Whenever I think of sharing my redemption story, the challenge is that my path to Jesus isn’t neatly broken down into tidy segments. It could be better described as a long and messy process of inching two-steps forward, one step back towards my Savior. In fact, it was such a circuitous path that I am not entirely certain what point in the journey marked what one would call “saving faith” and what point marked the beginning of my stumbling sanctification. My convoluted path to Jesus is why Grace’s mission to help people “take their next step towards Christ” resonates so deeply with me.
I was one of four kids in my family: one boy and three girls. Of the girls, two were stunning beauties. Right in between them was me – the near-sighted, freckled-all-over redhead. Fortunately, my parents loved me well and made me feel important and valued in a way that was not tied to my outward appearance. However, during my teens – those tumultuous years when the opinions of peers take precedence over that of parents – my status as the sister with the “good personality” began to erode the confidence and self-acceptance my parents had instilled in me.
If my faith is dependent on Jesus meeting my needs, what happens when He doesn’t?
One summer right in the midst of that downward spiral of confidence, I went to YoungLife camp. During one of the last nights there, they presented the gospel. I am sure it was a full gospel, detailing creation, the fall that separated man from God, redemption through Christ, and the eventual restoration of all things. That was the full message, but the only part that my wounded, distracted heart heard was this: “Jesus loves you so much. He thinks you are to die for.” THAT is the message that I responded to. My tattered ego desperately wanted that love. And so I said, “Yes” to Jesus and His love for me.
For decades I would have told you that this story was my story of salvation.
However, I now know that although it was a defining moment, my mountain-top experience and response was NOT the moment of my salvation. It was just the first step down a long and winding road to Christ. The message I responded to was not wrong; it was just incomplete. Jesus does love me. He did die for me. But I am not the reason He came. The Jesus I was responding to was only a shadow of the Jesus of the Bible, and the “decision” I made wasn’t to follow Christ, but to go steady with Him. I chose Jesus as more of a boyfriend than as Lord.
Unfortunately, asking Jesus to be a “boyfriend” is as dangerous as asking your boyfriend to be your savior.
Here’s what I mean. When I re-read my story up to that decisive moment at camp, the center of the story is ME. My response to the love of Christ was not a recognition of who He was or His authority, power, and sovereignty over me and all of creation. Instead, my affection for Jesus was based entirely on what Jesus did for me and how special He made me feel. Me, me, me, me, ME!
Can you see the dilemma? If my love for Jesus is centered on my needs, then He will inevitably disappoint because (newsflash!) it’s not about me. If my faith is dependent on Jesus meeting my needs, what happens when He doesn’t? In my case, the disappointment led to withdrawal. I would “break up” with Jesus or push Him away. Since I wrongly assumed His love for me was proven by the way He met my needs, I also wrongly perceived any pain, sadness, or discomfort in my life as proof that He did not love me enough. Having myself as the center of the story resulted in an utterly exhausting dance with Christ. I kept stumbling over myself, trying stubbornly to lead when He was the One who choreographed the dance.
The way out of that unproductive dance came when I started studying the Bible with others. We had just moved to Florida, and Bible study was a way to make friends. In the pages of Scripture, I met the real Jesus. Later, when I read through the entire Bible chronologically, I understood for the first time the overarching story of God and the real reason Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. (And it wasn’t so that I could be happy.) Ever so gradually, I finally grasped that Jesus is not a boyfriend sent to meet my needs, but the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Lion of Judah, and the Lamb of God, sent to fulfill the Law of God and destroy the work of the Devil.
It is humbling, but not humiliating.
The more I experience Jesus through His Word and through submission to Him, the more I am eager to step out of the center of the story (or rather my illusion of being center) and find joy in the mind-blowing gift that I even get to be a tiny part of the story. The ironic result of getting over myself has been that as I focus less on getting my needs met by Jesus and more on how I can join Him in His story, the more satisfaction I find. My desires are more often met because my desires have changed.
Turns out, the thing I really need is simply the real Jesus leading the dance.