The road to Calvary is seldom straight, a fact we’ll see on Sunday as we accompany Israel through the Red Sea (in the penultimate exposition of our Exodus series). A host of detours, excursions, and u-turns often attends our steps before God brings us to the Cross. Such unexpected factors add color and texture to our faith and bring the wonder of redemption into sharper focus.
In addition to enriching our faith, conversion stories also portray the movements by which men and women move closer to Christ. In what follows, I’d like to outline the broad contours of my own conversion (since it’s the story I know the best) to consider how God superintends our existential wanderings.
After five weeks in the hospital, having nearly died from meningitis at age nineteen, I resolved to find life’s purpose. The first step of my quest was to investigate transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. After a few months of making unusual noises in a lotus position, I understood why the Beatles became disenchanted with Mr. Yogi’s method. From there I went on to attend seminars through the Learning Annex, studying under world-class gurus like M. Scott Peck and Deepak Chopra.
The apex of my spiritual journey was a “Fire Walk.” It was at New York’s Jacob Javits Center where more than a thousand people waited to hear motivational speaker Tony Robbins. After three hours of his encouraging affirmations, neurolinguistic programming, and some New Age meditation, our massive herd shuffled outside to the parking lot where we encountered a long stretch of burning coals and embers. According to Robbins, the experience was designed to be a “metaphor” for overcoming our fears and improving life. Never before had a metaphor looked so hot and potentially harmful.
When the lady ahead of me proceeded to walk across the 12-foot path of fire, I inhaled deeply. Tony Robbins’ (first) wife (who happened to be facilitating my line) put her hand on my shoulder and said, “You can do this!” I noticed that she was wearing shoes and was at least 20 inches from the nearest coal; nevertheless, I stepped forward and moved as quickly as my trembling legs could carry me. I don’t know how it worked; all I can say is that I walked across the fire without getting burned. When I cleared the coals, someone immediately hosed down my feet with cold water. Despite the thrill, however, my heart remained empty.
Nut-Jobs Like Me
After months of practicing similar forms of craziness, I met a Christian named Jan. By that time, my searching had yielded questions but no answers, an appetite for God without the knowledge of how to feed it. Then came a turning point, the day when Jan started to tell me about the good news of Christ. Knowing something of my pathetic effort to locate purpose, she started by asking questions along the lines of my spiritual journey up to that point. These questions included: What did you learn from your meditation? How did you benefit from your fire walk? My answers forced me to acknowledge that, despite my best efforts, I was no closer to the goal than when I had started. It was shortly thereafter that Jan explained that Jesus died and rose from the grave for nut-jobs like me.
Looking back through years of hindsight, I see enormous value in Jan’s approach. How intentional she was, only the Lord knows; nevertheless, it is clear that her honest and humble queries into the progress of my spiritual journey were instrumental in helping me realize my need for divine grace. Such was the trajectory in which God led me to salvation.
It appears the Lord often leads sinners through deserts of longing before he imparts the Water of life. These valleys showcase our feeble attempt to find the Living God, parodies of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Whenever we invite an unbelieving friend to share his or her story, we create a context in which divine light can shine into darkness, and hopefully, in God’s sovereign timing, the darkness will eventually comprehend it.