What comes to your mind when you hear the words, “religious conversion”? I always used to think of it as when someone actually changed from one religion to another, but one of the ways Webster’s Dictionary defines it is, “The act of changing one’s views or course”. As someone who was raised as a Christian and has always thought of myself as a Christian, I went through a “conversion” about 12 years ago. It was a radical change of my entire perspective of what it meant to be a Christian. Let me explain.
Growing up, my family went to church three times a week. Our entire social life was centered on church and church events. I went to Church camps every summer and I was baptized at about age 11. The church I grew up in was pretty legalistic. Things had to be done a certain way or you would end up “going to hell”. It seemed like everything was a sin! From dancing, cussing, drinking to simply having impure thoughts! In the church I was raised in, even using instrumental music in worship was seen as a sin. Yep, if you used a piano or an organ to praise God, even with the best of intentions, he would send you to hell on the technicality.
At some point I just threw in the towel. I was probably “going to hell” anyway, so why even try? I began a life of alcohol and drug addiction, pornography, sexual promiscuity and self-will run amok. For many years, I didn’t attend a church at all, I had totally given up! Somewhere along the line, I came to believe that I could never measure up; that I was doomed to fail. But after many years of living this kind of life, I knew I would end up dead, insane or in prison without God’s help.
After losing my first marriage because of my alcoholic lifestyle, I did find a good church that I could attend. And for many years I warmed a pew on Sundays and learned that “legalism” could be a sin as well. I also learned how to be loved! I felt undeserving, but this new Church family loved me even when I wasn’t the most lovable kind of guy. They saw me for who God created me to be! And they gave me time to grow!
Throughout those years, I still struggled with alcohol, pornography and a host of other things. I just hoped God would see my weakness in these things and have pity on me. All my prayers were always me asking God for “help”. I seemed to be the needy one in this relationship, and I truly didn’t see much that I could offer to God.
One day, I was having lunch with a friend from Church. I had been having financial problems for several years. During those years, I had prayed hard and often about my finances! I really wondered if God was even there, because the more I prayed, the worse things seemed to get. The friend asked me if I had been reading my Bible on a daily basis. I confessed that, no, I hadn’t! He challenged me to do so, to read it every day! I told him that I would! I promised!
The first day, I sat and decided to start reading in Matthew. I thought, “If I’m going to read this every day, why not read the entire New Testament”. When I got to Matthew Chapters 5 and 6, I recognized it as the Sermon on the Mount – a text I had read often when I was going through the divorce several years earlier. In it, I read how God cared for the birds and the lilies of the fields and how much more he loved me. I read about how he knew what we needed, even before we asked. And I learned he loved us more than we love our own kids and that he knew how to “give good gifts”. If all that were true, how come I still had these same financial problems? How come he had not answered my prayers?
As I continued reading, I came to Matthew 6:33 and it said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” I thought to myself, “Hmm, maybe THAT’S why God hadn’t helped me with my finances!” I prayed out loud, “OK, God, I’m going to do this, but if this promise doesn’t pan out, then I quit.”
I had come to the scriptures, maybe for the very first time, with a hungry and a thirsty spirit. Maybe that is why I started to “be filled”! Every day, I moved my book mark further and further through the New Testament. There were days, I sat with tears rolling down my face, thinking, “I get it … I’m starting to understand this”! I came to a point where, for the very first time, I could feel the very presence of God. I realized I was changing! I instinctively knew in my heart, that I could not have this new, close relationship with God, and at the same time continue with things like pornography. All those things that had seemed to have such a “hold” on me were of less importance now! I was actually “transforming” into a different person.
I started praying for others, rather than myself. I started looking for ways I could help others, starting with my own relatives who struggled with the very same things I had been struggling with. Before I knew it, I was a becoming a whole new person. I was no longer looking at God in the same way I did in the past, but seeing the world through God’s eyes. At some point, God began to use me in the lives of others. I learned that he wanted just two things from me! He wanted my love and for me to put him first! And second, he wanted me to love others! In that, everything else would fall into place and I would experience ALL his promises! And I found out, his promises ARE true! “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”