When I joined facebook back in December I posted a note called “Now an atheist – what happened” (now removed) which detailed my journey from Christianity to Atheism, a place which I have sat in for about 4 1/2 years… BUT there’s been a shift and rather than just post it on facebook I thought I’d post here and then let people find it 🙂
So… “No longer an atheist” – does that mean what many think, and hope, it means. Probably, yes. Let’s take a quick flashback – cue the swirly line effects please Scooby Doo.
And if you don’t want to read the whole saga in diary format (or simply haven’t got three years to spend reading) then skip to the bottom and catch the summary and the good news 🙂 (but don’t skip the excellent Jars of Clay song – the video is done by a fan but seems to be pretty nicely done)
Sunday April 13th 2008.
My dear wife, of whom I am totally chuffed with and immensly proud of, got baptised at Kingsgate Community Church (formerly Peterborough Community Church).
It wasn’t an easy decision for her as she’d always had the “why be baptised, you were christened” lines – but she did it… and boy was I (and I still am!) so pleased for her.
We made it a bit of a family day, my parents and brother came down and alot of her family came along as well…. and I went as well! Yup – me the confirmed atheist went into church after swearing that you wouldn’t get me in one unless it was for weddings, funerals or the kids.
Boy did I feel so uncomfortable during the service. The worship felt like torture (remember that I used to be on the Worship and PA teams in my previous Christian life), the building felt like it was closing in on me (a crazy feeling considering it is a mahoosive place with room for thousands!) and I really found the whole thing opressive and difficult. Not because of the people, don’t get me wrong, but simply because of ME.
The baptisms were carried out in a brilliant manner and I struggled to hold back the tears as I watched the missus being dunked… then…. the sermon.
Dave Smith is a guy I have come across and met many times in the past (although I doubt he’d remember me) and I’ve had mixed impressions… but he preached on Intimacy with God (a series they have been running) and specifically about praying the Lords Prayer, and how that can shape your prayer life.
I rather surprised myself by listening to it intently, instead of fidgeting or playing games on my mobile which I had every intention of doing! Even more surprising was that I found myself thinking about what he was saying and agreeing with him and thinking that he was a really good speaker.
We went home… and had a nice meal.
Wednesday 16th April – Friday 18th April 2008
I hadn’t really thought any more about the service since the Sunday but became aware, on the Wednesday, that I may not have been thinking about it… but it was really leaving me feeling really uncomfartable and unsettled. Of course, it wasn’t the service that was making me feel that way but rather God given me a bit of an emotional and spiritual stir. So I started to think… and to ponder… and to weigh things up.
Over the next couple of days I found myself listening to Christian music again, specifically Jars Of Clay, and really starting to reconsider my spiritual situation (yeah – sounds poncy put like that but I like it) – I also visited the Jarchives, a Jars of Clay fan-site, and posted a message about seeking again and asking what the song “Silence” was about as it really spoke to me. A huge thanks to the folks over there, and to Dan from the band, for their input and prayers and support!
I contacted one of my best mates to arrange a get together –
since we hadn’t chatted for a very long time – and found myself telling
him about it all. It surprised me how good it was to actually discuss
things with him.
Sunday 20th April 2008
Off tootle the family – going to church as normal, although for my wifes Commitment service where she would properly become a member of Kingsgate… me? I remained in bed for a little while before getting up and tootling about myself, feeling rather uncomfortable with what I was feeling and thinking.
In the afternoon they all went out for a session at the swimming pool with Grandma… and I went for a drive. I decided that it would be good to get out into some of the glorious countryside (a place where I always used to feel close to God) and spend time with my bible, some music, and some prayer. Yup – I said PRAYER.
I drove out to Harringworth – somewhere I’ve always fancied visiting because of the viaduct there – and spent about 90 minutes walking around, reading and praying.
Have you ever heard a questioning atheist pray? It’s a wierd experience – “God, if you are there because I’m not convinced that you are, but if you are then I am praying to you now” tends to be how the prayer begins… great fun!
After I got back home, after also taking some pretty nice photos but also feeling slightly miffed that it was a bit foggy and hazy, my thought processes were no further on really. If anything I can honestly say that I felt more and more confused.
