I wasn’t looking for God.
I didn’t seriously think there was anybody there, and I definitely didn’t think there was any way of finding out. And in any case, why would I want to find out? What was in it for me?
Wasn’t God – if he existed at all – just some distant being who boomed down commandments at people? Religion – or what I knew of it – was a package of rules and customs, some quainter than others, some even nice, but mostly just weird and restrictive. There was nothing remotely appealing about it.
But my friend wanted to go to church and I went along, just to keep her company – we were new in London and she was nervous about going to a place full of strangers and I, not seeing it as a big deal in any way, said I’d come with her.
Not a big deal – because, though I’m Jewish, like many Israelis I grew up quite secular and so the prohibition on attending a church service wasn’t an issue for me. And all I thought I was doing was: going into some building where a bunch of people would be going through their empty, meaningless rituals, and I’d just be observing. I didn’t join in – didn’t say any of the prayers, and didn’t sing any of the songs. I wouldn’t say or sing stuff that I didn’t believe – hypocrisy being something I’ve always been strongly allergic to. I was there as a completely non-interested bystander. So, no big deal…
I didn’t count on God himself being present.
I didn’t expect to meet God and to fall in love with him. I didn’t know it was possible to meet him in person. I didn’t know that far from being some distant, remote and unreachable being, the real God is loving and caring and that he so passionately loves us and cares about us that he is the one who comes down to meet us!
I had it all back to front. I thought that the whole faith/God/religion question was about what God wants from us. I didn’t know that in Jesus, God shows the world what he is willing to do for us.
It took me ages to get it. That church service back in 1989 was just the start of a long journey – at that stage all I saw in Jesus was: a good teacher, calling people to live a better life, a life of kindness and compassion. In April 1990 I stood in that church and said words that I did mean, and I thought I was joining this religion called Christianity and basically signing up to the manifesto – saying yes, Jesus’ teachings are good and I want to live this way.
Somehow I managed to miss the whole thing about him dying to save mankind. I thought he had come to tell us how to live, and that somehow, in my own strength, I had to try and live up to his standards. But his standards are so high! So I kept trying and failing and not understanding why… Not understanding that Jesus is so much more than a teacher – he is the Saviour, he is God come down to us to rescue us, to die once and for all for the sins of all mankind, so we can be forgiven for everything! And on top of all that, once you put your faith in him he gives you the Spirit to help you, so you don’t have to do it in your own strength!
It took me over 12 years – 12 years of being a committed church-goer who thought she was a Christian… But I was really just a person trying very hard to live the Christian life. Have you ever tried being really loving towards that person who is really horrible to you on a regular basis? You might be able to do it here and there, now and again, for a bit, but eventually you fail. The Bible says the fruit of the Spirit is love – but a tree can’t make the fruit grow just through will power, a tree needs to be planted in good soil and nourished. You can’t create the fruit of the Spirit in yourself – you need God to do that. You need to be reborn through the Spirit and then the fruit will be a natural result.
Jesus didn’t come to set up a new religion. He didn’t come to dump a whole load of rules on us and then leave us to fail and feel bad about it. He came to save us! Yes, he wants us to live better lives – more loving, more honest, more compassionate, and so on – but he doesn’t leave us to just get on with it. He took the punishment we all deserve so that no matter how many times we fail, we can know we’re forgiven! And he gives us the Spirit to help us along the way.
It took me ages to understand. It was on 1 July 2002, aged 40, talking to Jesus privately in my mother’s spare room, that I finally got it, and was, at last, born again. This is why I felt the need to share this now, to celebrate 13 years of this new life, and invite you to join in and receive God’s amazing, unbelievable grace.
He welcomes all into his kingdom. He died for you. Come on in!
Come on in, I said. But how, you ask? Just like I did on this day 13 years ago – talk to God, repent and believe and then be baptised. Repenting and believing means you accept the guilty verdict you deserve, because, just like the rest of humanity, you are a sinner – deep down we all know it but we try very hard to ignore all those times our conscience yells at us, and others around us help us ignore it by saying, hey, it’s ok, we all do that… normalising sin, and silencing the voice of our conscience, that built-in mechanism for calling us to confess our sins to God and repent!
Once you repent of your sins and put your trust in Jesus, he will give you a new life, a clean slate, knowing that you are totally and utterly forgiven – this song captures that feeling really well.