Testimony

21 Oct

Yesterday we had a long meeting at work. In the end, we spent most of the time sharing our testimonies with each other. It was awesome.

‘Testimony’ is a word I’m not allowed to use in Latin Link publications cos it’s Christian jargon. So let’s call it a story: the story of how we became Christians; how we came to believe in and know God.

Listening to each other’s stories, we realised that although they all had certain things in common, they all also reflected our personalities. We all ended up believing in and following the same Jesus, but he approached us in different ways. That’s pretty cool. If you’ve ever wondered how on earth somebody ends up becoming a Christian – well, there are a million different answers. But one thing’s for sure – you can’t be born a Christian, so everybody has a story about how it happened.

I’m not sure I’ve ever written down my story. So I thought I might give it a go…

Growing up, my mum was a confident Christian, and my big sister was a Sunday School enthusiast. But I didn’t like Sunday School. I was bored and shy and didn’t want to go. So I quit. My mum and sister continued to go to church every Sunday, but I didn’t.

I always thought I believed in God. In a vague way. He was an idea, a benevolent force of some kind. One night I remember wanting to check God existed. Maybe I was about ten. I said, “God, if you exist, wake me up at exactly 7:12am tomorrow morning.” (What a young scientist.) And he did, which was gracious of him. But I can’t remember that making me any more certain of anything.

When I got to secondary school, I wasn’t sure at all what I believed, although I knew I wasn’t an atheist. I remember overhearing my Auntie one day saying, “Jesus is everything to me”, and feeling cripplingly embarrassed. I didn’t mind mentioning God now and then, but oh my life, please don’t start talking about Jesus!

I was an insecure teenager who had left her popularity at primary school and desperately wanted it back. I was a smart kid who never let on and never put her hand up in class, in case it made people hate me. My sister went off to uni, and things got increasingly less peachy at home. My friends became like family to me, the most vital thing in my life, and I lived with a constant fear of them rejecting me. I had a great time at school, but this was always under the surface.

I used to go to church twice a year – Christmas and Easter. I’d done this forever, and heard pretty much the same sermons forever too. I knew that the Jesus bloke died, and supposedly came back to life, but I had no idea what the point of this was. But one year, when I was 13, I listened to the Easter message and for the first time I understood something… They were telling me that Jesus died voluntarily, instead of us, instead of me! That I deserved what he got, and he took the blame for me, to save me! I wrote this down in my secret teenage diary when I got home, overwhelmed that this was the point of Jesus dying. Did I become a Christian that day? I don’t think so – I didn’t do anything about it. I just understood the theory, and felt grateful to him. But God had opened my ears and my heart. It all started that Easter.

One day, my RE teacher challenged us all to actually read the Bible, and I thought, since I was some sort of believer, I ought to do so. I snuck my school Bible into my bed and started at Genesis. This is not the best way to go about reading the Bible for the first time. You get to a long, dull list of names fairly quickly.

There followed a conspiracy of events. Clearly my mum and sister had been praying for me, because lots of things happened at once. Firstly, mum bought some Bible notes for teenagers somewhere, and casually gave them to me. Bored of Genesis, I read them, secretly. Secondly, my sister, just before going off to uni, asked me to come along to the church youth group with her. I thought I might as well.

I’m so thankful to that youth group. Here at last I found out what it actually meant to be a Christian, how it was supposed to affect your life, how to pray and read the Bible… but I still wasn’t sure I was one. I enjoyed it and kept going because now I had a hunger to really know about this stuff. I wanted it… And I had a crush on one of the boys.

But I still didn’t go to church. I think I was still embarrassed to commit to that. Then one day, I discovered I’d lost a school project that my friend and I had been working on for ages, which we had to hand in the next day. I was frantic. So I decided to try and get God on board. Now, it seems to me that that God is much more obliging to responding to your petty requests for proof when you’re very young in your faith. Later on, he asks you to grow up and trust him, but at the beginning he’s gentle with you. So I said to the Almighty, “Okay God, if you let me find my project tomorrow morning, I’ll start going to church.” Obviously, I did find the project in the morning. And that weekend, my mum said to me, “Now Tamsyn’s gone away, I don’t have anyone to go to church with any more….” She had no idea that her cunning plan exactly coincided with my ridiculous deal with God. But I said, “Oh, I’ll come if you like.”