A really BIG issue for me – Intimacy. Wanting a PERSONAL relationship with God… not (just) a corporate one but one that really was an integral part of my life and in everything I did and thought and how I acted. The whole “corporate church” issue was where I felt my life failed when I first questioned faith – too much corporate experience… not enough personal walk, and nowhere near enough emphasis or teaching on it within the church at that time. I knew that the only answer for me was to find an INTIMATE relationship with God. I needed to know, in my heart of hearts, that God existed – I wasn’t going to accept it purely based on a corporate experience.
At this point the only person who knew what was going on was the friend I had spoken to on the Friday.
Monday 21st April 2008
Work came and went and I then went out for a drink and a chinwag. It’s an entertaining prospect having 2 former charismatic Christians, one now a questioning atheist and one “away from the church”, spending an evening discussing Christianity and finding God.
He challenged me, I challenged him – and we both laughed at the fact that we were challenging each other whilst not being in the best places ourselves.
I also started to download, and even listed to, sermons from Kingsgate – especially in the Intimacy series and on the subject of Grace….
Tuesday 22nd April – Friday 25th April 2008
The rest of the week went by in a bit of a blur… contemplatative spells both at home and in the office, and sermons on the way home – accompanied by the odd prayer of searching and questioning… but still confusion reigned.
Saturday 26th April 2008
A crunch time in the whole process – I decided it was time to talk to my darling wife… especially as I was planning on joining them at church the next day. I was tempted to just get up and walk out to the car with them without saying a word… but felt that was too cruel.
How to explain it all to her, that was a toughie as I really wanted her to know I was looking but NOT get her hopes up too much… and I also couldn’t cope with any pressure or expectations (not that either of those worries were an issue – she’s really great is my missus!)
She’d wondered what was going on as it was a bit difficult to not notice the way I was acting, nor was it easy to notice that I was picking my guitar up and strumming every evening, but wasn’t really expecting anything like what I had to say. She’d hoped her baptism would speak to me… and it did.
Sunday 27th April 2008
Hehehehe – Church was fun… I still felt really out of place, and still didn’t cope with the worship, but seeing the face of one of our friends when she saw me was absolutely brilliant!
The sermon, another in the intimacy series, was again excellent and really stirred things up again.
Monday 28th April – Friday 9th May 2008
Aaarrrrrggghhhh! This was getting really frustrating. I devoured sermons – every day driving home from work I would listen to sermons and even re-listen to some. I prayed. I even tried worshipping on my own, digging out some CDs to listen to and also putting some stuff on my USB stick (I had to get a new car stereo as my old one died, the new one has a brilliant USB function!!!) to listen to whenever I was in the car.
Confusion still reigned.
We didn’t get to church on the 4th May as we took my bro out to the BTCC at Donington Park (great day!!) but I downloaded that sermon as soon as it was out and listened to it on my laptop during my lunch break. Probably the best bit of the weekend was when the missus and I went to pick up my brother from the tram station at Hucknall and he got in the car just as “Let everything that” started up on the stereo… if only you could print out the images your eyes see sometimes – that would be a keeper and one to have poster size on your wall. It was soooooo funny.
I was really confused… I was a schizophrenic atheist/Christian and really didn’t see a conclusion. I kept praying for God to meet with me – I needed that “still small voice”, I was desperate for that “be still and know that I am God” moment.
I felt nothing – just confusion… and a determination to discover what was going on.
On the Friday I started to talk to my work mates… we spent a good while talking about religion and personal beliefs, and I explained my dilemma. It was such a great time, chatting away and discussing things with 2 guys who don’t have a Christian-type faith and it really helped focus some of my thinking.
Saturday 10th May 2008
Following my chat at work, and with the glorious weather at the time, we invited a couple of our best friends around for a barbeque. Whilst the kids all played together and caused chaos… we talked… delicately as I wasn’t sure how to talk, and they weren’t sure how to ask… but I made it clear they could ask, and we talked.
I explained what was going on a bit – and was once again relieved at the total lack of pressure.
