One of my earliest memories is going to church, sitting on the same wooden pew we did every week as if it was reserved purely for my family, having been inhabited by previous generations. I can remember the vicar in his black gown and dog collar up in the pulpit preaching and I remember going to Sunday school in the building next to the main church. And that was the routine pretty much every Sunday, walking with my mum and I think my sister, to the Baptist church across town, about a mile from our home whilst I think my dad and my older brother stayed at home.
That was back in the 70s and then in the 80s we not only moved a little further away from that church but we were invited to go to a Pentecostal church which had recently started up and now was holding Sunday services at a community centre just a 10 minute walk from our home. And trust me what a difference that was, going from a very traditional church service to one which was lively, where the pastor wore a suit instead of robes and he walked too and fro whilst giving the word and boy would he preach with over whelming passion. Even the music was completely different, having been use to singing the old hymns, from hymn books which I am sure were as old as the hymns themselves, to now singing Graham Kendrick’s Shine Jesus Shine. Even as a young child I loved the difference and it was at one of the concerts which the church would put on at a local theatre that I gave my life to Christ, along with a few others from the church’s youth group.
The thing is that my story really doesn’t end there as during my teenage years I became more and more involved in the church, becoming part of the team who would set up the sound equipment each week to actually running the sound desk during the service as well as at various concerts. This in turn led to me becoming part of a new youth team who on Sunday nights would run a youth service which featured video, computer graphics and hot topic talks, although I should say this was back in a time before DVD and the graphics were done with a BBC computer, so fancy at the time but not so much looking back.
But looking back from where I am now I realise some thing about the young me back then, although I was a Christian I did not have the personal relationship which Jesus that I have now. I was basically a Sunday Christian who during the week would try and lead a good life but as I was still at school I also wanted to fit in and not be known as one of those goody Christians so I kept the Christian part of my life pretty much on the down low.
It was around the time of being 22 that I ended up dropping out of church as all the elements of life started to dominate from work to going drinking and clubbing on weekends as well as meeting my first really serious girlfriend which lasted a few years. Unfortunately over the next decade I ended up becoming a secret gambling addict (slot machines), trying to be someone I wasn’t and ending up heavily in debt. Unsurprisingly my life came to a crashing halt when my second relationship failed; I had massive debts and the start of a series of health issues. I ended up having to move back home to live with my parents and am still there many years later, something which once would eat away at me yet now accept a little easier.
It was after moving home that I was walking past the building the church I use to go to had moved to and an old friend heading to church insisted on dragging me in. And whilst there were many new faces there were some who remembered me and welcomed me back with open arms. The thing is that I now realise that whilst I went to church and a few groups for a few months I wasn’t there because of God or a desire to be an evangelical Christian. Nope I was there simply trying to fill a huge hole left in my life by the failed relationship and I stopped going again especially when I suffered a pretty big health issue.
As I write I am pretty sure it was 12 or 13 years ago when I returned home, I have realised the when is unimportant, and over those years I have suffered other health issues, which I may mention some day, whilst having paid off all my debts and started up my own business working online. Sounds great except during 2017 I was becoming an angry, negative, bitter, resentful man who hated that things would go right for everyone else yet things only ever seemed to go from bad to worse for me and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t make a success of my life. I will be honest and tell you there were some nights when I went to bed thinking that if I didn’t wake up in the morning that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
But during 2017 I had ended up buying the book “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale unaware that this was a book about God, the Bible and the power of prayer. When I first started reading it I quickly tossed it aside, annoyed I had spent good money on it, not that I had become anti-God but was desperate to make a success of my life through my own efforts on my terms. But a short time before Christmas 2017, when I was feeling pretty low I ended up picking up the book again as so many people on the Internet were saying this book changed their lives. And yes it does because I ended up unable to put it down, following the God led advice in the book and before Christmas day found myself reconnecting with my faith. No there was no big moment, no flash of light just me asking God for help, saying sorry for the life I had been living and being rewarded with a sense that the time was right and that God had got me in his arms and was going to lead me out of the mess that I felt my life had become.
And here is the thing, the thing which I have realised since then. When I went to church as a child and teen it was only because it was what I knew to do. In those years when I was in the wilderness God never abandoned me, there are times when I realise he had his protective hand on me. When I briefly returned to church 12 years ago it was only to fill a void left in my life from a failed relationship. But now, why I know this time is right, is because I ended up seeking God and for several weeks after reconnecting with my faith, before venturing back in to church, I would read the bible, pray, watch sermons online and on TV as well as listen to Christian music. I built up this personal relationship with God which I had never experienced before and since then he has opened up my eyes to so much. No, life hasn’t miraculously been sorted but by trusting God things have got easier.