materialistic mindset balked at the idea of miracles and I closed the Bible abruptly thinking to myself: “That was a great speech, but why did they have to put THAT in there!” I still saw Jesus as only a human being, a great teacher and a historical figure, but was not willing to embrace Him as anything more than that.
Nevertheless, I started to read every book that I could find about Christianity and each book that I read opened me up to another aspect of Christianity with which I was not familiar. One book, “The Late, Great Planet Earth,” by Hal Lindsay had a singular impact. It opens with a synopsis of the Bible’s amazing record of prophecies which have been fulfilled.
To say the least, my mind was blown by reading how the prophet Micah predicted exactly where Jesus would be born and Isaiah Chapter 53 described His sacrificial death seven hundred years before these things happened. Daniel also predicted the exact day when He would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. In addition, many prophets had predicted that the Jewish people scattered across the earth would one day return to the Holy Land and become a nation. This prophecy had been scoffed at by even the most conservative Bible scholars for hundreds of years as an impossibility – until it actually happened in 1948!
The Bible also predicted many of the things which we are currently experiencing in terms of the breakdown of order in society and the continual threats of war and international strife. All of this convinced me that the Bible spoke with an authority and specificity which none of the New Age prophecies of “a great change” coming to the earth someday did.
I also began to read testimonies of people who, like myself, had been unbelievers but discovered the God of the Bible and became followers of Christ. These testimonies told of people coming into a life-changing personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ – something for which I began to hunger but had not experienced.
DO MIRACLES REALLY HAPPEN?
The book which was to take me to the next stage of my Great Adventure was a paperback entitled “I Believe in Miracles” by Kathryn Kuhlman - a famous Christian evangelist who helped people to be healed by praying in the name of Jesus.
When I first saw this book in the bookstore, I was put off by the evangelist’s old-fashioned hairstyle and started to put it back when something arrested me. A voice inside my head very distinctively told me: “You’ve read all of these other books and learned something from each one. Maybe you will learn something from this one.” So I bought it and brought it home.
The book told many amazing stories of people who who had been supernaturally healed while attending Kuhlman’s healing services. One story in particular grasped me. It involved of a man who had been diagnosed with incurable cancer and was told that he had only a few months to live. He went to the meeting knowing that, short of a miracle, there was no hope for him.
When he came forward for healing, something remarkable happened. While he was being prayed for he felt a warm sensation course through his body. Later, after visiting his doctor and having tests done, it was found that he was completely free from cancer. He was healed! This had happened ten years earlier and when the book was published, he was still in good health.
As I read these stories, something (I now know that it was the Holy Spirit) began to touch my heart in an unexpected way. Kathryn Kuhlman spoke of Jesus in the present tense. She spoke of Him as a living, loving all-powerful Savior who could heal people today, not a mere teacher or historical figure who had died 2000 years ago. She also spoke of Him as someone with whom she shared an intimate and personal relationship – someone she knew.
As I read these accounts, two things were going on in my heart simultaneously. First, found myself close to tears. I had never known there to be anything supernatural about Christianity – just steeples, organ music, stained glass windows and well-dressed people listening to sermons about their duty to love their neighbors.
Now, suddenly, after studying all of these exotic religions searching for something real with the power to touch and change lives, I had come full circle. Could it be that the Jesus of the Bible is real and alive today, I thought?
At the same time, I was thinking about my neighbor, Mildred, down the road who was dying of cancer. Like the man in the book, she had been diagnosed and operated on for cancer, but the cancer had spread from her breast to her lymph nodes and into her lungs and was now incurable. Her husband had been told by the doctors to begin thinking about funeral arrangements. She had, at most, a couple of months to live. A sadness hung over the little farming community of forty people where I lived.
I remember looking out my bedroom window as I read this book and seeing the lights on in the little farmhouse where Mildred lived. I wished that I could walk down the lane and tell her what I had just read. “If only Mildred could have the healing that this man had had!” I thought.
