Friday, July 19, 2013

In the Stars ..

“In the stars His handiwork I see, 
On the wind He speaks with majesty, 
Though He ruleth over land and sea, 
What is that to me? “[1]

If you are of a certain age you will recognize that song, it was very popular in youth groups in the seventies. I first encountered it in 1971, in ISCF at school, a group which I had only started going to in Year 11 as a brand new Christian. I will never forget my emotional reaction when I first heard it – someone was telling my story!

My story, at least in this truncated account, begins with an unhappy teenager. Of course, we all know it really begins with the God who loved us from before the foundation of the world, but this is the subjective version, about a girl in an unhappy, dysfunctional family who used to escape to the backyard at night to cry in the darkness and look up at the stars. It was those stars that convinced me that God was real, I could not look at their beauty and believe they were just cosmic accidents, or, if they were, where did my deep emotional response to them come from? Was the courage I drew from their loveliness merely a cosmic accident too? I found that very hard to believe.

I had started trying to figure out the truth at the age of twelve, reading a very simple book on comparative religion and finding most of the alternatives (Islam, Buddhism etc) quite repellent, to this day I struggle to understand why some find them so attractive. But I knew it wasn’t simply a matter of what I liked, but of what was true; so I would stand out there and gaze at the stars, and cry out to their Maker that He would reveal Himself to me.

“I will celebrate Nativity, 
For it has a place in history, 
Sure, He came to set His people free, 
What is that to me? “

Over time I became convinced that Christianity was historically true. It is, as I recently read somebody saying, “the only falsifiable religion,” i.e. the only one whose claims rest on historically verifiable facts that can be proved or disproved. If, somehow, it could be irrefutably proved tomorrow that Jesus never existed, or that He didn’t really die and rise again from the dead, there would be no Christianity left. Our faith rests on the objective truth of Who He is and what He has done.

This was a step forward, but it wasn’t enough and I knew it wasn’t.  I didn’t want just intellectual consent to a philosophy, I wanted, as I put it to myself, ‘a God I can give my whole self to.’ But I had no idea how to make that final step from theory to relationship.

Till by faith I met Him face to face, 
and I felt the wonder of His grace, 
Then I knew that He was more  than just a 
God who didn't care, 
That lived a way out there and

The crisis came when I had been attending the youth group at my church for a few months and one of the leaders approached me and asked if I would be willing to do the Bible reading at church the next Sunday. Now I was the shyest of shy teens, and the thought of getting up and speaking (even just reading) in front of people absolutely terrified me (and, yes, those who know me know that this is an area of my life God has totally healed). “I couldn’t do that!” I exclaimed, “It would be a test of nerve!”

His reply shook me to the foundations, “No, it would be a test of faith.” I had no arguments left, and consented. All week I prayed to a God whom I hoped actually existed, “If you are really there you will have to come through for me. I can’t do this.”

The following Sunday night I walked up the front of the church still praying the same thing. How does one describe that kind of encounter with God? All I can say is that I walked up that aisle hoping that God existed, and walked back down again knowing for certain that Jesus was Lord and I belonged to Him.

Now He walks beside me day by day, 
Ever watching o'er me lest I stray, 
Helping me to find that narrow way, 
He's Everything to me.

Yes. Indeed. Absolutely.

[1] ‘He’s Everything to Me’ by Ralph Carmichael

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