Transformed from the Inside Out
At age eight, I began attending Sunday school off and on for two years and learned about God and Heaven. In one of the first classes, the teacher described Heaven as a beautiful place without sorrow or pain, and it sounded so wonderful that from that time forward, I wanted to go. However, she didn’t tell us how to get there. Instead, she said it was normal for little boys and girls to be naughty, but if we loved God, we would try our best to be good. Right then, I decided that being good was the way to get to Heaven.
While growing up, I held firmly to this belief and did my best to live right. I got good grades in school and obeyed my parents. In my teenage years, it became more difficult to stay out of trouble. My friends started doing drugs, getting drunk at weekend parties, and lying to their parents about where they were. They offered me drugs, and there was a lot of peer pressure to go to the parties, but being determined to get to Heaven someday, I resisted.
Yet, there was never any assurance that this was the right path to Heaven. Instead, my hope was solely based on assumptions. I would compare myself to others and think, I behave better than most. If Heaven is real, and if being good is the way to get there, I am probably good enough to go.
Who is in control?
While still in high school, I began dating my future husband who was not a Christian, and one day told him I was one. He replied, “No, you are not. You sin all the time.” I did have a temper and was a compulsive liar, but said, “No one is perfect, but I try to be good.” He told me his mom had become a Christian before he was born and he had never seen her sin. I said, “That is impossible. No one can control all their actions all the time.” He said, “With God, nothing is impossible. He can take away a person’s sins.” I felt he was just seeing what he wanted to see, so we ended the discussion.
Two years later, my boyfriend and I married, and from the start there were problems. We were young and self-centered, and we had two children right away, making finances tight. In addition, I was carrying an enormous amount of anger inside that spilled over into all my relationships. I tried to control my temper, especially with the children, but often failed.
As our marriage struggled, I watched my mother-in-law’s life for an opportunity to tell my husband, “I told you so.” However, I could not find fault with anything she said or did. Puzzled by this, I would test her on occasion. She lived in a different city, but during her visits, I would ask questions like, “Can you believe . . . that so and so . . . did such and such?” Her most common response was, “I don’t know much about that, but I know God loves them.”
A challenge for God
My mother-in-law’s life remained a mystery for several years. Then, on September 28, 1987, when I was twenty-three years old, a series of events led me to have a change of heart. That morning, within minutes of arriving at work, I got into an argument with a coworker over a personal loan. The discussion became heated and eventually, I was so frustrated that I stormed out of the building, got into my car, and drove off. While driving, I continued my side of the argument by yelling at my coworker and pounding my fists on the steering wheel.
After a time, my angry rant turned toward others, including my husband and his family. Then, because I had been planning to get a divorce, I shouted, “Good riddance!” Immediately, it occurred to me that God might not approve of divorce, and this could disqualify me for Heaven.
Now I was angry at God and challenged, “Who are You to sit up there so far away from us, never having anything to do with us until after we’re dead, and yet making rules for us to live by? I should be the rule maker because I live here and know what people need! If a couple can’t get along, they need to divorce for the good of the whole family.” Then I asked, “Are You against divorce or not? What is wrong with it anyway?”
Several more life choices that I was uncertain about came to mind. For example, I had overheard someone say that a couple who was living together without being married was living in sin. In each case, I asked God, “Are You against that too? What is wrong with it anyway?”
By this time, I had driven across town and was very worked up. I had one more question: “Why do we have to wait until it is too late to get answers and find out if we chose the right path to Heaven?”
A series of events
Needing to calm down, I turned on the radio, which was always set to a certain music station, but nothing came in. I pressed the preset button and there was only static. Angry and assuming that the last person who borrowed my car had reprogramed the settings, I started punching all the buttons. Again, there was just static. I tried tuning manually, but my station wouldn’t come in. Wondering if the radio was broken, I began running the dial back and forth trying to pick up anything.
Right then, the driver in front of me slammed on the brakes. The red brake lights caught my eye, and beneath the right one was a bumper sticker that read, “KPDQ 93.7 FM.” To find out if my radio was broken, I turned the dial to that station, and it tuned right in. The program was a talk show in a question-and-answer format on the topic of humanism versus Christianity. I would not have listened, except that the first question was “Is God against divorce, and if so, why?”
A man answered saying, “God doesn’t want us to divorce. He doesn’t want us to experience the heartache that it brings.” Then he gave statistics detailing the lasting damage caused by divorce, especially to children. The second question was, “Is God against a couple living together before marriage, and if so, why?” Statistics were used again and showed that this arrangement has harmful consequences also.
As the discussion continued, I learned that doing things God’s way will keep us from hurting ourselves and others. Humbled, I thought, I wanted to be the rule maker but didn’t even know the statistics or consider the purpose for the rules.
By the end of the program, all my questions had been asked and answered. I was stunned that God had been listening, cared enough about me to answer, and was capable of orchestrating events to do so. I wondered, How did God know I would be in my car and ask those questions? Did He break my radio? When was that program taped?