I had to laugh though as the missus had told them I was searching again (I had let her know she could so that she didn’t feel like she had to bottle it up) and that I was really searching – apparently the response was that they knew I’d do a thorough job as I won’t let go once I’ve set my mind on something. Are they implying I’m stubborn or something?!?!? 😉
In the evening, I called my dad and spoke to him to let him know what I was going through and asked him to let my mum know. I wasn’t being funny – but my mum has always struggled with accepting that I was an atheist (yes mum – I genuinely did spend 4 1/2 years not believing in God!!!) so it was best to let my dad know my confused thoughts and processes, and then let him pass the info along if he could make sense of it. My poor mum was panicking whilst he was on the phone as she wondered what the bad news was – SORRY MUM!!! Didn’t mean to worry you, but this was the best way for me to cope with it all.
Sunday 11th May 2008
Back to Church to hear Francois van Neikerk preaching… on praying and LISTENING. I’ve got a lot of time for Francois – he’s a great preacher and a brilliant communicator.
Monday 12th May 2008 – Thursday 15th May 2008
Yet more pondering… more confusion… more worshipping… more prayers… more sermons…. yet more prayers….
Friday 16th May 2008
Kingsgate run a great youth group which our eldest goes to. Due to the distance from us to Church, and the fact that the youth club is just 2 hours, we tend to park up and read or visit friends or watch movies etc on the media player. This week I decided to do something a bit different.
I drove from the Church to the Ferry Meadows park on the other side of Peterborough and went for a walk around one of the “lakes”
During my walk I had decided I would practice the “Lords Prayer” method of praying that Dave had spoken on weeks before (what felt like a lifetime before) – and set off rather nervously and not sure what to expect.
A big thing – I was determined to pray in FAITH. Not the prayers of the atheist I had been praying… but the prayers of someone who believed in God.
As I worked through the Lords prayer, praying a line and then praying prayers based on that line, I started to really feel a change coming about. I prayed about God being a Father… I prayed about “Daily bread” and eventually got to the “Forgive us…” section. GULP…. this was going to be tough. Not confessing my sins, that was easy in many ways. The REAL hard part “as we forgive those…” – praying forgiveness for those who had hurt me, who I felt bitter and angry towards….
As I let go of the anger, the hurt, and even hatred – peace flowed. I wept as I prayed and walked – I’m sure people who were out walking that night must have thought I was nuts talking to myself and crying.
The peace flowed.
I felt the presence of God.
It was an amazing sensation of Love, peace, acceptance, forgiveness and more… I knew the presence of God.
In the middle of Ferry Meadows, on a damp musty evening, with the sounds of traffic all around, I let go of my atheism and acknowledged God as my Father and Christ as my Saviour.
Life moves on – 16th May 2008 and on… My second chance at a new life
For those of you who have skipped down to the bottom, instead of reading the whole lot – you might want to read the last few paragraphs above this one 😉 Go on…. give it a go….
So the 16th May 2008 saw the prodigal son return home, and the Father ran to embrace his son. (Thanks to Jeff Lucas for his brilliant preach on that!!!! It was really releasing)
I’ve let my family and friends know the news, and now I’m letting everyone else know.
I’ve got such a hunger for God. A desire to pray and an unbelievable sense of “wanting more”.
I’m not there yet – not fully. I feel a bit of a “second-rate” Christian when around others, and feel really surprisingly shy and un-nerved when with others. I went to housegroup this week for the first time and felt uneasy during the worship, word and prayers… so I’m really praying for a breakthrough there.
I want to shout my story from the rooftops… but when I open my mouth it goes dry.
The big step was forgiving and being forgiven… letting go of all that I had been holding on to and that had been eating away at me. The BIGGEST step – turning back and saying “Daddy, I want to come home”
Footnote: The Jeff Lucas Sermon on Grace can be listened to here, the Dave Smith sermon on praying the Lords Prayer can be heard here. Take a browse on the Kingsgate Community Church site and listen to a few of the sermons. Dave Smith is an amazing speaker, I’ve learnt over the past few weeks just how good he is at hearing Gods word and then communicating that to people whereever they are at.