I should probably be an Atheist. Or at least an Agnostic. When I was growing up, I tended to question everything, especially if it was popular. I would shy away from herds. I was overly suspicious of faith and feelings.
So how could someone like me come to openly support one of the most popular religions on the planet?
I blame my parents. Not only did they raise me to believe in God, but our house was like a revolving door to missionaries. Dinner conversations were typically peppered with stories about God speaking to people, miraculous healings, angelic visitations, demonic encounters, and even a genuine resurrection. Before my brain had a chance to step back and wonder if Jesus and Santa were in the same category, I had already been convinced.
I even had a few stories of my own.
When I got to college my critical mind shifted to another gear. I had plenty of doubts about the morass of denominational mudslinging I discovered, but I was never close to throwing out Jesus with the muddy bathwater. Instead, I struggled to justify the witness of Scripture with the claims of the Christians around me and the witness of my own heart.
This was about the time I hit a serious snag. I couldn’t seem to grow beyond my personal hang-ups, which really tested the authenticity of my faith. I wanted to love people, but my critical mind and sharp tongue seemed to hurt all my relationships. I wanted to be a good Christian, but my persistent lusts and greed seemed impossible to overcome. What was wrong with me?
I decided to take David seriously. “Your Word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Right. All I had to do was memorize Scripture and my sin problem would go away.
I started by going through my entire Bible with a blue highlighter, marking every verse that had any interest or importance to me. Then I wrote each verse on a 3X5 card. It took about five years, but I finished, filling dozens of plastic containers with verses.
When it came time to memorize, I reached for the box on the upper left side of the plastic skyscrapers in my closet. I’m not sure where Genesis was, but the box I opened started in I Corinthians 2. So that’s where I started.
And that’s where I finished.
I Corinthians 2 was the chapter that I needed. It talked about how humanity understands humanity, but only God understands God. We can speculate all we want, but never arrive at the truth. That’s why God gave us the Holy Spirit. The Rock was struck, and the water of the Spirit gushed to all the thirsty souls on this barren planet.
God’s Spirit could have fellowship with my spirit. I did not need to enter some intensive sin management program; I needed to explore what it means to be connected with God in an intimate and interactive way. That means humility and patience. Real challenges. It also means anticipation, wonder and abundant hope.
As I was busy memorizing, I had a very clear image come to mind. My brain was like a garden, and my beliefs were like flowers. But some of those flowers were actually weeds. There were lies that I held as Gospel, lies that had to be uprooted from my belief system so that I could function according to God’s design.
I sensed that he wanted me to dump my orthodoxy on a mental card table—all of it—then set out two brain bins: one for truth, and one for lies. Only the Holy Spirit could move things off the table.
I know that sounds dangerous, but what do we mean when we claim that Jesus sent a Spirit that could lead us into all truth? Do we mean the Bible? Our pastors? Our own brains?
I actually had a “duh” moment in this whole process: God asks for holiness. Then he puts a Holy Spirit inside of us. So what do we do? Try harder? That’s like asking a ceramic mug for coffee, and watching it go through a panic attack as it tries to be the coffee.
In 1998, God put a spirit saddle on my unbridled mind, and I couldn’t be happier. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming any special powers or insights. I’m not claiming anything that any other Christian can’t claim. I’m just saying that I never really understood what I had until 1998.
Now my restless brain can rest, trusting that God will teach me what he wants to teach me when he wants to teach me. He may use pastors or books or bible studies or friends or family. Or he may just speak to me directly. That’s none of my business. I’m just a mug. And I’m learning how to listen.