My Testimony of Faith (Durham 1973)
The look on her face said it all !
She had received something that I knew was missing in my own Christian life, and I knew I had to have it too !
I had spent the day at a Day of Renewal at a church in Durham, in 1973, and at the end of the day there was one of those dreadful 'Come forward and receive the Holy Spirit' calls, to the front of the church. 'Dreadful' in the sense that I was filled with so much dread.
I so much wanted to go to the altar rail, where people were being prayed over, but as a teacher I was afraid that someone would spot me !
I was in torment, I just couldn't move out of my seat, I was paralysed with fear, but I so much wanted to be prayed for.
I knew at that moment, that there was no 'power of God' in my life, in my prayer, in my relationships.
A Sense of Duty
Having been brought up as a Methodist, from a long line of Methodists, and having served as a Sunday School teacher, I knew that I could help with outreach in the church. But all my faith up until that point was to do with duty, and what I 'ought' to do for God. I couldn't honestly say I knew Him personally.
In fact many's the time, years before, when I could remember being almost dragged along to church on a Sunday evening.
It was a case of "Come on Sheila, get your coat on, it's time for church!" and off I would trot, mumbling protests that I'd already been there that morning, so why did I have to go again?
I remember having to turn off really interesting serials of Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, on the T.V. always missing the last ten minutes so that we could get there in time.
There were times when I hated church as a teenager.
There were one or two really good preachers, who made it worthwhile, but on the whole I would do a lot of day dreaming.
I would imagine in my mind that I was having a conversation with God, and I would tell him that if he was really there to show himself. All he had to do was to walk into the church, down the aisle, and make himself visible to me, then I would tell everyone about him.
I used to half close my eyes, in the reflection of the sun, as it shone on the side windows and pretend I could see him in the confusion of lights, and I nearly blinded myself in the process!
He wasn't there. He never came.
And then there was death!
This really puts you off God.
Just before I went to college my dad became ill.
'Industrial disease' we all thought.
'Asbestosis' the doctors said.
He'd worked at Parsons, and had had to clear asbestos off his bench top before he could do his work as a joiner. The men who actually ground the asbestos, wore masks. My dad didn't.
He'd been so fit, he was quite a sportsman in his time, and the bottom fell out of my world when he died.
Oh how he suffered that year ! I remember his screams, his fear, his bravery, my mam's devotion… and the tears and exhaustion….the pain involved in his goodbyes to us.
I challenged God again to do something, to rescue him, yelling out in my mind to the starry sky outside my bedroom window at nights.
"If you're really there, heal him, make him better, God. Make him well again. Take away his pain. You healed people then, why not now if you're alive."
I even wrote to a man I'd read about in a magazine, who said he could heal people, and I received word back that he needed money for the sanctuary he was building at the time, and I felt guilty that I had none to give him.
My dad wasn't a Christian, or perhaps he was, I don't know. All I know is that he only went to church if there was something special on.
And I wondered, after he died, whether he'd gone to heaven, which is a strange thing to think, seeing that I had already decided that there was no God at all, by then.
I was strangely comforted to know some time later, that he had asked an uncle to say the Lord's Prayer with him, before he died ! But I couldn't forgive this God for letting the whole family down.
One Small Step for Man
My dad died shortly after the first men landed on the moon, in 1969, and off he went into the far reaches of nowhere, and I was just as lost in the deep dark emptiness of outer space. While the United States were making their giant leaps for mankind, I had lost my footing altogether, and I was so afraid of death from that time on.
For three years I had lost God, I wanted nothing to do with religion at all, yet I remember jumping to the Almighty's defence in a college debate one day, when it was suggested that R.E. was no longer taught in the school curriculum. That was strange thing to do, I surprised even myself.
Most of all I remember the night-time closing in on me.
Where would I be when I died? What if there really was nothing to hope for?
One day I would die, where would I be?
Panic would grip me, I managed to terrify myself with my thoughts, I couldn't squeeze them out of my mind. I would fall asleep some nights quite worn out.
When I got married, I imagined that my fear and loneliness would disappear. It did to a certain extent, but then again in the night hours just before sleep, I would look at the stars outside my window, and it would all come crashing in on me again. I would sometimes share my fear with my husband, Bob, but I think I made him scared with my thoughts, and he didn't have the answers I was searching for.
