There are some incredible and inspiring stories of men and women whose lives have been dramatically and radically changed by an encounter with Jesus – drug addicts healed, gang members liberated, staunch atheists converted, and let’s not forget arguably the most unlikely and most impactful transformation of Paul the Apostle. My story is not one of those. There has never been a time in my life where I have not called myself a Christian, however there have been key moments that have impacted and shaped me to the faith I now have.
I grew up in a loving and supportive Christian family and attended church for much of my childhood, often spending kids group messing around and winding up the kids team (which, as someone who now volunteers for my own church kids team, I feel incredibly guilty of). My relationship with Jesus was probably the same as many who grew up in a similar environment – I was a Christian predominantly because that’s what I was taught and what I knew.
Around the age of 11 my church attendance dropped as I began playing rugby which always trained on a Sunday, and I soon entered my teenage years. Suddenly I was surrounded by new and exciting environments – drinking to excess, drugs, pornography, and sex to name a few – and subconsciously my belief system began to waver. It wasn’t that I simply disregarded all Christian teaching, but, faced with this new world, I generally chose not to challenge it. Instead, rather than consider any biblical alternative, as a hormonal and arrogant boy I devised my own moral code that I could justify to myself. I believed in Jesus, but a compromised Jesus. So my faith continued, fuelled mostly by individual moments of encounter at Christian festivals or youth weekends away, however it was all largely encapsulated by my own self-made belief system.
It was at 19 that things really changed. I took a gap year during which began an intense romantic relationship. Initially things seemed great and to any non-believer nothing would be out of the ordinary, however after a few months something suddenly shifted in my heart, and I found myself with questions and worries that quickly led to me ending the relationship. In the wake of this I felt damaged, I was weighed down with a sudden onset of guilt, shame and constant anxiety, I found myself in a place of emotional and spiritual turmoil. Slowly and painfully I began to look to Jesus with fresh eyes.
It was in this place that I went to university, still feeling broken yet not fully open to the Holy Spirit. However, it took only until my second weekend at uni for Jesus to step in. An old family friend from home kindly invited me to her church that Sunday evening and with nothing better to do, I said yes. I now look back at this decision and realise this was crossroads moment in my life – I hadn’t really been thinking about church and in all likelihood, had my friend not invited me, I probably wouldn’t have bothered finding one and then who knows where I might now be. But God provided me a lifeboat that changed me forever.
I went to church that evening and for the first time ever I was in a place that I felt I could call home. It seems crazy looking back at how quickly things developed, but I soon joined a church small group and I never missed a session or a Sunday. I was now with people in my life stage going through similar struggles and surrounded by role models demonstrating how to live a full life with Jesus. God knew what I needed – a family of likeminded people on a similar journey, a Christian community who would love me, support me, teach me and admonish me. I wasn’t suddenly healed of my brokenness, that journey took some time, but it was there that my faith became my own, where, as the author of Hebrews illustrates, I really began to move from a faith of milk to a faith of solid food (Hebrews 5:11-14).
That first year of university was meant to be a time of partying, studying, joining clubs and societies, and having great experiences – and I still enjoyed much of that – but what I wasn’t expecting was that my life would change forever because I had found Jesus again and was taking him seriously.
I stand by my earlier statement, there has never been a moment where I have not called myself a Christian. However there did come a time when I was mature enough to let Jesus in and allowed him to change and impact all of me.
Peter Thompson works as the Operations Manager for Advance in Manchester. He is married to his biggest supporter Emma, and worships at Manchester Vineyard church.