Two months shy of my ninth birthday on the last Sunday in November 1980, I stepped up during the invitation hymn and walked down the aisle of the Church. At the front was my preacher Jack Austin and he led me through a confession of faith, prayed, and then baptized me. My brother came forward with me that day, and we both stepped into our new life at the same time. Dad met us in a little upper room the Church had behind the baptistery, and he offered us communion and prayed over us before we walked down the back hallway of the Church building into the lobby where everyone waited to greet us.
It has been almost 37 years since that day, and I still think about it regularly. It was the single most significant decision of my life. That day would propel me to Bible college where I would meet my wife who would become the mother of my children. That day led to a career in ministry where I still work today. That day changed everything and sent me down a path with Jesus.
Many of steps on this journey were expected. I knew I would spend a significant amount of time reading the Bible, attending Church and praying. I knew I would one day be a Church leader. I knew that moment would shape my family and my future. There are a few things I wish I had known back then. If I had the opportunity to go back, there are a few things I would like to tell myself to help prepare me for my life of faith.
1. Christianity is More Difficult Than You Imagine. In many ways, I thought his life would be easy. There is one book to read and one set of beliefs to understand. How hard could it possibly be? It didn’t know it would mean clinging to faith with the death of my best friend. I could not imagine the pain of leaving my parents and family behind to serve a Church full of people I didn’t know. Each new chapter of faith has ripped my soul apart while I learned what it truly meant to follow Christ alone.
2. Christians Will Greatly Disappoint You. In my childish naiveté, I only saw the good in people. I never dreamed that most of the people with whom I attend youth group would quit the faith. I could not comprehend that other Christians would one day love me and hate me the next day. Throughout my life, I have seen more people walk away from the Lord and his Church than I have seen join it. Many will want to leave with loud shouts and angry words. Prepare yourself for people to disappoint you.
3. There Will Be No Greater Joy than Christian Joy. There are no words to adequately describe the feeling of seeing your father baptize your son. One cannot put into words the moment you lead someone to the Lord. You will think your heart is going to explode when a person sees you are struggling and offers kindness and love. The journey of faith is full of heartache, but it sets us up for the overwhelming joy of experiencing life as God intended it.
4. You Will Need Grace More than You Can Know. Many times I have been on the receiving end of stressful situations, and yet more frequently I have been on the giving end. I have said the wrong thing, done the wrong thing and reacted in a godless way. I have done things in my life that I would never believe I could stoop to do. I have been ugly, mean, thoughtless, and heartless as I have sinned, failed and made enormous mistakes. The grace I accepted at 8 was far bigger than I knew I needed for my future. Cling to it for dear life.
I understand that my journey of faith is unique and I have had my own unique set of struggles. Personally, I would have wanted to know these things. It would have kept me from feeling so low in times of difficulty and eagerly awaiting the next good thing God would do. Knowing these would have helped me back then, I know that because they help me in my faith even now.