I guess my Christian story starts like many others do. I was brought up to go to church from the age of about 7 when my parents were converted at a Billy Graham rally at Wembley Stadium in the early seventies. I have a memory of waiting anxiously outside our first church whilst Mum went inside to investigate the possibilities of Sunday School. That Baptist church remained our home for some years. Here, my parents and my brother and I were baptised and stood to proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ. I know that for my parents it was a time of great spiritual growth and preparation for all that was to come later. We might say that in those days (the 70's) the things of the Spirit were still slowly emerging, and although my parents began to taste a little of it, I did not experience the Holy Spirit for myself in a real way until later in my life. By that Holy Spirit experience I mean the experience of knowing God's power and presence; hearing his voice in a tangible way. Nevertheless my experience of God as a child was real and natural, although I was very shy and rarely talked about it with anyone. My prayer life consisted of daily chats with God on my walk to school. My desire to be baptised was genuine and in my own way I loved God and wanted more of him in my life.
After my baptism at the age of about 14, I began to have a crisis of faith, perhaps like many others at that age. As a teenager I had too many questions and struggles and church for me was frankly boring! I remember during the extended time of prayer in the service, which seemed to cover most of the world and last for hours, I found the hymn book extremely interesting reading! I stopped going to church and simply retreated into myself. I could not reconcile the fact that God loved me and yet I was struggling with so many issues as a teenager. On reflection the next few years were perhaps the most unhappy of my life. Of course I never stopped praying. But I have found in my life that I pray most when I am in trouble and running away from God. When I'm close to Him I don't feel the need to say very much. During this time my parents also left the Baptist church with a few others and started a house church on their own. I was not part of that, and had no desire to be, but God was obviously doing a great deal there and I have no doubt that they were praying for me.
At the age of 18 I went to college and found myself living in halls with all the joys of college life, as well as the temptations. Although being at college was a wonderful experience, my feeling of spiritual unease persisted and I was continually struggling with my faith. I remember being at a party one night having drunk a little too much, and all this anxiety and frustration came flooding out as I tried to explain to my friend what I was going through. She knew very little about the Christian faith so I explained all that I knew and poured out all my struggles to her. She listened patiently and seemed very interested but I was left having come to no conclusions about the way forward. Imagine my surprise when I learned that after hearing all I had said she had decided to become a Christian, apparently against all my advice! Looking back it seems to me to have been an extraordinary experience, but I still held out against God, and struggled on.
It was not until my second year in college that the struggle finally came to an end. One weekend I found myself away with 3 others on a gig somewhere in the country, giving musical entertainment in a rather posh manor house. Our college was very good at getting us jobs like this, if rather measly fees! As the weekend progressed the subject of religion came up and it transpired that these 3 were all Christians, of the Roman Catholic variety. Now, I was brought up in an evangelical church that was suspicious of Roman Catholics, and I was absolutely certain that God wasn't going to speak to me through one of them! I'm glad to say that my outlook has changed now! However, God did speak to me through them and that weekend turned out to be a milestone in my life. No miracles happened. They didn't even try to convince me or evangelise me. They just were who they were. I saw peace and integrity in their lives, when I had none. They had Jesus and just shone with a love that was so attractive to me. Sounds corny doesn't it? But it was true. I knew then that it was something I wanted back in my life. I had to actually do something to get started again, so the following Sunday I slipped into the back row of the local baptist church and made my commitment to God. I spoke to no-one. I remember nothing about that service except that I was there, that God saw me and that it was important. To be honest, looking back over my life, I'm not sure of the exact day I became a Christian. I had been christened as a baby, fully immersed as a teenager and during my childhood I can't remember an appeal after an evangelistic sermon when I didn't say 'yes'. But I think maybe that slinking into the back row of a local church that day was very significant and I'll be surprised if it isn't written in a book somewhere in heaven.
From that day on things started to change and peace came back into my life. Things were about to happen that I would never have believed. I was about to discover a God who was beyond anything I had imagined. A God who was close to me. A God who would heal me, challenge and test me, and a God who would give me the most wonderful joy and purpose in my life.