Saturday, March 17, 2012

How a Former Atheist Proves You Should Never Stop Praying

My great grandmother was a wonderful person and I adored her!

She was the first adult who ever spoke to me as though I were an adult. She talked with me about history, current events, and the flowers in her yard. (I continue to be interested in the first two topics, but the flower thing never took with me.)

Unbeknownst to me, grandma called me her "little preacher" and prayed that I would become a pastor.

She died when I was eight years old.

A few years later, as a thirteen year old, considering what I thought that science taught about the formation of the universe and seeing the sorry state of the world as proof that a good and all-powerful God couldn't exist, I became an atheist. I held onto that belief through my years in junior and senior high school and college.

Frankly, my atheism was buttressed by my egotism. I felt self-sufficient. I was like the French mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace who said of God, "I have no need of that hypothesis."

At the age of twenty, I married a woman who was, by her own admission, "a social Christian." She was the member of a Lutheran congregation where she enjoyed being in worship each Sunday for the fellowship. I started attending worship with her because she would get angry with me when she found me still sacked out after noon, when she returned home. (In spite of that, by the way, we're still married thirty-seven-plus years later!)

Among the people of that congregation, something happened to me. The congregants weren't fanatics. They were ordinary people. There were housepainters and professors, salespeople and plumbers, housewives and retirees. They lived normal lives and sometimes outsized problems. But Jesus was at the center of their lives. They really prayed, really repented, really believed. The God they knew in Jesus seemed to make a difference to them. Their faith impelled me to explore more deeply the beliefs they espoused.

I can't point to exact moment when it happened. (Though I can point to an exact moment when I realized that it happened...a story for another post.) But I realized after a time that I had come to believe in, to trust, this God shown to the world in Jesus. I believed. I still do, even more.

Eventually, within the fellowship of that Lutheran congregation, I sensed that God was calling me to become a pastor.

Twenty-two years after my great-grandmother died, twenty-two years after she offered her last prayer for me, I was ordained as a pastor.

James 5:16 in the New Testament says: "The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective."

God never forces faith on anyone. But I'm convinced that because of the prayers of my great-grandmother, asking God to work in my life, God spared no effort to bring me into relationship with Him.

And I'm further convinced that if I were still an atheist today, God would still be orchestrating things to cause me to continuously trip over Him and His grace.

If you've been praying for someone or something for a long time and you're convinced that what you're asking of God is consistent with His loving will even though heaven seems to have shut its doors to you, don't give up.

Keep praying!

God continues even to respond to our prayers after we've left life in this world.

I am living proof of that!

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