A new perspective
Upon arriving back at work, I pulled into the parking lot, turned off the engine, and sat thinking. In addition to answering my questions, at the close of the program, the host had talked about the need for a Savior. He said, “No matter how well you behave outwardly, if your heart is filled with hate, you are a sinner going to Hell.” My heart was overflowing with hate and anger, but I said to myself, “It’s justified, so it is okay.” My thoughts went to someone who had harmed me, and I sneered in contempt. Then suddenly, it was as if a mirror was turned on me; I saw the ugliness of the hate in my heart for this person. I also saw my own hurtful actions—gossiping and spreading lies about others—and that my misdeeds came from the same source as this other person’s. This changed my whole perspective. I realized that after spending my life trying to be good, I was no better than this person. I was just as much a sinner.
Ashamed, I prayed, “God, I’m so sorry for tarnishing Your name by calling myself a Christian while hurting others. I’m sorry for the hate in my heart and the wrong things I have done because of it. I don’t want to be this person anymore or do these things. From now on, I will follow You and do what You want me to do.” Then I paused and said, “I don’t know what makes a person a real Christian.” In that moment, the conversation from years before about my mother-in-law came to mind. I had never seen her sin and now wondered, Could it be true that God takes away a person’s sin? Then I continued, “Whatever the truth is, I know You will do it for me.”
I didn’t know the Bible teaches, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9). Nor had I read, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). Yet, the moment my prayer was finished, I felt God’s forgiveness, as well as His love and acceptance. In addition, something took place in my heart, and I knew beyond any doubt that I was ready for Heaven. Then, all the hate in my heart began to lift like a fog and as it went, joy flooded in. I was so surprised that God could convey forgiveness, give an assurance of Heaven, and exchange joy for hate. I had thought all religions were based solely on faith without proof.
As I stepped from the car and returned to work, everything seemed new inside and out. The nearby trees were vivid with color, my thoughts were clean and clear, and I felt so light, as if walking on air. A transformation had taken place, and this became more apparent as the day went on. One example happened shortly after I returned to my desk among the rest of the office staff. A coworker came in from the warehouse with her arm wrapped in a sweatshirt, which was dripping with blood. Everyone rushed to help, but I froze, because there was a sudden pang in my heart that I didn’t recognize. I wondered, What is that strange feeling? I would learn months later that it was empathy. To my knowledge, I hadn’t experienced it before, not even for my two young children.
That week, the inward change God had made in my heart continued to manifest itself outwardly. On Sunday afternoon, I sat down to read a magazine, but the gossip in it made me feel so dirty that I literally shook myself off before throwing the magazine away. I turned on the television but found something offensive on every channel—there was even a Ouija board on the children’s show Lassie. Rereading a favorite book wasn’t an option either—after only one chapter, I was disgusted by the foul language and violence. Putting down the book, I thought, Why didn’t I notice this garbage before? I did not yet understand the work God had done in my heart. I had not heard, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Finally, it occurred to me to read a little from the Bible that had been given to my children, though I had no idea what its purpose was. One person had told me it was a history of the Jews. Another had said it was a book of morals. Yet another had said that only the second half applied to our day. I decided to start at the beginning and find out for myself.
In the first chapters of Genesis, I read about the origins of the human race and how we became separated from God. I thought, This is a history book. Then I came to the story of Jacob and noticed a parallel with my own life. Jacob was a liar who had an unexpected encounter with God. He prayed, committing his life to following God, and was changed. I felt God speaking directly to me through Jacob’s experiences. Suddenly, I thought, This is personal. Then I knew, The Bible is a letter from our Creator! Right then, I wanted to know everything God had to say to us and began reading the Bible for hours every evening.
As I read, a marvelous thing happened: God’s Spirit made me able to understand and apply His Word in my life. Within months, God restored my relationship with my husband, helped me reconcile with my coworker, and taught me to tithe, discipline my children, dress modestly, and more.
God’s Spirit also provided guidance throughout each day. Once while driving, I was about to revert to my old ways of ranting, but something inside urged, “No!” Another time, I met some friends for dinner, and they ordered alcoholic beverages for everyone. As I picked up my glass, again something inside urged, “No!” In both situations, I wasn’t sure what was happening, but obeyed. Then I read in 1 John 2:27, “The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you.” I realized that God doesn’t expect us to serve Him in our own power but provides the supernatural direction and strength to obey. Finally, I was able to stop comparing myself to others and just follow God’s leading.
After a few months, God told me to go to church. I had not planned on doing this, thinking churches were merely community service organizations. However, my mother-in-law attended a branch of the Apostolic Faith, and its headquarters church was near my home, so I went one Sunday morning in January. I sat in the back row with my coat on, ready to leave if the preacher said anything contrary to what I had been reading in the Bible. Instead, he said, “When God forgives you, His Spirit comes into your heart and changes you.” I took off my coat and have attended ever since.
Soon, I heard about the deeper experiences of sanctification and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and in time, I received them.
God continues to lead my life and I could tell of countless answers to prayer, including that he saved my husband. However, I am most grateful for the day He orchestrated events to reveal Himself to me. Today I know God is real and cares enough about us to want a daily relationship with us. In addition, I no longer carry the burden of relying on myself to get to Heaven because I have an assurance of salvation in my heart. I look forward to seeing my mother-in-law and other loved ones in Heaven one day.