I had a few experiences of church when I was growing up. When I was about seven or eight years old, my family were regular attendees until I was expelled from Sunday School (no idea why, ask my mum), and soon after that, our church-going dropped off to occasional visits at Christmas and Easter. However, it was not until I was nineteen years old that I took the plunge (literally) and became a Christian.
I took a gap year between school and university and hitch-hiked around Australia, New Zealand, and the west coast of the USA. Not long into my journey, I found I had plenty of time to think. On my very first hitch-hike I met a couple who asked me if I “knew” Jesus. I knew a bit “about” Jesus — not a lot if I am honest — but certainly did not “know” him. I was intrigued and decided that I wanted to find out more about God myself, and so I committed to buying a Bible when I finally arrived in Adelaide, a town in South Australia.
When I arrived in Adelaide, I had a whole day to look around before my evening coach departed for Melbourne, however, with only minutes to spare before the shops closed I remembered that I had forgotten to buy a Bible. I offered up a quick prayer, “Okay God, if you want me to have a Bible, help me find one!” I looked up and along the street was a shop sign protruding from the wall. It read, “The Open Book.” A bookstore! I ran along the street, saw books in the window, pushed open the door, and hurriedly made my way to the counter. “Do you sell Bibles?” I asked. The shop assistant looked at me, rather quizzically, and answered, “Yes, the Bible Room is through here.” I had unwittingly entered a huge, Christian bookstore. The man led me to a room containing wall-to-wall Bibles of every type, size, and shape. God works in mysterious ways and, yes, he has a good sense of humour!
That day, I selected a pocket-sized New Testament and Psalms and I ended up reading it over-and-over as I made my way around Australia, New Zealand, and the USA.
It was reading the gospels — the accounts of Jesus in this collection of narratives, poems, and letters — that I, like millions of others, became utterly captivated by this man who behaved like God. He was completely counter-cultural, a rebel, but someone who had the biggest heart imaginable, however, the story went way further than that. The New Testament writers claimed that we could “know” this Jesus in the here and now, and that we could actually have a real, life-giving relationship with God, one as real as any other relationship in our lives. I thought this was madness! How could that even be possible — Jesus was dead — and you cannot have a relationship with a dead person! Then I remembered that no, the writers of the New Testament claimed that Jesus was alive — that he had been resurrected. Perhaps, then, a relationship would be possible after all?
The writers of the New Testament made it very clear how to have this relationship with God. All I had to do was surrender or give my life to Jesus — not an easy thing to do if, like me, you like to be the one in control and to put yourself first.
A few weeks later, I sat in the Australian outback by my camp fire. It was a starlit night and I was miles from anywhere. I looked up and said, “Okay God, I’ll do it. I’ll give my life to you and accept that Jesus was your Son and trust in him. But…here’s the deal. I’ll give you two weeks to prove to me that you exist, then, well, if nothing happens then I’m going back to how I was before.”
I never looked back.
And now? I don’t just know “about” Jesus — I “know” Him. I am in a life-giving, loving, incredible, dynamic relationship with God, and it is truly the most amazing thing in my life. And it all started with someone asking me if I knew Jesus, and by reading the gospels for myself.
Today, that same life-giving relationship is available to anyone who asks. So whether you have never been to church, are a lapsed Christian, an agnostic, or even an atheist, God is ready and waiting to make your acquaintance. Oh, and by the way, if you are a Sunday School leader and you have a really naughty 7-year old in your class, go easy on him, he might one day become a pastor.
P.S. If you have never actually sat down and read the gospels, like any other book, then go for it. There are many different versions out there, and many are free to read on the Internet or via free phone apps. I would avoid the King James Bible (sometimes called the Authorized Version) for the time being, with its old-fashioned English, and probably start with something like the New Living Translation or the New International Version. The Gospel of Luke is a good place to start. Let me know how you get on!