I grew up immersed in the church and was taught about God. When my best friend became a Christian I realised that if Jesus Christ came back again (as He promised to do), that I wasn’t ready to meet Him and I’d be left behind. That troubled me and soon after I asked Him to come into my life, aged 7.
I became involved in the church, doing my best to attend all the meetings, read my bible and pray, teach Sunday school etc. But looking back, my experience was one of ’trying’ - doing my best to ’do the right thing’. While I was sincere in everything I was doing, yet there was a ‘deep longing’ for more. I had no real deep sense of fulfilment, contentment or peace in my life. Eventually I became tired of the ‘stuff’ of church, grew tired of the ‘same old’ and walked away (around 1997).
The Middle Times
It wasn’t long before my search took me in other directions and I found myself walking down roads I never dreamed I’d be headed down. I became involved in the club scene and all that goes with it - binge drinking and eventually recreational drugs. I had a decent job and my ambition in life was one of ‘Work hard / Party hard’. I’d work hard during the week and look forward to the ‘adventure’ of each weekend with my mates. Life was good and I was having a ball!
Now and again I’d make a ‘guest appearance’ at church - more to keep my mum off my back than anything. Deep down I still believed (ie mentally ascented) in God, but the ‘old life’ I had was a million miles away and I was happy with that.
Over time however, what I can only describe as ‘longings’ were stirred within me. I found myself lifting my bible - but at that time in my life it was simply words on a page - it didn’t mean anything to me and I consoled myself that I could never return to that old ‘dull’ lifestyle. (I am so so thankful to God for His mercy and that He had a different plan! Now His word has become alive and real to me as I have a relationship with the Author!)
Eventually over time the appeal of my ‘partying’ lifestyle abated. While still partying hard, it wasn’t quite the same. I felt like I’d done it all, constantly reaching for a ‘higher high’ and the ‘next good time’ but somewhere deep within me was a gnawing emptiness that was growing. I’d do my best to hide it and attempt to fill it with anything I could find. (I now know it was a longing for an intimate relationship with my Creator King that I was made to walk in!) But over time I grew tired of the chase. The drugs began to mess with my mind and eventually I ended up on anti-depressants for a period, although I’d carry on as usual.
Now and again I’d go to hear the Glengormley Methodist Youth Choir (GMYC) as I enjoyed music. Each time I went, something happened - I now know I was experiencing the presence of God and He was drawing me. As I watched them sing, I saw something that I wanted. They had a real sense of joy, contentment, satisfaction and it was real - not some ‘put on’ religious thing. I couldn’t understand it, but it drew me. But in the back of my head, I was determined not to get to close to ‘all that’ or to those ‘church folk’.
Through a series of events which God in His sovereignty had planned, I ended up joining GMYC (a miracle in itself)! I was only in it for the music and was determined not to get too close to these ‘naïve’ Christians. But God had other plans! Each weekend as we sang, I became more aware of God - both through watching people worship God and through Him revealing Himself and His presence to me personally.
A few weeks later I was in a nite-club with friends for my birthday. Mid-way through the night I was returning to the dance floor from the restrooms to rejoin my mates when something ‘strange’ happened to me. Something made me stop at the edge of the dance floor and as I looked across the dance floor, it was as if my eyes were opened for the very first time. What I saw took me aback - I saw differently. Suddenly an exasperated feeling of ‘Is this it, Is this as good as it gets?’ came over me with such force it knocked me for six. It impacted me so deeply I had to get out of there. I went home without telling my friends (completely out of character) and had to climb in the window of my friends home, as they were still at the club! When they returned I pretended to be asleep as I was shaken inside. I now know it was God himself who opened my eyes which until then had been blinded so that I could not see the ‘light of the glorious gospel of Christ who is the image of God’ (2 Cor 4:4).
God was calling me and drawing me. In the weeks that followed there was ‘war’ going on in my head. Each weekend with GMYC, I was aware of the presence of God and I felt Him calling me - the songs we sang started to impact me and every time I heard of His love and God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave Himself for me, it did something to me. But there was a struggle going on. In my mind were doubts, fears and questions. I know that Satan is a liar (John 8:44 - everything he says is a lie) and he was doing his best to put me off with thoughts of …….. ‘That’s not your thing, singing hymns and praying, sure you’ve been there before’ / ‘What about your friends - you love them so much, you can’t just ‘walk out’ on them’ / ‘You don’t know where that road would take you, you’re in control’ / ‘Sure look at you, you couldn’t ‘make it’ anyway’. The struggle was intense, yet this time was different. It wasn’t about a religion or even a belief or theory or about ‘doing the right thing’. I knew it was about coming into a living breathing, intimate relationship with the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galations 2:20).