Return of the Prodigal
I returned to my local church, again out of duty. "I should go!" I told myself. "I'm a qualified teacher now, and I could help them with their youth clubs and Sunday schools. Who else will, if I don't", I reasoned.
"If there is a God, he'll be pleased with me", I thought, "and if there is a heaven, my name's down for it".
So I went in, like a Lady Bountiful, and offered my services. I enjoyed it, but there was still no power in my life, no firm belief really, only hope.
It was shortly afterwards that I found myself at the Day of Renewal, staring across the aisle at this young lady who had just returned form the altar call, with tears streaming down her face. They were real, these tears of joy, and her eyes were sparkling. Something or someone had touched her life.
You've no idea how much I wanted her faith in that moment.
Love So Amazing
But this was a call for a total commitment, this was a love that was demanding my soul, my life , my all….and I couldn't even get out of the pew and walk to the front of the church.
The service ended there with a final hymn, and I knew I had missed my chance. I began to grieve inwardly, and the tears started to flow down my cheeks.
Wendy, a local vicar's wife, who was sitting next to me, reassured me that it wasn't too late to be prayed for, and I decided to hurry down the aisle.
True to form and always late for an event, I arrived just in time, and some Christian people asked what it was that I was seeking.
I blubbered, "I want what she's got, (I don't think they had a clue who I was referring to)…. To be filled with the power of God, I want to know he's there. I want to believe"
An Electric Rain
……The minute they placed their hands gently on my head, I felt what I can only describe as 'electric rain' flood through my entire body, from my head to my feet. Never had I experienced anything like it. My tears stopped, and I knew for the first time in years, a deep peace.
The bible talks of a 'perfect love which casts out fear', (1 John 4vv18) and that's the area God touched in me first. He began a work of healing in me, because my night-times of fear ceased, completely from that moment.
Making God the important one, rather than myself began then too. Using gifts I'd been given, began to be used to serve him.
I was so full of what had happened, I let everyone know, even if they didn't particularly want to know!
My husband became a Christian once more, a year later under the outreach by an evangelist called David Watson from York, and we both began to grow in faith.
My label then, and what I tried to sell others was 'Charismatic', rather than Christian, but I've come to realise that no-one is on an assembly line. God has his own ways of reaching people, where they are at. As long as they are searching, he will be found by them. There's not a lot he can do with closed doors, I'm afraid. But I believe he never gives up trying to make himself known to us.
One day I went home at lunchtime, across the school yard, as we lived in a house on the school premises at the time.
I wanted to put a rice pudding in the oven, and hoover the house so all would be spick and span that evening.
That's when I heard a voice in my mind saying ,"Put the hoover down, go into the bedroom and pray!"
I dismissed the idea straight away. I'd heard of people hearing 'voices' and was very wary. It happened to me twice more, and I remember slamming the hoover down, and marching into the bedroom, hoping that it wouldn't take too long.
I knelt down, at a large storage box, near the window, hoping that no-one from outside could see me through the lace curtains, and I said quite simply to God "OK I'm here, what do I do now?"
There was silence at first, then it was as if a coloured photo had been inserted into my mind. It was a picture of an acquaintance of mine, a person I couldn't stand the sight of. She had made my life a misery with her whining and complaining, her jealousy and her temper.
I knew at that moment God wanted me to pray for her.
So I did.
And as I poured out my heart to God for her, praying genuinely for her wholeness, and for healing between us, two things happened to me.
First of all, back came the electric rain, and I felt such an overwhelming love for her.
Secondly I began thinking about the bible story of Simon Peter stepping out of the fishing boat, being called to walk to Jesus across the water. (Matthew 14vv25-33) I was being asked to be like Peter, taking one step at a time, trusting in Jesus to keep me up.
I was being told to ignore the wind and the waves and trust only in Him.
It was then that a flood of language, an unknown language came out, as I continued to pray. It was me speaking one syllable at a time, then all of a sudden it got quicker and quicker, and I knew that this was a real language. It was the gift of tongues that others had told me about, and which had happened at Pentecost and even after that in the experiences of the early church. I began to see scripture come to life, beginning with (Acts 2,vv1-18; Acts 10vv44; Acts 19vv5-7; 1 Corinthians 13vv1; Ephesians 5vv18-20; 1 Corinthians 12vv7-11; 1 Corinthians 14vv1-19)
I tell you this not to glorify me, or this particular gift, but that you may believe in the power of loving others with your whole heart. There is no power greater than to love one another, rather than to hate and resent and hold grudges.