Yes, that is how I started going to church. Ridiculous :)

And one Sunday at church, I heard God’s voice for the first time. I can’t remember how old I was – perhaps 15. But I was thinking about Jesus dying, and felt like a teenage dirtbag, and thought, ‘But why would the Son of God die for me?’

And he replied, “Because I love you. I love you more than your best friend loves you. I love you more than your mum loves you.” I looked at the bread and wine, and he said something that I now hear every time I take communion: “This is my personal deal with you, and NO-ONE can take that away from you.” His life for mine. That’s the deal. That was the certainty that I was forgiven. And would never be rejected.

And maybe I became a Christian that day. It was certainly that year that I went to a Christian camp and cried my eyes out as I committed my life to Jesus in a response to that forgiveness. I was so thankful – it was too good to be true, but it was true. I told him that now I only wanted to live my life for him.

But I was still a scared teenager. I wanted to tell my friends about how cool God was, but I was too afraid of losing them. Deep down, I think they were more important to me. So I kept it pretty quiet for a few years. This is not something I’m proud of. They were battling years, trying to work out how to be a Christian in frustrating circumstances, trying to be nice when I was extremely angry, thinking that was what I ought to do… I muddled through. But God was gradually changing me, making me more secure, proving himself as my Father, my Dad, teaching me how to pray in a crisis and putting a stop to my guilt trips.

Then, during sixth form, things started to happen. Other friends of mine started to ‘come out’ as Christians. Half way through, I went to Hill House camp again and the Soul Survivor in the same summer. Camp was amazing and I decided there that it was high time for me to get baptised. And my best friend was with me at Soul Survivor. That was an unbelievable week. She was healed from a seven-year hand injury that we all knew about. She’d had extra time in exams for six years. She never did again. I could write so much about that moment. It was a huge spiritual experience for me as well as her. She wasn’t healed by some intense pentecostal miracle-man preacher – God sent little me all the way across the hall to go and pray for her. I just prayed in Jesus’ name, and I felt the power of God go through me so strongly that I was shaking and crying and couldn’t stand up again at the end. That day I realised that this Christianity thing was serious. That Jesus was powerful. That I needed to get my life in order. So sometimes I think that was when I really became a follower of Jesus.

… And then I went to Peru. Because I wanted to change the world. What actually happened was that it changed me. I came back from those four months a totally different Christian. Up to that point, I’d known what I believed as a Christian, but living with those amazing Peruvian Christians and my team, I learnt how to live as a Christian. I learnt to love the church, to get involved and stuck in, because it’s Jesus’ hands and feet. I learnt that I was going to be learning for the rest of my life.

And the story goes on, but most of the rest of it is already chronicled in the depths of this blog. It’s not all been rosy, and I have still got a long way to go and a lot more to learn. But I know I am securely loved by somebody who will never disappear and will always accept me. No matter what happens, nothing can change that – and that knowledge has changed me and is still changing me, gradually wiping away more of my faults and fears, and bringing me more alive. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16) I know my future is secure in Heaven, too – not because I’m good, but because he was good enough to buy my ticket. And I love the things I’ve seen him do as he brings light into dark places. I’ve seen him change so many other people’s lives too. When you follow after him, you get to witness some incredible stuff.

Some people’s stories are dramatic. I know a guy who was a drug dealer until one day he wandered into church and met Jesus there. My story started off more domestic and rambling, but it’s the same Jesus who met me over and again until I was sure of him and said yes to his offer. I hope you can see this isn’t some religious doctrine I just signed up to one day… rather, it’s been God himself getting personally involved in my life. I’d love to hear your story too. And if you don’t have one yet, why don’t you ask him to start one? I thought Jesus was for weirdos and that God was only good for finding my lost items too, once. You can’t start any more stupidly than I did.

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