It was a muggy August night in southern Tennessee. It was the third night of a weeklong church camp for high school teenagers. Sitting by a campfire quietly singing old hymns and choruses just before bedtime with a distant thunderstorm lighting up the sky in the background, I felt empty. I felt alone. A flood of emotions overcame me and I realized I needed God in my life.
Up to this point in my life, I thought you had to be a bad person before you realized you needed God. But I wasn’t a bad person. I hadn’t broken any laws or gone to prison. Although very popular for my age group, I didn’t smoke, drink or use drugs. I didn’t use inappropriate language. If asked, I would tell you I was a good person.
My experience from hearing other people give their testimonies in church and on TV led me to believe that you had be a thief, alcoholic, drug addict or a social outcast for Jesus to reach out and convict you to change your ways. I thought you had to be at the end of your rope with no other place to turn before you asked for help from God. I was none of those things. I was a young teenage boy who was on a weeklong break from fall football practice having fun with his friends. Yet, sitting there that night on the slightly damp, dew-laden ground, I felt the need for God in my life.
As I rationalized my feelings, I began to question my experience. Why did I feel such a strong need for God? I wasn’t a bank robber or a drug user with a heroin addiction. I didn’t have the dramatic experience of falling on my knees, weeping uncontrollably and asking for the grace of God to help me overcome the sin in my life like others who had found God described to me. I considered myself a good person. I had a good life. To be honest, I had no idea that I would consider changing my life that night, or that it even needed changing.
Since I didn’t match any of the preconceived images I had stored in my mind of people who desperately needed God in their lives, one question began to dominate my mind. Because I wasn’t a “bad” person, would God even listen to my prayer? Would He be so busy helping other people that my prayer would go unheard? Would I be placed on hold waiting for the next available appointment sometime in the future? I was confident God was too busy helping people who needed Him more than I did to be listening to me.
With uncertainty about what would happen next, I bowed my head and closed my eyes. With little fanfare nor voices booming from Heaven in the background, I asked Jesus into my heart.
I wish I could adequately explain what happened next. I would like to tell you that the sky opened up and angels of God descended from heaven to speak to me, but that didn’t happen. I wish I could tell you that a bright beam of light from Heaven spotlighted me in the crowd to let others know about the decision I had just made to follow Jesus, but that didn’t happen either. I wish I could tell you something fantastic happened – Super Bowl halftime approved – when I prayed to God, but it didn’t.
Instead, while sitting alone in a crowd of a hundred other teenagers, I felt like a heavy weight was being lifted from my shoulders, a weight I didn’t even know I was carrying. The sense of aloneness I was feeling went away. A calm feeling overcame me as I felt the presence of God surround me. By the grace of God, sitting in the darkness of the night, I realized I needed God and when I reached out to Him, He touched me.
We don’t have to be bad people to need the grace of God. We don’t need to have a made for TV movie experience to validate our relationship with Jesus. However we come to the realization we need God in our lives, He is always waiting for us – good people and bad – to call out His name and become children of God. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 1
Sin is defined as anything that separates us from or builds a barrier between us and the love of God. When we erect barriers, we detach ourselves from God and the relationship He wants to have with us. When we separate ourselves from God, we not only separate ourselves in the present, we isolate ourselves from Him for eternity.
We are only fooling ourselves if we think we are sinless and don’t need the love of God. The Bible says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 2 We have all disappointed God no matter how good or bad we think we are. We all need God’s grace and love. We all need the relationship He so freely gives.
1. Romans 3:23
2. 1 John 1:8