I wanted to walk down the driveway to her house and give her the book, but I didn’t want to give her a false hope. Kathryn Kuhlman lived 800 miles away in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mildred, to my knowledge had never even been off of Prince Edward Island. I wished that I had the money to fly her there, but I didn’t. Besides, how could I ask her and her husband to believe in something which I wasn’t even sure that I believed in myself.
That happened on a Sunday night in July of 1975. The next day as I sat on the end of a dock taking my lunch break, I received one of the greatest shocks of my life. My girlfriend approached me with a big smile on her face and said: “Guess what! Mildred got healed!!!”
“How? What do you mean?” I asked.
It turned out that while I was reading the Kathryn Kuhlman book and looking out the window at Mildred’s house, Mildred wasn’t in that house at all! She was in Toronto attending a Kathryn Kuhlman healing service!
Unbeknownst to me, Mildred had a daughter in Toronto who had flown her there for a visit. While she was there, Kathryn Kuhlman just happened to be in town conducting a healing meeting as she did twice a year and Mildred’s daughter had brought her. When Mildred came forward for healing and was prayed for in the name of Jesus, she felt a warm sensation course through her body. After that was able to run up and down the stairs which only minutes before she could hardly drag herself up.
She flew back to the Island full of life and x-rays later confirmed that the cancer had entirely left her body. All that remained was a tiny scar on her lungs showing where it had once been!
That day, standing on the fishing dock, as the shock of these events hit me, I realized how utterly faithful God had been to me and what great lengths He had gone through to prove Himself to my skeptical mind. Looking up at the big blue Prince Edward Island sky over my head, I inwardly said to Him, “I can’t ask anything more of You. You have been more than fair to me. YOU’VE GOT ME!”
At that moment I decided that God was real and that Jesus was real, that He had undeniably revealed himself to me and that I wanted to know Him. I wanted the kind of personal relationship with Him that the people in the Christian testimony books had described and that Kathryn Kuhlman had spoken about in her book. I remember thinking “I wonder if I could be lucky enough for something like that to happen to me?”
Somewhere, I thought, there must be a church where there are people who know God in this way and can tell me how to find it. I told some of my hippie friends about this and, together, we decided that we would attend a different church every week until we found such a church.
It was on the third try that I met the pastor of a small Pentecostal church in a little fishing village who invited my girlfriend and I to dinner at his house. That night, after dinner, he and his wife explained the gospel (or “good news”) of Jesus Christ, his offer of forgiveness and eternal life and we both bowed our heads and prayed to receive Him as our Savior.
Driving home that night I experienced the beautiful personal presence of God in my heart which has been my life, my strength, my guide and my joy ever since. I remarked to my girlfriend: “I feel like there’s someone in the car with us!” And, indeed there was! For Jesus had promised His followers in Matthew 18:20 “Where two or more are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And, even better, He had come into our hearts to live.
If you don’t know exactly what it means to be “born again (and I certainly didn’t at the time), you will find that Jesus described this essential Christian experience to a woman he met at a well 2000 years ago in John Chapter 3. She had been searching for many years (as I had been) for a real and satisfying life and had come up empty. We know this because she had been married five times and was currently living with a sixth man to whom she wasn’t married.
Jesus told her about a “gift” of “living water” (John 4:10) which He would give her if she asked Him which would truly satisfy her soul. Pointing to the well, He said: "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them [meaning God’s Holy Spirit] will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
I didn’t see a light or hear a choir of angels or have a dramatic experience of any kind, when I first accepted Christ, but I did know that something significant had happened to me. I felt that a warm and gentle Spirit had settled into the deepest part of me imparting to me a sense of inner peace which I had never experienced before.
Jesus calls this experience being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6) or “born again” (John 3:3) and it refers the the moment of salvation when a person’s sins are forgiven and Christ comes to dwell in their hearts through the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5 calls it “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” through which a person becomes “alive unto God” in a new and experiential way (Romans 6:11).
The changes which this can produce are remarkable, especially if followed up by a process of spiritual growth nurtured by prayer, Bible study and fellowship with other Christians.
