When I Learned to Believe in a Personal God

I've often said that there is something in my Christian testimony that will offend the theology of just about everyone. Blessed, then, are those with no particular theology!

Today I wanted to share about the very first time I realized that the Christian God is a personal God who desires a personal response from each one of us.

Oddly enough, when I realized this I had already considered myself a committed Christian for almost nine years. I had indeed sensed God calling to me by the gospel, by the knowledge that Jesus Christ had died on the cross so that my sin could be paid for and I could gain access to God and to heaven through Him. I had even sensed God calling me to bring this gospel to others, and I had given the response of my heart -- a resounding "yes."

But my yes was sort of a yes to the gospel, to God's program. I spent time reading the Bible and praying as best as I could figure it out. I was Lutheran at the time, and I used the Lutheran liturgical pieces of Lauds, Matins and the suffrages. I limped through this, partly because my first response to God came at age 10, and partly because I really had no people in my life to mentor me. But limping, my hunger for God did lead me forward.

But then when I was 19 my life took a definite turn that felt like I had gotten into a roller coaster for which I'd been standing in line for years.

Though normally I never associated with anyone apart from one or two close friends and people at work, I fell in with a group of Christians whose doctrinal positions were different from mine. At the time, doctrine meant everything to me, so the fact that I maintained openness to these people felt very liberal of me, indeed.

One thing these friends had in common, I discovered, was that they were charismatic. I had had an experience that backhandedly opened me to this phenomenon at a youth gathering I attended a couple years before that presented a recording of people singing in tongues. The intention of those presenting this recording was to say "isn't this ridiculous." I didn't really know what it was, but it struck me, and I walked away that night open to the possibility that I'd just heard something that had come from God.

So when these friends got me reading the book of Acts and told me that God still intended for His Holy Spirit to operate now as it did then, I thought well, maybe they are right. In fact, the more they read the Bible, the more I became convinced they were right. I felt so progressive. One of these friends even was from my Lutheran church. She said she would pray for me to speak in tongues, and I was open. Nothing happened, but I didn't really know anything was supposed to happen.

This all happened during the summer before my Junior year of college. Late August came, and I was back in school, in a different city from where all this took place. Then just a couple weeks into the semester, one of these friends called to tell me his girlfriend had "received the baptism in the Holy Spirit."

And I was depressed.

I didn't feel proud about it, but I spent a good couple of days seriously moping that God had decided to give her some kind of gift, but not me. I was seriously dejected at this apparent act of rejection of me by God. Because that's all I could see -- if God had gifted another person it must be because he loved her and disregarded me.

Somewhere in there I think I may have resorted to prayer. And somehow it became impressed on me that there was something I was maybe missing. Maybe it was summarized in that verse from James: "Ye have not because ye ask not."

This was a whole new spiritual contortion for me. My relationship with God, up to this point, pivoted on believing true things. The Bible taught me what was true, and I believed it. I knew God gave me good things, but I took for granted that He gave stuff the way my mom did -- without my asking for it. To think that I had to believe what He said and then act in faith, asking, and believe that He would answer -- this was making my brain twist.

But somehow, I knew I had to be in pursuit.

The day after this realization, it seemed I had to be on a mission. I scrupulously finished all of my homework and then made my way to the Christian bookstore, where a book called Handbook on Holy Spirit Baptism by Don Basham literally fell off the shelf at my feet. I bought it, brought it home, and after a quick dinner I sat alone in my dorm room and read the whole thing (my roommate providentially went away that night).

At the end of the book, it explained step by step how to pray for this gift for yourself. (This is where I offend all the pentecostal/charismatics who insist this can only be ministered to you by having others lay hands on you and pray!) When I finally prayed the prayer, I felt an immediate surge go through me like a bolt of lightning, and I began to praise God in tongues. I have no idea how long I prayed like this, but it was a good long time. It was like being bathed in radiance. In fact, the next morning when I went down to breakfast in the cafeteria (wearing my best dress -- because I was so aware of the glory residing in me), one of my professors saw me and said, "My, you look... radiant this morning!" I beamed a bright smile back at him (this was 7 freaking AM!) and I'm sure he figured I was newly and profoundly in love.

Oh, but it was way better than that.

And this was all because I had realized that I had to ask God, personally, for His action in my life. And I had to believe God had willed it to be that way. This was the act of faith that activated my baptism and released tremendous graces into my experience. God was no longer a force standing behind truth; He was a person interacting with me. I had opened the box He had given me long before at my baptism. Those graces had always been mine, but I had never received them, because I had never really personally interacted with Him, expecting Him to respond.

My life has never been the same.

Just today I read this extremely helpful theological explanation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit by Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household. If what I've written leaves you with questions, I recommend that you give that link your attention. Realize that God wants to personally respond to your invitation to Him as well!