Always on Holy Saturday I recall, with great thanksgiving, my initial encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ.
A Personal Journey
The book had been very inspiring in a negative sort of way. The story, "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," had been popularized as a Broadway play, and most people thought of it as a rather innocent fantasy about a man who sold his soul to become a championship baseball player. I was eleven years of age, impressionable, and fascinated by the concept that there might be a power greater than myself. It didn't matter that it was the devil. What did matter was that there was something other, or should I say, someone! I did what I thought was the logical thing. I tried my first experiment in prayer. I got down on my knees behind a chair in our living room and gave my life to satan. There was no flash of black lightning, and on the surface I was mildly disappointed.
In order to understand the significance of my experiment it helps to know that I grew up in a well-churched family. Sunday worship, Sunday School, choir, youth group and all the other activities normal to churches were a regular part of our family life. We were orthodox in our beliefs and conservative in our life style. What was missing was a concept of personal faith. We looked on ourselves as Christians, but it was something we did, rather than Someone we knew. What I hungered for was that Someone to know. That I was looking in the wrong direction never even occurred to me.
While there were no overt manifestations of the evil one, circumstances were to provide an answer of sorts to my offer. A friend of mine began working at a local store and began to steal from the cash register. I was glad to share the spoils. The thefts from the cash register continued on a weekly basis for almost two years. Those years were to see an increasing involvement in petty theft and vandalism. School, always difficult at that time in my life, became almost impossible. By the time that I was eighteen I had spent three years just getting through grade ten. My school career ended with a conflict in my home that forced me out of school and into the Royal Canadian Navy.
I enjoyed the discipline of boot camp and reveled in the physical challenges but that six month period was only the calm before the storm. Immediately on being assigned to a ship in a Canadian port city I took up with the heavy drinkers on board ship. From the very beginning of my drinking I knew only one possible reason for the use of alcohol, and that was to blot myself out. Whenever the ship was in port I spent my time drunk, or planning to get drunk, or begging in order to get drunk and became involved in petty theft and violence in order to sustain the ability to get drunk. I drank away trade ratings and promotions and thought nothing of it.
My ship-board career ended when I was working on a live electrical box and failed to warn the Electrical Officer before he stuck his hand in the box to correct my work. Within twenty-four hours I found myself assigned to a shore hospital. They really didn't know where else to put me. Being confined to the hospital interfered with my drinking so I went AWOL in order to spend an evening drinking. That act transferred me from a hospital room to a cell in solitary detention. In order to keep track of me they assigned me to duty as a guard at the brig. During this time came my second and more constructive attempt to pray. I had spent an entire night drinking and had been unable to get drunk. That failure to get drunk put me in a state of sheer panic. I remember rolling over in my bed and crying out, "Oh God, help!" Shortly after that I found myself with a conditional discharge and was told that if I stayed out of trouble with the law for a year they would give me an honorable discharge.
Here is where the miracle began. When I arrived home several things happened. First, God temporarily removed both the opportunity and the desire for alcohol. It was an act of sheer grace. Second, I went to lunch with my father who leaned across the table and asked me an utterly incomprehensible question. He said, "Have you asked Jesus into your heart?" I didn't even know what he meant, but in the following conversation he shared with me that he had asked Jesus to be his Savior at a Billy Graham Rally in Toronto. I was enrolled in a special school designed to help people who had not finished high-school to take two years of schooling in one year. I discovered that several of my classmates, all young people who had been out in the work force and were returning for an education, were more different than I could have imagined. They had a light about them, a radiance that came from the personal knowledge of Jesus and from an openness to His Spirit. I began to attend evangelical meetings and began to hear the steps of salvation clearly for the first time.
Several times I earnestly sought repentance, but one thing always held me back. That was the theft from the cash register so many years ago. Finally on an Easter Saturday I read a chapter in a book that bore the heading, "Repentance and Restitution." The Holy Spirit confronted me with the fact that God, in my case, made a very clear connection between confession and going to talk to the shop-keeper from whom we stole the money. I got down on my knees in my bedroom and began to pray. "Father, I can't confess this to you, because If I do, then I will be arrested and then what good will I be to you?" It was at this point that I heard the voice of God. Not inwardly, but outwardly with an audible voice! He said, "Go ahead, son." I said, "But I can't, because my friend will become involved, and I don't have the right to do that." He said, "Go ahead, son." I came up with four or five more reasons, but each time He patiently answered, "Go ahead, son." I got up off my knees and walked to the corner store and took the owner aside and told him my part in the affair without identifying the other person or giving the date when it happened. The owner merely asked, "Is it all right in your heart now?" He gave his forgiveness without lecturing or preaching and in so doing gave me a most precious gift. I went down the street after our meeting with a tremendous feeling of my burdens being rolled away. For the first time I felt an immediate sense of the presence of the Father and of Jesus without an accompanying sense of guilt. But the miracle was not over yet.
A few weeks later I knelt in a humble living room with a small group of people praying. It was my first experience of an actual prayer meeting. The meeting was so dull that the person kneeling beside me kept turning the pages of Life magazine. Every time he turned a page he would say, "Amen," or "Hallelujah!" I took a look at that strange performance and turned to God and asked Him, "What am I doing here?" With that He poured out his Holy Spirit on me with the waves and billows of his love. I lost all awareness of my surroundings and became only aware of Him. I stayed under an intense anointing for what seemed like hours. During all of that experience He was making me anew. How precious those moments were when He let me know that there was a Power greater than myself and that He Himself loved me.
Easter Saturday is the anniversary my saving encounter with God the Father through Jesus Christ my Lord when I was twenty years of age. It is a personal testimony of what God can do for even the most reprobate. If you have either the courage or the curiosity to read this, say a prayer that those who are lost may be found.
2012 copyright, The Rev. Canon Dr. Rob Smith