In my case, perhaps because I had wasted so much time coming to faith, God worked very quickly to draw me closer to Himself. I had such an immediate hunger to know God that nothing else seemed to matter. I wanted all that I could get of the new life which God had given me and within a few months found myself enrolled in a Bible school in Maine.
There, I found the Word of God to be a set of directions for a totally transformed life characterized by a love, joy and peace which grows beautifully over time and a sense of meaning and purpose which I never thought I would find.
Over four decades later, I can testify that I not only discovered that there is a God, but that this God can be known in a deep, personal, soul-satisfying and life-changing way by anyone will open their hearts to the spiritual rebirth provided by Jesus Christ.
Within a few months, God lifted a stubborn depression which had nagged me for over two years, filled the inner emptiness which I had sensed all of my life and replaced insecurity and fear with faith. I experienced the reality of what II Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new”.
If you were to list all the domains which make up a human life and ask me which ones the Lord changed for me, the answer would be” “ALL OF THEM!” I have found every word of the Bible to be true when it describes and promises the “unsearchable riches of Christ” and “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3) to anyone who will follow Him.
I have also found the Bible a totally reliable guide and textbook for every aspect of human life including marriage, parenthood, work, finances, relationships, mental and emotional issues and, the hardest thing of all, living a right life in a wrong world.
For me, living a right life has meant not only a thorough change away from a whole host of wrong ways of living (the Bible calls them sins), but also the discovery that each life, including my own, has a special purpose.
I was out of synch with the universe because I was out of synch with God. As the plan of God for my life has unfolded, I have discovered that life does have a meaning and that the most satisfying thing which any of us can ever do is to let God guide us into the purposes for which we were created.
In my case, this has turned out to be pastoring an inner city church, sharing the life-changing truths of the Bible with people and helping others to find the same faith, hope, joy, peace and meaning which God has graciously given to me.
Aside from salvation (the assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we are going to Heaven when we die) with which nothing else can really be compared, one of God’s greatest blessings is to help us to discover and become the people we were created to be. I pray that He will do this for you as beautifully and mercifully as he has for this former, skeptic, unbeliever, atheist and Sixties Generation humanist!
Just as truly as Jesus said “Seek, and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7), )He also said: “Every one that asketh receiveth”” Salvation and a new life can be yours for the asking
As remarkable as some of the events were which brought me to Christ, they are, by no means, the only reasons why I still believe in Him today. God has in a million other ways and on a daily basis confirmed His reality to me ever since then. I can honestly say that I have never doubted God since that day when I first gave my heart to Christ, nor have I doubted His Word, the Bible.
The changes which He has brought into my life, the joy, the peace, the supernatural guidance, the beautiful presence, the help in times of trouble, the answered prayers, the miracles He has done for others – all of these things and more have made His ever-present reality so strong that I seldom think about the path by which I got here.
I have written all of this in case it may help someone else who may be on a similar search for meaning, purpose and spiritual reality - which, ultimately is God. There are a lot of stages that God brings people through on the way to a real saving faith. And he works individually in each person’s life to reveal Himself in the ways that He knows are necessary for each person. (As you can see, in my case, a lot was necessary).
While this process is a sovereign work of God. There are some suggestions which can speed up this process! It by no means needs to take 31 years as it did with me!
(1) Ask, seek and knock. Jesus said: “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7:7) I encourage even atheists to pray, “God, if you are real, please reveal yourself to me,” because the first serious prayer that I ever prayed was: “If there’s anybody up there, please help!” and God answered that prayer marvelously!
(2) Read the Bible. Just like didn’t have to take 31 years for me to pray my first prayer, it didn’t have to take 21 years or me to open the Bible my pastor gave at age 10. I made it take that long. If you are unsure who Jesus is and if His teachings can be trusted, try open-mindedly reading the Book of Matthew and the Book of John. There, you will discover overwhelming evidence that He is, in fact, the Son of God and the Savior of the world for no one else who ever lived has done the things which the Bible records that He did.
(3) Recognize that you can come to Christ NOW. The Bible says: “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (II Corinthians 6:2) One mistake that I made, even after reading several testimonies of people who had come to Christ from various backgrounds, was waiting and thinking, “Maybe this will happen to me someday.” I didn’t realize finding forgiveness and becoming born again was something a person can simply ask for and receive any time and anywhere.
