I’ve fought my share of fights over the years.
Some were necessary. Some were stupid. Some I won. Some I lost. Some I am proud of. Some I am embarrassed by. Some were forgotten by the next day. Some had a lasting impact.
And then there was one that changed everything.
I fought a brutal, three-day, “no holds barred” fight with God. Without a doubt, it was the worst experience of my life. But I lived to tell about it, so here goes.
This life-changing fight came about following many years of preliminary matches.
I had been raised in church. We were there pretty much every time the doors were open. My mom assured that I was taught all the right things from my earliest days.
I never had any doubt that there was a God. I always had “Christian” beliefs.
But when I reached adulthood, I walked away.
I still tried to live a “Christianized” life. I always tried to be a good person and I think that most people looked at me as such. If you had asked, I would have told you that I was a Christian, and based on today’s use of that word, that was true.
But the fact is I had never fully surrendered my life to Christ. I had never truly come to him at the foot of the cross.
And the unpleasant truth that we try to avoid is that anything less than coming to the cross in full surrender to Christ is actually a rejection of Christ.
So over the years I sidestepped that issue. There were many skirmishes where God or others brought that to my attention. There was always a feeling of uneasiness and guilt in my heart and mind. I was invited to church more times than I can remember, but I resisted those invitations with various excuses.
For 32 years I resisted those invitations.
And the feelings of guilt and conviction multiplied.
And God continued to turn up the heat slowly but surely.
THE MAIN EVENT
I have always liked the line from the old hymn that says, “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.” I believe that is true. But I also believe that if we resist that soft tender calling long enough, the tone can turn a little louder and a little more forceful. In my case, it got a lot louder and a lot more forceful.
Unfortunately, it took a dramatic crisis in my life to make me take notice. A crisis that I felt hopeless and helpless to fix.
But right in the pit of all that, I turned to prayer and God stepped in, verbally and miraculously giving me the answer to that crisis.
Yes. I said “verbally.” Yes. I heard an actual voice in the middle of the night. Yes. It scared the whatever out of me.
And the instruction made absolutely no sense, but it proved to be the way out of an impossible situation. I had no doubt then and still have no doubt that I had heard the audible voice of God.
That finally caught my attention!
But, with problem solved, I thanked God for his help and that was the end of it, or so I thought.
I never saw the next punch coming. I never expected to hear the audible voice of God again, but I did. It came exactly 24 hours after I had heard it the first time.
I know this audible voice of God stuff is hard to believe. I understand. But as the saying goes, this is the truth, so help me God.
This time the voice said, “I took care of that for you. Now you go to church for me.”
And the fight was on.
Having been absent from church for 32 years, surely God didn’t expect me to just show up out of nowhere at church that Sunday. It turns out that is exactly what God expected.
But I was not about to give up that easily.
So for three days, God and I fought. And it was brutal. I experienced anxiety beyond anything I had ever felt.
Three days of blinding headaches and crushing chest pain.
Three days of acid reflux so bad I had trouble eating.
Three days with little sleep.
In looking back, I suppose you could say that I was having a major anxiety attack. I am not a doctor of any kind, but I now believe that many of what we call anxiety attacks actually are brought about by our failure to align with God. We can never have true peace in our minds and souls while we are in conflict with God.
And I was definitely in conflict with him.
THE FINAL ROUND
If you are a “church person” you may not understand this, but for me the thought of walking into a church after all those years was beyond frightening.
So Sunday morning arrived, and I told God that I was just not ready for such a step. I told him that he had to give me one more week to prepare myself. He said no. I told him that I just couldn’t do it that day.
Immediately, the headache and chest pain intensified to the point of shortness of breath. I felt the strange sensation of being pulled apart with God on one side pulling and Satan on the other. I know this is weird for you to understand. Believe me, it was weird for me to experience.
The fight continued for several more rounds but somehow, I finally got dressed and made it to the car feeling as If I was going to be physically ill (as in throw up).
I argued with God. I begged God for a reprieve for one more week. He said no.
That five-mile drive was the most difficult I have ever made. I turned around three times and promised that I would go the next week. He said no again.
I finally made it to the church parking lot but could not make myself go inside. I promised God I would come back the next week. I put my key back in the ignition to leave and immediately heard the audible voice of God for the third and last time I ever heard him speak audibly.
The words were frightening. Perhaps, you will not believe me or think that I misunderstood. But I know what I heard. Those words were, “You do this now or I’m through with you!”
I have never been more scared in my life.
So I made it inside. My wife was already there and the look on her face when I walked in was one that I will never forget.
When I walked into the auditorium and sat down, I looked up at the screen at the sermon title for that day: “Why Are You Here?” I would soon find out the answer to that question.
I knew my life was about to change. I made it through the service and quickly retreated to my car. There I bowed my head and spoke these words:
“OK, I get it, Lord. I’m tired of fighting. I give up. I don’t know what I am supposed to do, but I just give up.”
The decades-long fight was suddenly over. At that moment, I encountered Jesus right there in that old gravel parking lot.
And though it was I who surrendered, God declared me the winner. What amazing grace!
POST FIGHT ANALYSIS
I thank you for listening to my story. It is my hope that it in some way it is a blessing or a help to you. I leave you with two points:
1. If you are a church person and a follower of Christ, please understand how difficult it is for some people to walk into a new church for the first time or to take that first step toward Christ. I beg of you to do whatever you can to remove any barriers, real or imagined, and to make that step easier for them.
2. If you recognize yourself in any way in my story, I beg of you not to push God to the point of battle with you that I did. This is a fight that you do not want. There truly is “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” And it is available to you. Be courageous. Take that step toward Jesus. You will never regret it.
Thank You, Lord!