Let’s be honest. How many of us are really open? We have our beliefs. We have our convictions. We know what we know. Are we really ready to listen and learn? Are really ready to be challenged to change our minds about something that could be life changing???
That was me a few years back. I had graduated high school a year prior and was visiting with a friend out of state before joining the Marines. My friend’s dad happened to be a youth pastor and the cute girls I was interested in while we were visiting happened to be in the youth group. So, I found myself in church three times a week building new friendships and trying to figure out which girl I might have a chance to date.
To be clear, I was not really open to hearing from God or listening at church to whatever message was being preached. In fact, I often used foul language in church and my interests were not pure. I was out for whatever I could get out of it. I had some pretty selfish motives.
After all, my life prior to all of this had dealt me some harsh blows. I grew up with a pretty rough life. We were very poor and moved constantly growing up. We moved as often as every couple of months until high school. That’s when our moves really slowed down as I only went to four schools from 9th – 12th grade. My father was an alcoholic and abusive. I felt like I could never do anything right even though I was a pretty good kid who didn’t drink or smoke. I hated violence, racism and was for gender equality. Yet, life had been pretty rough for me despite what I thought was being a good kid.
How could I believe in a God who allowed all of that to happen to me?
During my time in church that summer, some truths slowly started to creep into my brain without much thought. Our God is an Awesome God became one of my favorite songs to sing at church despite not really believing it yet. The church people were becoming like a family to me. My (future) mother-in-law introduced me to Jesus through both love and conversation. I was slowly becoming open. Then, the summer ended and I went to boot camp for the United States Marine Corps.
In boot camp, I was pretty miserable. The drill instructors all reminded me of my dad who I hated at that time. They were so harsh and mean even though I rarely messed up and was one of the better performing recruits. To be real though, they were mean to everyone. That was their job. It didn’t matter to me even though I had expected it.
Every Sunday, we had the opportunity to get away from the drill instructors and go to church services with other recruits and a Navy Chaplin. The songs we sang were encouraging and way more joyous than the rest of my training. One Sunday, about the eighth week of boot camp, we were out in the field and our church service was on some metal bleachers. The Chaplin talked about the sinful life of many Marines after their training and the types of selfish activities that often get them in trouble. I thought to myself, “that’s not really me, I’m a pretty good kid.” But when he asked if anyone wanted to receive Christ into their lives as their Lord and Savior, I was ready. I knew that I wasn’t perfect and that I needed Jesus. I wanted a new chance at life and I wanted the salvation he had to offer so I prayed to accept Christ into my life, repented of my sins and trusted Jesus to forgive me.
He did! I was filled with a peace and a joy that I had never experienced before! I was a new person. I wanted to serve God with my life and be obedient to his every word. I loved God and was excited to follow Jesus! I knew I had some things in my life that needed to change so I set about changing them.
First, was my language. As I mentioned before, I had a foul mouth. I used to cuss up a storm in church or out. That was a hard habit to break, but God helped me do that within a few weeks!
The next task however, wasn’t so easy. I hated my dad. I knew I couldn’t say I loved God, but I hated my dad so I set out to forgive him and love him the way I should. This took time. Over the next couple of years, Jesus taught me how to forgive my father and to love him unconditionally. I have been filled with peace and joy in my life ever since. Of course, life hasn’t always been easy ever since and I’ve experienced a wide variety of emotions, but I know my God is with me and he comforts me in times of need.
None of this would have been possible if I was fully closed to God or learning about how He might change my life if I let Him. I had to be open to listening and learning. I now know God was at work in my life and circumstances, but He also brought people into my life to prepare the way for Him to speak. And I listened.
Are you open?
I hope so.
God loves you and has much to say to you.