After having laid the foundation for why God can and should be tested, and after taking a look at three Old Testament patriarchs who tested God, I’ve decided to share my own story of faith. I hope my story sheds some light on the subject, especially the discussion concerning belief in God as prerequisite for testing Him. Again, the entire study will follow this basic outline:
- Belief in God is a prerequisite for testing
- Studying God where He exists is a means to testing
- Aligning oneself with God’s purpose is paramount
- Don’t forget to check for results
How I Lost Faith Before I Ever Knew It
I grew up in a religious home. My father was a working man, a stereotypical white all-American blue-collar worker.
If you were alive in the 1970s, you might remember that there were a lot of societal changes taking place at once. Women were coming into their own, in the workplace and in society. African-Americans were acquiring wealth even as Affirmative Action presented them with more opportunities in the workplace and through education. And the homosexual revolution reared its head as same-sex relations began to be celebrated through pop culture icons such as The Village People. More than once, I heard my father declare, “The only person discriminated against is the white man.” Sometimes it took up an extra adjective: “… the straight white man.”
Of course, it wasn’t true. Not then, not now.
There was certainly a backlash against the traditional power structure as minority groups pushed against the grain, but the white man was not the only victim of discrimination, and when he was, that discrimination was nowhere near as destructive as it often was going the opposite direction. My father couldn’t see that.
- My parents found religion — In first grade, some friends invited my younger sister and me to Vacation Bible School (VBS). I don’t remember much about it other than doing a few crafts and listening to Bible stories. When we returned home at the end of the last day, my parents asked us if we had fun. Of course, what 4 and 6 year old wouldn’t? But the next thing out of their mouths was startling. “Good, because on Sunday you’ll be going to church with us.” That was startling because my parents weren’t churchgoers. As it turned out, they had grown up in a Pentecostal-Holiness environment (both of my grandfathers were preachers in that movement) but were not active. Our taking an interest in VBS prompted them to return to their roots, and thus began my journey with faith.
- 10 years old — My 10th year was pivotal in a number of ways. My father was a preacher in a small church plant outside of Abilene, Texas. He did something that got him removed from the pulpit, and my family moved to Dallas where my maternal grandfather by adoption (and great uncle by blood) pastored a church. My father also injured his back that year and spent some time in the hospital. He would eventually re-enter the workforce, but the injury had a lasting impact on him in a number of ways. My mother went to work (for the first time) to support the family. At the time, I was unaware of the impact that would have on my father, but I believe (looking back) that it was a blow to his pride, which led, from that moment on, to many family struggles. Mom went on to have a stellar career as an insurance policy writer (I am very proud of her). I was also identified by teachers in my new school that year as a “talented and gifted student,” which meant I began an advanced academic track that allowed me to develop my intellect, logical reasoning skills, and creative imagination in ways that a typical education would not have afforded me.
- From bad to worse — From that time on, my father grew increasingly angry and toxic. He became emotionally and verbally abusive toward my mother, my two younger sisters, and me. His expectations of me as the oldest child and only son were unrealistic. He was a hard, and harsh, man. And an inconsistent disciplinarian. (On the flip side, he instilled in me a strong work ethic.) There were times when I found my father’s emotional state to be indiscernible. At 14, after an angry spat with my mother, he plopped down in his easy chair in the family room and began to sulk. He told me that he was thinking of divorcing my mother and asked me what I thought of that. I didn’t answer, but at the time, I wished it would happen. It never did. My father was irrational, bitter, and out of control. While he was never physically abusive, I was afraid of him.
That doesn’t so much have anything to do with my story of faith as to provide a useful backdrop to the story. During childhood, there were certain pivotal moments that defined who I would become and that ultimately led to my rejection of religion. I’ll recount some of those below:
By the age of 16, I was ready to leave home. Going into my senior year of high school, I joined the Army under the Delayed Entry Program, which meant I’d enter basic training upon graduation. I could have applied for academic scholarships, but I had no one counseling me in that direction. My parents were both high school drop outs and knew nothing about such matters. Plus, having retreated into books, I was the quiet, reserved type and didn’t speak to teachers or counselors about those possibilities. The Army became my ticket to freedom.
When I left home, I left it all behind — family, religion, anything that had an influence on me. I rejected it all.
The Conversion of A Young Agnostic
Had you asked my thoughts on religion during the earliest years of adulthood, I’d have likely shrugged my shoulder and said, “It’s not important.” I literally never gave it a thought.
I served my three years in the Army earning money for college through the Veterans Education Administration Program (VEAP). After my service, I moved back to Dallas and attended a local junior college before transferring to the University of Texas at Dallas. My studies consisted primarily of two things: Creative writing and philosophy.
I was particularly drawn to Nietszche and Camus. I also got into esoteric philosophies, and some Eastern studies. I read the Vedas, the Mahābhārata, Alan Watts, and various texts from the Eastern religions. Some of it appealed to me and some of it didn’t. I was particularly intrigued by some of the Zen writings.
While sitting in a lecture on philosophy one day in which the instructor mocked televangelists like Robert Tilton (not unjustifiably, as the year was 1992 and Tilton’s television ministry at the time was the fastest growing in the U.S.), one of the other students interrupted to ask, “Why do people believe all of that?”
