I thought that the visiting pastor gave a good sermon on Easter Day. He touched on the topic of doubt. And along the way he brought up the reality that even though one may have had grown up in a Christian home and called himself a Christian, he is not a believer unless he has had a personal encounter with God. Experiential, subjective truth, he called it.
I deemed myself to be a Christian for the longest time, but it was only a few years ago when I had my personal encounter with God.
Prior to that I was a man of works. When I returned to church after a long hiatus while studying in Junior College in Singapore, I served and gave much time to God through church service. I believed that God will bless me and straighten out my life if I served Him.
In the US I continued this pattern. Intellectually I acknowledged the concept of grace and sin, but effectively I was just running on the same pattern of works. I was very active in church, yet again.
Sometime in late sophomore year, I was deeply disappointed because something which I had longed for was lost. I was angry at God. After all my service, how can you not fulfil that for me, God?
I resolved to serve harder. And failed. I resolved to try harder. And failed.
No matter how much time I gave, it was never enough. I felt that the demands on me would never wear off.
One day, I had had enough. I walked out of a weekly night prayer meeting, deliberately leaving the guys in my small group.
I heeded an advice to just attend church service and weekly bible study. That Sunday, the pastor said, "Fear makes you take your life and destiny into your own hands, and people call it a crisis of faith… Will you give God what you desired to have for yourself so much?"
I called home later that week, and my mum told me to not worry, just focus on studies. I wasn't happy with that answer. Why was my Christian life so unjoyful? Something was wrong.
Soon, during a Friday bible study, a visiting pastor spoke on his void of joy in Christian life during his earlier days in college. Surprisingly, he too called his mum, and she told him to church hop, but he ignored her advice. He quoted Matthew 13:44-46. He said that only way to joy in Christian life is to give up everything: "You have to decide whether to give your life radically to the Gospel, or not."
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."
My third encounter was during a prayer meeting soon after, when I went forward for prayer. I didn't tell the person much, but he prayed so specifically that I knew God was telling me something.
One might be skeptical and say that these people were scheming to convince me. That explanation would be crazier than a much more plausible explanation: God was revealing himself to me.
Well, I suppose three's a charm for the stubborn person that I was (and perhaps still am).
Eventually, I realized that I was deeply loved. This love does not depend on my ability to serve. It's the kind of love where you can lose everything and yet still have everything.
One day, the song Take Up Your Cross by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir kept playing in my head. That very same day I "turned myself over" to God.
But perhaps great encounters entail great responsibility someday.