I grew up in a household that was devoid of the mention of God; neither pro-God nor anti-God. No one ever has ever tried to convince me that God is real and that I should believe in Jesus, the Son of God. So, what made me believe? One thing is for sure, I came to a heart knowledge of God first, not a head knowledge of God. I trusted and trust in God with a childlike faith first, not through mental assent.
Life is an Iceberg
Life is an iceberg. The surface of our lives is what we share with others - with our friends, family, and colleagues. Welcome to the surface of my life. I am a Christian -- baptized at the age of 14 -- and I am married to my high school sweetheart. This year (2013) we celebrated our 7th anniversary. I have two daughters and have had a successful start to my career. We've been going to church for over 5 years. Above the surface is "picture-perfect," or so it can seem.
Below The Surface
Below the surface, things are not so nice and neat, are they? The real us lives here. The real desires of our hearts are found here. I brought secrets into my marriage. I was unfaithful in my heart during my marriage. I struggled with pornography, lust, daily fantasies, constant sinful desires, and self-gratification. My nightly routine was to pray the Lord's prayer then attempt to drift into a fantasy. So, there it is. Outwardly, things looked fine. But on the inside, my heart was nasty. I was a hypocrite.
This was a stronghold in my life over a decade in the making. What made it a stronghold is the fact that I wouldn't let go of these secrets and turn them over to God. I thought I couldn't. I vowed to myself over ten years ago that I would take these things to the grave. If my wife were to know the real me, I felt it would break her heart. I felt she would leave me. I was daily reminded of my secrets, like fresh wounds each time they hit me. This brought me into depression over the years and stifled my relationship with God. I questioned if God really even existed and I also questioned His goodness. I relied on gratifying my flesh for happiness and my job and bank account for security.
God planted a seed of desire in my heart to serve Him, to be a pure man and the spiritual leader of my home; to do His will and be a disciple spreading the Good News of the Gospel. But between where I was and where I wanted to be was a chasm - a gulf/deep divide. There was no way in my own strength that I could get from where I was to where I desired in my heart to be.
What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the Good News of God's redemption of sinful humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus was born, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, and on the third day, He rose from the dead. As John 3:16 tells us, "For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." What are we being redeemed from, you might wonder. Man was born in a sinful state and without Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior (the only way to eternal life), we will be eternally separated from God in a place called Hell, which Jesus describes in multiple places in the Gospels (the Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) as a place of eternal torment where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (see Matthew 13:42 for an example.)
I ended up going to a men's retreat in January 2013. I went with desire of having a true relationship with Christ and a pure, open, honest relationship with my wife and a deep longing to become a disciple of Christ. My heart was heavy on the way in. I meditated on Psalm 23, for my spiritual life at this point was in the valley of the shadow of death (I had been here for over a decade!)
On January 12, 2013, I finally surrendered. No doubt moments beforehand, I weighed the cost and knew that I would be walking into fiery trials. Then I let go. I made a declaration of full surrender of every area of my life to Jesus Christ. I trusted in Jesus first. That's it - that is all you have to "do." Do is in quotes because Jesus paid the cost and did all the work. We can only open up and receive, so that we have no reason to boast. It is profoundly simple, yet for me it was extremely difficult to finally come to this place. What changed? I finally came to a place where Jesus was first. I was at the foot of the cross. I finally decided that I would trust Jesus and let everything else, secondarily, fall into place where it would as it accords to God's will.
This verse resonated in my heart after surrendering. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11
God worked miracles in my life since I surrendered. I immediately had faith that God was very much real and my perspective of God also shifted. He was always the center of my world, I just didn't know it. But I now saw that from my perspective. I went home and confessed to my wife. This was the most difficult thing I have ever done and the things I had to say were difficult for her to hear. She forgave me practically on the spot and through her forgiveness, she has demonstrated to me something very unexpected and wonderful - unconditional love. My marriage is now stronger, not weaker. My marriage is now more intimate, not less intimate. I didn't see that one coming!!! Praise God!!!
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." - Romans 12:2
The Lord has blessed me mightily by purifying my heart and bringing purity into our marriage. It has been a process renewing my mind. I am renewing my mind and living for God in the following ways -- I list them for your benefit.
1) By seeking the Kingdom of God first
2) By daily putting on the Full Armor of God (Ephesians 6)
3) Identifying and casting out temptations in the name of Jesus. I usually follow this with memory verses (God's word is the sword of the Spirit.)
4) Reading the yearly Bible daily
5) Praying daily
6) Memorizing Bible verses and practicing them daily
7) Praying with my wife
8) Worshiping God daily
9) Being accountable to a Godly accountability partner
Update: 6/19/15: I don't always do all of these things and it does not matter. What matters is that you are following the Lord out of a right heart and being obedient to the prompting and call of the Holy Spirit. It is more important to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and talk to someone about Jesus, for instance, than reading the Bible in that particular moment. I don't always get this right and I am trusting God to help me; He will help you, too.
The first two Bible verses I memorized which I have used the most (every time I am tempted) may help you as well:
"Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not allow yourself to think of any ways to indulge your evil desires." - Romans 13:14
"The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptations to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out, so that you can endure." - 1 Corinthians 10:13
My hope is that my testimony is an appropriate witness of the events which have occurred in my life where the presence of God has powerfully changed my life. If you have hung on every word and come to the end of this and you are still straddling the fence - knowing what in your heart is true and what you wish you could do, but feeling as if there is no way you ever can... know that is where I was. You can't. Only God can. He can powerfully transform your life, if only you will let go and give your life to Him. May the Lord God of Heaven bless you and all of your future generations and all of your family, for His name's sake and for His glory.