Lately, I have happened across stories of ordinary, middle-aged adults coming to faith. These people had no real connection to a church or a believing community. I have found their stories fascinating and enlightening as God met them where they were.
Most recently I read Anne Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies which is a collection of autobiographical essays about life and faith. Her journey to faith was unexpected and almost unwelcome.
Anne grew up in a dysfunctional family and spent a lot of time at the homes of her friends. These second homes had more of a faith base than her own and she came to believe in a spiritual aspect to life from an early age. However, her adolescence and young adulthood were tumultuous. She became addicted to alcohol and drugs. She eventually came to faith in her mid-30s.
Her brief prayer of accepting God’s salvation was, ‘I quit. All right. You can come in.’ It was more a prayer of resignation than repentance.
Another account I stumbled across was of Richard Morgan who was challenged by the question, ‘What could make you believe in God?’
He immediately knew that it wasn’t science or reason that would convince him. This was odd because he had placed a lot of value on science and philosophy and had done a lot of research in this area.
As he thought about the question a Bible verse from years previous jumped into his mind, ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John chapter 4 verse 19). Suddenly he understood that it was love that could make him believe in God. At this moment, he could barely understand what was happening to him and he says, ‘That was at 10:24 on the morning of the 12th April, 2008. I remember looking at my watch ’cause I was thinking, you know, if I am having a nervous breakdown it might be useful to know what time it started to happen to me!’
You can read the full transcript here.
A further account I read was in, The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan. The book is a memoir of how the author, a secular Jew became a Christian. His was a long, slow journey to faith.
After many years, he got to the point of believing intellectually that there must be a God, so one night he decided to pray. He was in a good place in his life, he had a good job, a loving family, a nice place to live so he simply prayed, ‘Thank you God’ and fell asleep.
The next morning, he knew something had changed, he felt a sense of joy that he hadn’t experienced before. He took one small step toward God and prayed a sincere prayer. Again, not what we would call a prayer of repentance and faith. Nevertheless, a prayer of recognition and acceptance.
Paul, Lydia and Rahab
Then there are the surprising stories in the Bible of people coming to faith. Paul travels to Damascus planning violence against Christians, but he becomes a Christian on the way (Acts chapter 9).
Lydia gathers with a group of women by a river praying to a God she knew little about. She meets Paul who had come to Macedonia after receiving a vision of a man asking for help but he finds Lydia instead. Paul leads her to faith in Jesus (Acts chapter 16).
Rahab puts her faith in God because she heard how he had dried up the waters of the Red Sea and provided his people with a way of escape from the Egyptians. An event that everyone else in Jericho also knew but it didn’t move them to faith (Joshua chapter 2 verse 10).
As I read these stories, I sensed that these people weren’t looking for God but he was looking for them. Their prayers weren’t traditional prayers of repentance and faith but genuine cries from the heart. God heard their cries and he planted faith in them.
For all these people and many more like them, faith wasn’t just an intellectual shift but something that happened in their hearts and changed their lives.
Susan Barnes has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years with her husband, Ross. They are now semi-retired and enjoy supporting a number of churches in north-east Victoria. You can find more of Susan’s articles at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/susan-barnes.html