If you want to know God, if you want your sins to be forgiven, if you want your life to be changed and if you want to know that when you die, you will go to Heaven, you can ask God for these amazing blessings at any time. You can even do this right now just by praying a prayer like this:
“LORD JESUS, THANK YOU FOR DYING ON THE CROSS TO PAY FOR MY SINS. PLEASE
FORGIVE ALL OF MY SINS AND COME INTO MY HEART TO LIVE. HELP ME TO LIVE A LIFE
WHICH GLORIFIES YOU AND TO BECOME THE PERSON YOU WANT ME TO BE. I ACCEPT
YOU AS MY PERSONAL LORD AND SAVIOR. AMEN. PLEASE LET ME KNOW THAT WHEN I
DIE, I WILL GO TO HEAVENTOBE WITH YOU. AMEN.”
ONE FINAL NOTE
Because of my experience in Gospel-starved New England, I would like to point out one thing which keeps many decent people from developing a saving faith in Jesus Christ and that is the mistaken belief that they can earn their way into Heaven.
Many people literally do not know what the Gospel or “good news” of Jesus Christ is and how this might relate to their eternal destiny. To understand this vital truth properly is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, so please keep reading!
A large majority of the American people tend to believe two things which are not actually true: (1) That good people go to Heaven and (2) that they are good people. The problem is that the Bible says no such thing. Instead it teaches the following:
(A) “THERE IS NONE DOETH GOOD, NO NOT ONE.” (Romans 3:12)
(B) “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NO, NOT ONE. (Romans 3:10)
(C) “ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD.” (Romans 3:23)
(D) “IN THY SIGHT SHALL NO MAN LIVING BE JUSTIFIED.” (Psalm 143:2)
I have grown up among many GOOD people who do not know God. But the Bible teaches that everyone has sinned and that no one is good enough for Heaven on their own merits. God knows every wrong word we have ever spoken and every wrong thing we have ever done. He also sees into our hearts and knows and every wrong thought that has ever entered our mind.
Each of us, if we truly understood God’s standards of holiness would realize how far short of those standards we all fall. For example, Jesus taught that to hate is the spiritual equivalent of murder and that to lust in one’s heart is the equivalent adultery. If we had our thoughts for one day played upon a big screen for the whole world to see we would all have SOMETHING to be ashamed of. All of us would be (and are) guilty before God. We have ALL sinned. And, unfortunately, the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23).
One of the most dangerous delusions a person can suffer is to believe that their goodness alone and apart from Jesus Christ’s salvation will qualify them for Heaven.
When Jesus Christ, who was perfect, was called “Good Master” by an enquirer, He replied: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19). The point is that God is perfect and we are not. We are NOT good enough for Heaven, nor can we do enough “good deeds” to earn Heaven.
Because of this, God has graciously and mercifully engineered a glorious method of salvation which can get imperfect people like you and I into Heaven.
We reach God and Heaven by ONE WAY and ONE WAY ONLY: FORGIVENESS. And that forgiveness is provided freely through Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death on the cross to pay for our sins. THAT is the Gospel. Ephesians 2:8-9 states it clearly this way:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Churchianity (just going to church and doing religious things) does not save people. Looking good, appearing respectable and even living a good moral life does not make someone a Christian. Faith in Jesus Christ, admitting one’s sins, and inviting Christ into one’s heart DOES!
If you do not know God or are not sure that you possess the salvation and “born again experience (John 3:3) that the Bible says a person MUST have in order to go to Heaven, DON’T settle for anything less than the real thing.
On the day that we meet God, His judgment will reveal whether or not we have truly received Christ as our Savior. The only answer we will want to that question is “YES!” and that “yes” is only a prayer away. “ASK, AND YE SHALL RECEIVE.” You will never regret it, for Jesus Christ will not only be your Savior in the next life, He is the answer to all of your heart’s deepest needs NOW!
If you would like to dialogue with me about these things, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.