My first encounter with God was in a pew at church when I was 8 years old. Every sunday, our pastor would end the service by inviting people to come to the front of the sanctuary to pray to receive salvation. And inevitably, every sunday I would tell myself I was going to go down to the front. I didn't know what salvation meant or what would happen when I got there, I just knew that I needed to go down. I needed something that they were offering down there, whatever it was. But even as an 8 year old, I was afraid of what people, including my parents, would think. After much debating within myself, I never went.
A couple years later I found myself at our church's "Preteen Camp." As I began to meet other church kids, I started to learn the "spiritual language" better. I realized that the cool thing to do was to "get saved." And one "got saved" by walking down the aisle at the end of the service and praying a prayer with a counselor. (The prayer only worked if you cried while you prayed it though.) So naturally, I decided I would get saved while I was at preteen camp. My new bunkmate Allison was going to get saved too since we were the only ones in our cabin who weren't saved yet.
That night, we walked down the aisle as planned and found ourselves sitting with a camp counselor. Everything was going smoothly until we started praying. I couldn't get myself to cry! I began thinking about my dog dying and other sad things to try and muster up a few tears without much luck. But I was reassured by my counselor that now I was saved and I should call my parents to share the good news! I was a different person now, she assured me. Funny, I didn't feel any different.
I honestly didn't think much about God for the next year or two. Now that I was "saved", I assumed there wasn't anything left to figure out or work through. But that all changed one night in 6th grade. Alone in my bedroom, I randomly decided to read my Bible. I don't remember what I read, but whatever it was actually applied to my little junior high life! I remember feeling like God was speaking right to me! From then on, I was hooked. I couldn't get enough of my Bible! I was became very excited about Sunday school and wanted to learn as much as I could about this God and His Word.
Somewhere during the process of getting to know God through His Word, I had the clarity to look back at my "getting saved" experience and realize it wasn't real. After all, I hadn't even been thinking about what I was praying and definitely didn't understand what it meant. This realization threw me into a season of doubting. I began to pray "the sinner's prayer" every night, sometimes in tears, sometimes without any emotion. I was looking for any assurance of salvation I could get because all I wanted was to be with God forever.
It was again through the Bible that God spoke to me. "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9 When I first read this verse you would have thought I had just found the most expensive jewel! I was thrilled and treasured it in my heart. I would literally walk myself through the verse and confess out loud "Jesus is Lord." Then I would ask myself if I really believed that God raised Him from the dead. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I decided I did believe this. So then, according to the Bible, I was saved! I wrote this verse on notecards and put it in my locker, in my purse, on my mirror, wherever I could to help myself remember that I was indeed saved!
With this cleared up, I hit the ground running! I could not get enough of God! I longed to talk about Him with whoever would listen and was eager for any Bible teaching I could get. Every new verse I read was like food to my hungry soul. My Bible quickly became full of colors as I highlighted practically everything because it was just so good! Each year I grew closer to Him and my appetite to know Him also grew. Jesus became my favorite subject, my all-encompassing obsession, my hobby, my love, my everything. My sole occupation became to know Him more and nothing else.
The more familiar I became with the Bible, the more my understanding of salvation also grew. I began to understand how serious my sin was to God, even the small things. So serious in fact, that He could not even be near me because His holiness, justice, and goodness is so great. It was for that reason that He had to send Jesus, His son, to take my place. There was no other way. Jesus was perfect and offered me His righteousness in place for my sin so that I could know God! And because He took my sin, He had to die on the cross as payment. But He rose from the dead and defeated hell and death and has given me new life through His victory! I could know God and be saved by choosing in my heart to trust in Jesus as my everything: my way to know God, my freedom from sin and hell, my way to be righteous, my way to know truth, my everything. It is through faith in Jesus that my salvation comes, not some magic prayer. I could say "the sinner's prayer" a thousand times, but that didn't save me. It was when my heart had no where to turn but Jesus that I found salvation.
Though this overarching longing for more of Him has been constant, that doesn't mean that every season of my life has been easy or joyful. There have been seasons of deep sorrow where God has been silent and His presence less felt. There have been seasons of discipline where God has exposed sin in my life and sanctified me through trials and hardship. There have been many ups and downs, but one thing remains the same: I long to know God more and I can't get enough of His Word!
Oh how I love Jesus. How my heart longs for more and more of Him. And how I love the Bible, the very Word of God through which He continually reveals Himself to me. Every year of my life, my appetite to know Him increases. And every year, I become more and more aware of the depth of my sin and my need for Him. He is truly my everything.