One Sunday afternoon, tired of the struggle, from my heart, I prayed a 4 word prayer - ‘Lord, break me tonight‘. All I can say is, He did! That night at GMYC Youth Service (October 2001), Jesus Himself drew near to me - with each song I sang, my heart pounded as He called me to Himself. As a choir member spoke about the love of God, my heart melted within me. I realised that the Son of God Almighty - the one who spoke and creation came into being, the One who holds all things together by the word of His power, the One who measures the heavens with the span of His hand - LOVED ME! In spite of all the wrong I’d done. That blew my mind! And as we sang ‘I’m desperate for You, I’m lost without You’, I realised how completely lost I was without Him and how desperate I was for HIM - not for a religion, not to ‘try to be good’, not for a church, but for a person - Jesus Christ.
My prayer that night was a simple one of surrender - Lord, I don’t know where this is taking me, but here I am, take me, I’m Yours’. I was so aware that I didn’t deserve such mercy, but so humbled and all that reverberated in my mind was ’In royal robes I don’t deserve, I live to serve Your Majesty’.
A New Life
My new-found life in Christ were amazing. It was so exciting that I had found reality in a person, Jesus Christ - that even though He transcends everything yet He humbled himself and gave Himself for me - so that I could experience forgiveness, acceptance and know the reality of a relationship with Him! It was wonderful spending time with Him and in His word. Such a sense of peace, joy, contentment and a satisfaction I’d never experienced before was birthed within me and continued to grow as I walked in relationship with Jesus Christ. In Him is my purpose for being on this planet. He has literally changed my life! The more I get to know Him the more I love Him, there‘s no-one like Him! What I previously thought was living doesn’t even come close, compared to the reality of knowing Jesus Christ!
God began to do things to prove to me how real He was. Within days, a friend became seriously ill and was given days to live - we prayed and God healed her. Other instances include being referred to the City breast cancer clinic for a lump. The night before we prayed and in the morning the lump had gone. Another was finding the home I’d always wanted but was well outside my budget. Having committed it to the Lord, within 2 days, I received a phone-call offering me a gift which more than paid for the deposit!
Over and over God has proved to me just how real He is, not least in changing me from the inside out - my desires, actions, motivations, attitudes and conversation. But the best thing of all is simply getting to know Him and who He is - there is nowhere else in this world I’d rather be than in His presence.
It has been amazing to watch God working in the lives of my friends and bringing many of them to Him in miraculous ways! He has shown me that His ways and His timing are perfect.
Things have not always been easy - sometimes far from it. But He has been right with me in everything, good and bad. He has always been faithful, true and has shown me love and mercy beyond description, when I have often let Him down. I have learnt that His purposes will always prevail and its all about Him and His purposes, not mine.
At times that hasn’t been an easy lesson. On 3rd March 2008, I received a call around 8.30am with 2 words that changed everything - ‘Emily’s dead’. Emily was my cousin’s 5 year old child and a real wee star! Everyone who knew Emily had a story! She went to bed as usual the night before and never woke up again. We thank God that she asked Jesus Christ to be her Saviour when she was 4 and she’s in heaven! Its so comforting to know that we‘ll see her again.
Those were tough days for the whole family. And yet we proved the reality of ‘My grace is sufficient for Thee for my strength is made perfect in weakness’. The night before we laid Emily’s body in the ground, was one of the most special times in life - as we had prayed for angels to surround that house, I can only say, they did! As I got into the car with a strange yet very real sense of joy and peace, I put on a song which summed up that moment - ‘How can I keep from singing Your praise’. That’s His grace! Words cannot tell how sufficient HIS grace is, at the time you need it most. Of course there have been tough times, questions and searching. But He has been so faithful.
He brought me to this truth in Romans 11:36 which says ‘From Him, through Him and to Him are all things’. The source of everything I have, everything I am and every breath I take is from Him. Through Him I have hope, peace and a future. I have eternal life and right standing with God, not because of anything I’ve done, but because of the price He paid for me when He gave His life and shed His blood on the cross at Golgotha. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Cor 9:15). All praise and honour is due back to Him and ultimately one day I will return to Him!
Life is short and the only reality we have is ‘now’ - life is a vapour. Each day we make choices on what to do with the time we have on this earth - its sobering to realise the choices we make now, in particular what we do with Jesus Christ, will determine how we spend eternity. I want to use my time on this earth to love Him, serve Him and count - eternity is a long time!
He has begun something within me and has promised to carry it on to completion until He comes again (Phil 1:6). I am still learning the truth of ‘My grace is sufficient for Thee for my strength is made perfect in weakness. The story continues …..