My re-conversion story continues . . .
One day Della, my backdoor neighbor, invited me to come with her on a weekend trip to Richmond, Virginia for a business convention. Durham to Richmond is only about 4 hours away, and with a 15-year-old and a 2-year-old in the house, I was ready for a getaway. In the car, Della asked me why I was an atheist. I knew that she was a Christian, so I told her about the babies and Phillip’s death; and I braced myself for the argument that I was sure was to come. But it didn’t. She listened respectfully and did not try to argue with me. Della’s stock went way up in my book. I didn’t know that it was even possible for a Christian not to argue about matters of faith (or lack thereof).
We had a nice weekend in which I heard lots of motivational speakers in a festive atmosphere at the Richmond Civic Center. Then on Sunday morning Della checked us out of the hotel and announced that we were going to church. I was furious. “Didn’t you even hear what I said in the car?” I sputtered. As we pulled up to the Civic Center she shrugged and said, “You can stay out here if you want to.” I looked down the street and there was nothing open, nothing to do, and no people around. I looked the other way down the street and it was the same thing—nothing at all to do for the next 2 hours. So I went in with her, telling myself that this would absolutely be the last time I would ever go to church as long as I lived. The music was 1970’s gospel rock and soul that I recognized from when I first became a born-again Christian. They were playing songs from The Imperials, Keith Green, The Bill Gaither Trio, and Andre Crouch—songs I knew and loved.
As we found our seats, I was feeling relaxed because of the music. The Civic Center was oval shaped, with theater seats. There was no more than an inch of space between my knees and the seat in front of me. Della was sitting to my right. On my left there was an empty seat and then a couple, Fred and Joanne Smith, by the aisle. The Smiths were friends of Della’s. The business leader was behind a podium positioned at one end of the oval to my left, which means my head was turned left (toward the empty seat) to see him.
He gave a very entry-level sermon, starting with how Jesus had fulfilled every single one of the Old Testament prophecies. He went on to illustrate how against the odds that was by saying that it would be like covering the entire state of Texas with silver dollars, marking one, tossing it into the state at random, and having someone blindfolded find the marked silver dollar. I had heard this before, and being from Texas, I know very well just how enormous Texas is. See how God set things up, with the music and including Texas in the sermon? I smugly looked around, thinking that these other people were probably hearing this for the very first time, but I already knew it.
Then he talked about how the New Testament prophecies are being fulfilled today. I had heard this before, too, and it made me very nervous. To be honest, I had always believed that Jesus would return to rapture the Church during my lifetime—but I didn’t know if I would be ready or not. I started thinking about what it would be like to be left behind, and it made me tremble. And hell? Well, I just refused to even entertain that thought, though I was aware of it.
Then to my very great relief, he gave an altar call, and I sighed. It’s almost over! That’s when I felt a hand—3 fingers—touch me on the left shoulder. With my head turned in that direction and an empty seat beside me, I can say without a doubt, it was no human hand. That touch set off a wave of power that crossed my body and had a definite back-slosh. It got my attention. Then I heard as an audible voice in my head: “Get up and come on.” In my head I argued: “But I don’t believe in You!” Obviously, I knew whose voice it was. The Bible says that His sheep know His voice. He didn’t say anything else. He didn’t have to!
What happened next, I can only imagine, is that He must have stopped time for me as I struggled with the decision. What went on in my head was something like this:
Wow! This is God!
But I don’t want to go back to Christianity.
This is God!
But my life would have to change. . .
He loves me!
But I don’t want to change my life.
I don’t deserve His love! (What I kept coming back to was that love.)
If I say no to Him, He will respect it and leave me alone. (That thought rang in my head as clear as a bell.)
But if I say no it might be my last chance ever.
And that was the thought that pushed me over the edge. I made my decision, and amazingly, the altar call was continuing, though it seemed to me like half an hour had passed. In my head I pointed out to God that the Smiths were between me and the aisle (remember the space was very tight). As soon as that thought entered my head they stood up and I don’t know where they went, they just vanished. Then I ran to the altar, hoping that I wasn’t too late because I was sure that a lot of time had passed. There at the altar I rededicated my life to Jesus.
When I came back to my seat, Della’s face was covered in tears.
In the car on the way home, I asked Della where the Smiths had gone. She said, “They didn’t go anywhere.”
“No! They got up and left as soon as I decided to go to the altar.” She repeated, “They didn’t go anywhere.”
“No, no, no! They got up and left. Ask them where they went.” She shrugged. About a week later, Della told me that the Smiths told her they never went anywhere. I have no idea how I got by them so easily if they were there all the time, but it looks like God really cleared the way for me. In fact, all along the way, He orchestrated every detail to make it easier and more desirable for me to say yes to Him. God had invited me back at the very first moment when I was ready to return to Him—before I even knew it myself!
If you have someone you love that has walked away from the Lord, take encouragement from my story. God knows exactly when and how to reach that person. Don’t damage your relationship by always harping on their need to change or return to God. Instead, pray prayers of faith and let your life speak to them of God’s great love and acceptance. Loving and accepting them doesn’t mean that you love and accept their sin. But remember that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, (Romans 5:8). He is patiently waiting for just the right time to invite them back. God is good!