The student wasn’t so much honed in on Tilton as she was on the Christian faith. She wanted to know why people bought into the story line of Jesus. Interestingly, with more than a hundred students in class (in Dallas, Texas, the buckle of the Bible belt), no one stood up to defend Jesus. The thought popped into my head to yell out, “Because they’re intelligent!” I squelched it. Later, I’d realize that was the voice of the Holy Spirit I had suppressed.
I would not have considered myself a Christian. If you had asked, I’d have likely changed the subject. In fact, I was doing my best not to think about such things. The irony is, it was not the Christians who challenged me to consider it, but a scoffing atheist. After that day in class, it was all I could think about.
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to reject it. In my mind, religion was the source of all my pain. My father had instilled his anger into me without my, or he, realizing it. As a result, I rejected God, religion, family, marriage, anything that might remind me of what I was doing my best to forget.
When financial struggles caused me to drop college because my education money had run out, I hit a road block. My life wasn’t going the way I had planned. One day, while alone in my North Dallas apartment, confused and broken, emotionally wrecked, spiritually bankrupt, and bitter about life, I called out to God, “If you’re real, show me a sign.”
I was not expecting a response. But no sooner had those words flown from my lips, there I was, on my back, arms outstretched to heaven, and with tears streaming down my face, speaking another language. And praising God.
The phenomenon, known as “ speaking in tongues,” is something that was supposed to happen to believers, but I was not a believer. Even as it happened, in my rational mind, I asked myself, “What is happening? Why am I doing this?”
1 Corinthians 14:22 says tongues are a sign for unbelievers. Though I was trying hard not to believe, I had asked for a sign. Matthew 7:7 says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
My asking for a sign, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, was a test of God’s faithfulness. He could have sent any number of signs, but what sign could He have sent that could only have been from Him? He sent a sign to an unbeliever that could only have come from the divine, and He made that known to me in a powerful way.
Picture it. A bitter young man, into studying philosophy, literature, everything except Christianity, suddenly, out of the blue, asks God for a sign of His reality. God pours Himself into the unbeliever causing him to respond with praises to the Almighty from a wellspring of his own will while not violating the rational mind. To this day, I can’t explain it, but I know that God, at that moment in time, revealed Himself to me, and from that day forward my mind began to transform through a lifelong process of renewal.
Many More Tests To Come
The year was 1992.
Almost immediately, I began to study the Bible. A young couple showed up at my door about a week later and invited me to their new church, which was meeting at a hotel around the corner from where I lived.
A young couple and a friend of theirs, about my age, showed up one Sunday to worship. It wasn’t long after I began attending. We soon became friends. After they quit attending, I stopped by their house one day and discovered they left because the preacher had told the woman that she could not wear make up. They made a point, however, to gracefully let me know, “If you feel like God is leading you to that church, then you should stay there.” Honestly, I had no idea where God was leading me.
A week or so later, while singing hymns, the preacher said to his congregation, “Saints, pray in tongues.” And they did.
They all began to practice a type of glossolalia meant to separate the “true saints” from the unbelievers. That was the last service I attended at that church. After visiting a few other churches, I eventually found one that I believed was a good place to grow. I’d eventually lead Bible studies and small groups, praise and worship services, and more, as I learned to grow in God’s grace.
Being a Christian is no cake walk. There are many challenges. Not all of them come from unbelievers.
Not everyone has to have an experience like mine any more than everyone must have an experience like the Apostle Paul’s, who was blinded and couldn’t see for three days. God reaches different people in different ways. He reaches people in a way that is right for them, but He always reaches the people He intends to reach at a time which He intends to reach them. And He allows His children to test Him as a means of strengthening their faith. I would test God’s faithfulness in other ways over the years.
How My Conversion Experience Tested God’s Faithfulness
One might think my story is about testing God’s existence. Perhaps it is, on the surface. But at a deeper level, it has implications for testing God’s faithfulness.
Romans 10:13 says “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” On a certain day, at a certain time, in a certain state of mind, I called out to the Lord and asked Him to reveal Himself to me. God is always faithful to His promises.
John 3:16 is a favorite Bible verse for many Christians all over the world. It says:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
I came to believe because God revealed Himself to me. He showed me the sign that I needed to see, but He did so on the basis of His promise that all who call upon him will be saved. I called. He saved me. Little was I aware of it, but the seed to call out to God on that day in my angry life was planted in my heart and mind over the course of time while hearing the many sermons preached to me as a child, and other circumstances that He would use to drive me toward Himself. Romans 10:14 says:
How then can they call on the One in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?
God also often uses circumstances to get our attention, to make us obedient, or to impel us to rely on Him more than we have in the past. The story of The Apostle Paul’s conversion is an illustration of the first type, Jonah is an illustration of the second, and the story of Job an illustration of the third.
While I did my best to reject the divine authority of my creator, God used the circumstances of my life to draw me to Himself.
The grace of God is a mystery. Its inner workings can’t be detected, determined, or understood by the mind of man. It cannot be reverse-engineered. Yet, it has the power to draw men out of their self-imposed mental funk and make them new creatures, make them mindful of the presence of God and the truth of God. It did that for me, and I am eternally glad.
Allen Taylor has been walking (and wavering) with the Lord for 28 years. He has served local churches as a Sunday school teacher, a small group leader, a worship leader, a prayer group leader, and a minister of the Word. The author of “I Am Not the King,” his journey isn’t over yet, and he still needs discipling.
Originally published at https://thecrux.substack.com.