The more I look, the more I am grateful for the amazing Grace of God in my early Christian walk.
I was not pulled in to the Kingdom by the threat of Hell, nor by some street preacher asking where I would go if I died tonight, nor anything like that. What pulled me in was a combination of the music, a definite calling which was what I’d been looking for all those years – I virtually felt God hoick me to my feet and out to the front! – followed by some very specific points where God told me in no uncertain terms how He felt about me. In short, I was brought in by the love of God and the sensation of His Presence. I bless God for that.
And now, looking back at my life then (we’re talking July 1980 onwards), I see all the points where God steered me in my life, where He provided for me, and where He made His presence felt in order to guide me and assure me of His Presence. He helped me never really believe in Hell, although I paid ‘lip service’ to it. He helped me to question the beliefs of others in my church/cult, albeit in my head and not overtly. He made sure that I had an overriding sense of His Presence most of the time, except maybe for those times I termed a ‘Divine Sulk’, when I couldn’t feel His presence; the sort of time where Job’s Comforter Christians tell you you are ‘harbouring’ some ‘secret sin’ or some other such rubbish. Lollz.
So now, when I just happened to look up one of the ‘famous local preachers’ (let’s call him ‘Phil’) in what was then my area (north Leeds) and see that he’s still stuck in the same hellfire and brimstone, judgmental of strangers, still being lickspittled by others of a similar ilk, I am even more thankful – because I never went down that path. Not so much as ‘there but for the Grace of God go I’; more of a ‘I never believed what he used to puke out anyway’. He always made me uncomfortable – which of course in those days was seen as a ‘good thing’. I’m not saying he’s a kiddie-fiddler or anything; just that something about the ‘gospel’ he preached didn’t sit well with me.
I am so glad that God got me out of that area, both spiritually and physically (because if I hadn’t moved to Devon I’d likely still be rotting in that church environment) and gave me a new start. Not long after I arrived in the South-West, I had my ‘Aha!!’ moment on Grace, which led me to fifteen years of the Dark Night of the Soul, which some might think of as a ‘deconstruction’ – although it wasn’t really that per se. Emerging from that, just as a butterfly from its chrysalis, I realised that once the church junk was stripped away along with people like Phil and his beliefs and vomiting, the Gospel was actually more or less exactly what I’d known all along that it should be.
Unfortunately, this twisting procedure in new believers is standard practice. Once a new believer is snatched up from their cradle and incarcerated/incorporated into a local church, the purity of their initial encounter with God is covered up and layered over with church kopros. Effectively, the initial encounter is taken away as it struggles for air under all that rubbish and is eventually suppressed. Only a mighty work of God, which in my case was an effortless fifteen years out of church, can shift that and restore a believer to their first love.
But, because my background is different from everyone else’s, everyone else’s story will be different from mine. We all have different attitudes, biases and wounds that will need to be changed, surgically removed and healed in that Dark Night, and afterwards too. But never again will that believer want to return to that former cage. Once you have seen it from the outside, you realise what it really is, and you’ll appreciate your freedom all the more.
My chains (of legalism) fell off in 1999, and after the fifteen years, I began openly walking with God again what will be ten years ago in a couple of weeks. February 2014 was when all that I had learned in my Dark Night became the key to my new freedom.
And God has held my hand the whole way.
No wonder I’m grateful!