Becoming a Christian in 2016
When I came to faith over 10 years ago, I did so because I fell head over heels in love with Jesus. I remember meeting him for the first time in 2006, on an April evening on the Isle of Wight, standing on the shores of the Solent, looking towards the mainland and the glittering lights of Portsmouth, knowing in my heart of hearts that my life would never be the same. It was a moment where time stops and the heart gets transported to the eternal place of ultimate assurance. I knew that in Jesus Christ I had found the very thing I didn't even know that I had lost. I knew Love for the first time, and everything in the entire universe was exactly as it should be. In Jesus I had found the fullness of God. The big scary concept of the transcendent, ultimate, almighty God suddenly became relatable. He became flesh, friend, tangible, real. I had spent most of my life afraid of God, perceiving him as a distant being who controlled the world with a wrathful vengeance, and yet here I found Jesus, who is love personified, relatable, and infinitely intimate. I became a Christian that night.
In 2007 I went on a weekend away with my youth group. 12 young people went to a crummy old youth hostel in Ivinghoe, and the theme of the weekend was the Holy Spirit. We spent hours reading the amazing things of the Spirit that the disciples experienced in Acts, and me and my friends Matt and Steve knew that there was something missing in our lives. The words we were reading were fundamentally juxtaposed to the lives we were leading. At Pentecost the disciples had tongues of fire descend upon them, and this changed their lives forever. Peter the coward became a hero of faith, and thousands were added to their number that day! Myself, Matt and Steve sneaked up to our bedroom without telling the youth worker and with naive faith asked the Holy Spirit to come and change us like he did the disciples. Within minutes the three of us were on the floor in fits of laughter as we experienced him with ridiculous grace. We laughed, quaked and cried, and I remember walking down the stairwell afterwards acting drunk, our youth worker utterly confused as to what had just happened; it wasn't part of the programme! That night I met the Holy Spirit, and I can say with confidence, this experience was so life changing that I believe I became a Christian that night.
Fast forward to the present! The past few months have been absolutely life changing for me. I recently had a conversation with my friend Tom where I described myself as feeling like I've just been converted, like I found a new faith. For someone who has professed Christ for the last 10 years, who has been in Church leadership for the past 6 years and who has partnered with God in the miraculous, the ridiculous and the extraordinary for most of that time, it's a huge statement to make. In 2014, on a cold Paris night, I prayed the most controversial prayer I have ever prayed, and probably the most revolutionary. After a night of struggle, I told God that "I'm not sure I believe in you anymore". Little did I know that I had just denied the religious god of my own projection any power in my life. The image of God for me had become distorted; I had lost the love that brought me to the coast of the Solent and the freedom of that Ivinghoe youth hostel had wandered into a place of absolute idolatry. I worshipped religion, not father, and that religion was wholly made in my image. Its tenets were my bigotry and its catechism was a litany of my own insecurities. God had brought me to a little flat overlooking the Rue Fabourg Saint-Honoré with its temples to consumerism to show me that I had become a consumer of religion, and not relationship.
I made my excuses and left that role, headed back to London and began a new job working outside of Church ministry. This was a precious season where God broke down my religion. I began to doubt my faith like never before, to doubt Jesus, to doubt the Holy Spirit, to doubt whether I believed in the Bible anymore. I had to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about God, myself and my relationship with him. This was the desert where springs of living water burst forth from. In my place of deepest doubt and wandering, I started approaching God again, messy, dirty, gritty, doubts and all. I asked him to come into the midst of my mess, and he set me on a trajectory that would utterly destroy my image of him. I slowly returned to a fruitful relationship with him, and by early 2016 I thought I was put back together, only to be once again completely wrecked by grace. I found myself on a patch of grass by the Grand Union Canal, in prayer, completely overwhelmed by Love, but this was different to any experience I had ever had. There was a new, deeper sense of Joy. I started singing a new song with nothing but the ducks to hear it, about my Father. I can't remember the exact words, but it went along the lines of:
You’re like a storm, and I'm like the coastline,
You’re like a tsunami and I'm standing on the beach,
You overwhelm me, but I'm at peace.
You’re like a storm in the sea, and I'm capsized into your grace,
You’re like the wind in the branches, and in the autumn leaves,
You’re like a fire and I'm the tinder, you burn me up.
You’re like the night sky, and I'm like a mountain peak, I disappear into your vastness.
You’re like the sun and I'm the snow, you melt me to a river, and I will flow.
You’re like a Father, and I'm like a son, you love me.
And at that moment, for the first time, I met the Father, and I can say that in fullness, I became a Christian that night. For a long time, I had perceived the Father as the person of the Trinity that was so holy that he was not relatable. You could experience Jesus in flesh, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within. But I had never imagined the incomparable joy of father God. He put a song on my lips and a new joy in my heart, and promised me intimacy. Later that year, I was at David's Tent, a festival in Sussex centred on 24 hour worship and prayer over three days, and I continued to receive revelation of the intimacy that my Father has for me. Then I broke my collarbone, and I have never felt closer to the fullness of God!
You see, religious Christianity teaches us that 'The Father' is a title, an honorific noun that describes God's function as creator and ultimate authority. But I've come to believe that this is never what Jesus intended. Father isn't a noun, it's a nominalised adjective, it denotes an active function, not an irrelevant history. He is father now, he is intimate, he is loving, he is in the midst of our mess, he is Love. Jesus only even uses the titular 'The Father' when He is in a theological discourse. I've realised more and more that when he is talking of the father in the context of relationship and discipleship he uses 'My Father', 'Your Father' and 'Our Father'. Our father isn't a theological concept; he is a mighty warrior God who is so deeply, overwhelmingly loving in his intimacy that you can't come into his presence without completely falling apart. In the way that Jesus carries the scars of grace on his palms, your father carries them on his heart. I spent years depriving myself of the fatherhood of God, and it's so good.
Our journeys are different, and God's plans for you are different from his plans for me, but just maybe, reading this blog post might be his calling on your lives to explore the indescribable intimacy of your father, who loves you intimately, infinitely. It isn't enough to relate to part of the Trinity. There is so much relationship that God has for us. When he welcomes us to the table of fellowship, we aren't on a two people dinner date, there's four at the table. Relationship with God isn't a date, it's a dinner party with lots of wine and lots of laughing. The joy of being in fellowship with the fullness of God is like nothing else. This may be your invitation to the best party of your life - take it!
Georges Kesrouani (24 February 2017)