Then came a new gift came out of the blue, or should I say the blackness of post-natal depression……. songwriting.
Sometimes I had to hurry to a piano and write songs down. Sometimes I would write two or three in one day. One of my first began with:-
Hold on to Love,
Don't let it go,
You may feel discouraged,
And your spirit sink so low,
But there's a gift so precious,
You must never let it go…
You must hold on,
Hold on to love.
Yes, these songs, like stars on a dark night, stars that had caused me to fear so much, became my saving grace.
Some like this one came from a picture in my imagination, of a person struggling in a stormy ocean, and I could see a rope hanging down from the sky which was the only thing which could save them from sinking. I would ask what the rope represented, and the answer came back- LOVE.
In this period of darkness, God gave me new songs to sing, when I felt utterly useless, unloved for some strange reason, and worthless. I entered a tunnel, and didn't know when I was going to emerge. I've written songs ever since, off and on.
Songs since then have been written from situations involving friends in trouble, some directly from scripture, some became musicals written for choirs where sections of scripture came to life for me through meditation. (* The Easter Story)
After a short while, I came through the tunnel, and I sympathise with you now if you are there. All I can say is that given time, this experience has helped me toss out lifelines to others.
I make my past seem pretty bleak. That's not true. I have a lovely family and a truly wonderful husband, and I'm so grateful to God for them.
For twenty-five years, I co-led an ecumenical group called United Folk, and we sang, danced, acted out sketches and witnessed all over the North of England. We were made up of nearly all known Christian denominations, and that unity spoke for itself. It was obvious. Our main aim was to bring others to know Jesus.
And then in 1992, I trained to become a priest, even though I still continued to teach, which wasn't easy for me. I didn't think I was intelligent enough, or good enough…. I'm still not. And I have a terrible memory these days, and I tell myself it's old age creeping on.
But I love my God, and I recommend him to you.
He's the only certain thing in a frightening world full of change.
I despair sometimes about violence, famine, war……… and cruelty, especially directed at children today. Lots of people feel the same as I do, and they wonder what, if anything, they can do about it.
There's a poster I recall… a scene of chaos and darkness, with one small candle at the centre of it. The caption beneath it says this….
"It is better to light one candle, than forever curse the darkness"
I think that that's what I have tried in my life to do, because who knows what other lights can come from the one.
I haven't achieved all that I've wanted to do for my God, I'm far too comfortable, I'm lazy and tired at times, I can be thoughtless…
I don't always pray as I should……and that's where the real power source can be found.
But I'm still trying….. to be a better Christian, and its such a privilege to do what I do at present, and try to help others to see God, and to pray for their healing and wholeness.
I wish more Christians would use the internet to share their faith, I'd love to hear from you, if you'd like to put finger to keyboard.
If you have read this and you're searching for faith, I hope in some small way it has helped you to read my story. Perhaps you might like to use this prayer below.
I'd love to believe in you too,
I look at this crazy world that we live in,
and I just can't see you there.
Perhaps I've been looking in the wrong places.
It all seems so dark and dangerous,
and I feel lost and alone.
Please help me to see the world as a child again,
to see its wonder, its beauty…
Let me be a new creation myself.
Do you think you could light a candle in me this day,
so that I might pass on that light,
your light….. your love to others.
I want to believe,
help me in my unbelief and show me something of yourself.
Be my friend,
and rescue me.
Forgive me for all that I've done wrong, ever.
Help me to know you as my friend…….
from this moment on*…
through Jesus Christ, in the power of your Holy Spirit.
(* There is a song you can click onto with this title.)
From This Moment On - (file size around 1MB - approx download time is 4 minutes)
"This song teaches us that although we pray, 'Lord take my life', we still cling firmly to it, wanting to do things our way and in our own time. It is in giving up our lives, that we are given so much back by God. The opening of the hand symbolises that act of surrender"
May the Lord bless you and keep you,
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you,
May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you,
And give you peace,
Now and always.