Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us
Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us
Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
– “Never Once” by Matt Redman
A lot of people have drastically amazing testimonies about the wonder of God reaching down into their sin-riddled life and turning them around. My story is like that, but it may not be what you think. My story does not begin with drinking and drugs, but rather with cold, hard rebellion and apathetic numbness. My dad has been a pastor for as long as I can remember, which means that I grew up in the church. I went to Sunday School, AWANA, and even tried to fill in the blanks on the sermon outlines (which is really hard when you have to write words like “everlasting” at age 4). At the age of 5, I was reading my Quiet Time (Word of Life people know what I’m talking about) and one of the prompting questions at the end went something like:
Have you ever asked Jesus to be your Savior?
This had been something that I had heard a lot of people mentioning in the various church programs I was a part of. Then I made a decision—today is the day I’ll pray the prayer. So, with my dad and my mom, I prayed and accepted Jesus into my heart. While I truly believe that I was saved from my sin at that time, my life to follow did not reflect that decision very well.
From that time on I had the innocent faith of a child—sort of. Actually, in all honesty, I fell into the routine of life (church, school, playing Legos, church, etc.) and allowed it to become just that: a routine. The stories became just stories, the lesson applications became dull, the fire inside of me simmered to a cold, smoldering mess. This was all happening around the age of 10, when I also began to rebel. It was slow steps down a longer path of sin and rebellion, but at the heart of the issue, I had just grown numb to the power of God. His saving grace was a trite expression, His sacrifice on the cross was just words in a prayer, His love for me was the cliché point of a Sunday School lesson. Church was fun because I had friends there and I love music, but even with those two benefits, I did anything I could to get out of church. I often exaggerated a cold to make it seem like I had a deathly illness just so that I could avoid church (unless, of course, it was on the night of a church dinner). I am not proud of this in any way at all. I wish I could sit here and tell you that I was so on fire for God for all 16 years of my life, but that wouldn’t be the truth.
I was at such a dangerous and crucial part in my life at ages 10-12, and I did not even realize it. I began to slip into the mire of pleasure, seeking only my own comfort and “happiness” (not surprisingly, that’s still one of the biggest battles that I have to fight now, several years later). The problems escalated, my sin multiplied, and I became more and more numb to the gospel. At that time, my family had to move. I was miserable and could not seem to find a way out of my sin and apathy. So, instead of seeking Christ, I slunk further down into the mire.
When I was 13, I had sunk very low but the Holy Spirit that I had quenched for so long sparked me to repentance. In a quick moment of decision, I confessed my sin and rebellion to my family. I am not going to lie—it was painful; probably one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. A lot has happened in the three years since then, but three very good things came out of that confession:
1. I drew closer to God
This is really the only thing that could save me, and God’s amazing, overwhelming grace was there when I needed it most. I’d love to say that it was all sunshine and roses from there on out, but it really has not been. I still struggle, I still fail, I still fall short, but I know that forgiveness is available if I repent. If you’re at all like me, you’ve read other people’s testimonies and felt discouraged, because they all had that “one moment” in which everything changed and then things were supposedly great from there on out. (Please note that I am not calling people with such testimonies liars, but endeavoring to bring to light that our struggle with sin is something that goes on throughout all of our lives). Unfortunately, that’s not reality—spiritual warfare still rages violently against everyone, and once you’ve made a commitment to follow God like never before, the Devil will pour even more effort into making you stumble. Then when you give in to the temptation, he says, “Look at you. You haven’t changed a bit. You can’t change. You will always be this way, no matter how many spiritual highs you chase, no matter how often you try to read your Bible. You will fail.” Don’t listen to him. Do you know what God has to say? “[I] will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) What matters more—what Satan says or what God says?
2. I drew closer to my parents
This was huge. What I had been hiding from my parents was revealed, and though it was painful at first, it ended up being amazing in the long-run. They can now keep me accountable and I trust them and love them more than ever because they’ve seen my mistakes and they still love me. I know what you’re thinking: “My parents would kill me if they knew…” go ahead and finish that sentence with that “closet sin” that you’re hiding. Trust me when I say that without this confession, I would still be stuck where I was several years ago. Confess your sin to God, confess your sin to your parents, and repent of it.
3. I acknowledged that I have weak spots and I developed a battle plan
Fighting temptation is arguably the hardest thing that we have to do here on earth.. Satan has some VERY crafty tactics, and he’s been in the practice of using them since the time of Adam and Eve. However, he has the same old weaknesses that he has had for thousands of years. Scripture is a deterrent to him—it is our sword with which we do battle. I have found that memorizing passages of Scripture that specifically address my weaknesses is very helpful. But that alone is not enough; we must have a good ally in this fight and we must seek His help frequently. Develop a battle plan. Know where you are weak and go to great lengths to protect yourself in those areas.
So there it is. That is my story; that is my song. In case you’re still thinking that after that defining moment of repentance I have been perfect, let me tell you that you will never stop sinning. So, likewise, we should never stop seeking God’s forgiveness. Life is not sunshine and roses, but life is beautiful when it is walked with God at your side. I pray that my failures and eventual pursuit of God will help you. My testimony is flawed and tainted with sin, but through the dark stains, the all-encompassing grace of my Redeemer shines through. All glory to God forever and ever, Amen.