My main testimony, the one that I should have matured by but am still struggling against goes like this:
When I was a young chap, my grandfather used to bring me and my cousins to church every week. Our parents, his children, had nothing at all to do with God, except for my uncle who was away in the Navy. It was a blessing that my grandfather was faithful enough to bring us faithfully, though we often gave him a hard time.
My grandfather took me to church every Sunday morning until I was in high school. When I was in sixth grade, he moved from one church to a church across the river which was hungry after God. I was a faithful student in Sunday school, but never joined any of the other weekly services, Sunday or Wednesday nights, special services, nothing. Because of this I grew a strong relationship with God, but not a strong relationship with the church. I remember as a young child, probably pre-teen, when I realized that God was my father (I’m NOT saying that I was conceived by the Holy Spirit). Not anyone on this earth. But that is a different testimony.
One thing after another kept me from church on Sunday morning and the next thing I knew I was working Sunday AMs. Other days when I wasn’t working I remember thinking “I’m too tired to get up; I’ll go next Sunday.” This happened for a very long time (I think), approximately 4 or so years straight. The entire time whenever I drove by the church I’d think to myself “Hey, there’s my church!” I never made the connection that it wasn’t my church because I was never there. Even after years had gone by it only seemed a few weeks since I was there last. I’m sure that made the devil happy.
Mother’s Day 1999 my mother invited me to church. It seems that, unbeknownst to me, she had joined “my” church sometime during my absence. I know often when you invited someone to church you just automatically expect a “no”. At least that seems to be the way some Christians have conditioned themselves (yes, me too). My mother even seemed to have that expectation. She popped the question with guns fully loaded and wouldn’t let me answer until she had emptied all the rounds, then awaited my denial. I didn’t deny, however, because she was inviting me to my church. Of course I would like to go to my church with her. As a matter of fact, this was so messed up because it was my church and I should have been the one inviting her. Whatever. I was mixed up and God was trying to straighten me out, may his name forever be praised!
I came back to my church. I went off and on for a while (maybe a few months) and then dove right in. Fully. It was so different. You see, I was only getting 1/3 of the experience before. When you start giving God 100% instead of 33.3%, He makes a great change in your life. That is my story, but it is not my testimony.
The entire time I was away from the church, but didn’t consider myself away from God, I was slipping. I would convince myself that my faith and my relationship with God were just as strong as they had always been, though I kept very minimal interaction with Him. This is the key point: I thought I was strong enough to handle the temptation of the enemy all by myself. I had determined, though I wasn’t actively in church, that I would not compromise my beliefs. I had determined, though I had not daily/weekly/any fellowship with Him, that I would not conform to this world.
As time went by, I found myself doing things that I wasn’t comfortable with. I would be a part of things I didn’t believe in. I fought temptation, but became weaker with each fight. Sometimes I would fight hard; sometimes I would allow myself to be drawn into the flow. Things that I was in control of and could have prevented, I let others make the decisions and situations ended up very contrary to what I professed to believe. I was failing the fight because I was fighting on my own, not letting God fight for me.
When God graciously returned me to His fold, I realized this: I can’t do it on my own. I never could. I never will be able to. I’m not good enough. All my righteousness is like filthy rags, and I’m the one who stained them. I dirtied them actively and passively. I tried to walk a Christian walk in the flesh, and not in the spirit. If I had continued to walk in the flesh, I would have received a fleshly reward. Luckily God is merciful. He did something for me I couldn’t do on my own. He saved me.
Every time I struggle, every time I wonder why I’m not able to do something for God, I take a step back. Am I trying to do this on my own? It’s what I battled in the past, has my weakness again reared its ugly head? I didn’t succeed when I tried before and I’m certain when I tell you that you can’t do it either. If I can teach people only one thing, it is this. You cannot live for God, you cannot live the Christian life you want to live, and you cannot have the surety that heaven is your home if you do not have an active relationship with Jesus.