By Divine Appointment
My parents were nominal Anglicans who sent me to Sunday-school to get me out of the way for an hour on Sunday afternoon. We spasmodically attended the local parish Church – not too often according to Dad otherwise; “folk might think we are religious fanatics!”. When we did attend, I heard nothing that made me suppose there might be any reality to belief in God. By the age of eleven or twelve I wanted nothing more of this dead belief, it wasn’t that I rejected belief because I had none to reject but I simply walked away from a dead church experience.
After I left school, I was employed by a large manufacturing company as an apprentice electrical engineer and any influence my early church experience had made soon evaporated in the factory floor environment. I took to smoking, drinking and bad language and adopted attitudes that Mother disapproved of. This lifestyle continued throughout my teen years however, during the final year of my teens two significant, life-changing events occurred. Firstly; my employer asked if I would like to be part of a new electronics section that was being planned, I jumped at the opportunity as electronics had been a hobby of mine since school days and it had been my ambition to find employment in the world of electronics.
Becoming part of the electronics section was the first of the two life-changing events; the second followed a few months later. Initially the new section consisted of just two members, myself and a senior man, a few months after its start my senior went off sick and was away for two weeks. Health and safety considerations meant that I was not allowed to work alone and so I was temporarily moved to another section where I was directed to sit at a workbench alongside Albert, an older married man.
I had encountered Albert at an earlier stage of my apprenticeship training and knew him to be “a bit religious” but had seen no reason to give him or his views any serious consideration. Albert was asked to show me what to do when, having shown me the ropes, he turned his attention to his own work and the workmate sitting at his other side and continued a conversation that had evidently been going on before I joined them. I soon picked up the thread of their conversation that was about the Christian faith and the differences between Catholic and Protestant beliefs. Albert was a convert to Evangelical Protestantism and his workmate was a lifelong Catholic.
I heard things during that conversation that I had not heard before and started to ask questions myself. My questions and the subsequent conversation lasted, without digression, for the whole two weeks I was in Albert’s section and finally resulted in my conversion to Jesus Christ.
Albert wasn’t the type of personality to make an impression on a proud young man with a typical indulgent life-style like mine but it wasn’t Albert’s personality or what he said, in fact I don’t remember a word of that protracted conversation; it was rather that the Holy Spirit used Albert’s testimony to awaken me to the reality of the living God and my need to surrender to Him.
My time in Albert’s section lasted just two weeks but what I encountered in that brief time was profound and more significant than any experience I had known before; it was as if God had stepped right into the path of my life and I couldn’t avoid or sidestep the sense of divine reality I now experienced. I soon realised that this encounter was no accident but was a divine appointment that made an impact changing me to the very core of my being – a change that has lasted for more than sixty years.
A short time before this event I remember saying to a young lady I had dated once or twice that; “I believe in a God – but definitely not the God of the Bible.” However, this was not a reasoned or considered point of view but simply a response to the lifeless witness that I had previously encountered in church. But now this was very different and very challenging.
I was a typical proud, self-assured nineteen-year-old, coming up to a point in life where I could see an independent future free of parental and other restrictions and so the big issue that confronted me was; could I face denying the ultimate dream of every young man – an independent life with personal autonomy? It was not so much changes to my lifestyle that I felt anxious about – that would be difficult enough – but the thought that filled me with dread was that by acknowledging the reality of God I would no longer be in charge of my own life.
Having come to terms with the reality of God I accepted the truth of the gospel and wanted to take the step of faith and commit my life to Christ, but I didn’t have the moral or spiritual fibre to do so. The anxiety produced by these thoughts was intense and insistent and continued without relief for about two weeks. I knew what I had to do – what I wanted to do – but how could I commit my life to an unknown being?
I was disturbed, not eating properly, my sleep was fitful, and I woke each morning tense and anxious. In theological language, I was “under conviction” and by the end of two weeks I was emotionally drained. I could not have continued much longer in that state of anxiety and confusion, but God knew my limits and He took the initiative. I went to bed one night not wanting to face another day without peace or resolution from my state of mind and spirit. But that night was different to the previous several nights; in the early hours of the morning I had a vivid dream whose details are etched forever in my memory.
In my dream, I stood at the edge of what appeared to be a giant chessboard that stretched as far as I could see in front and to each side. Each square on this “chessboard” was occupied by a cone-shaped object, taller than I was. I sensed that I needed to get to the far side of this horizon-filling barrier but the gaps between the spiky cones were too narrow to allow me to pass and they formed an impenetrable forest.
As I looked, I pondered what the cones were and what they could mean, then a clear thought came to my mind that each represented one of the anxious questions and troubling doubts that were keeping me from making the decision I wanted to make. Then something dramatic happened; each one of the cones shattered like glass and crumbled to a pile of fragments in front of me. Another clear impression came to my mind that this is what would become of each and every question, doubt and anxiety that had plagued me for the previous couple of weeks.
At that I woke, or at least I think I woke, I’m not sure because I felt a sense of intense peace, a peace such as I had never felt before and have not felt since. The anxieties that had gripped me had affected my stomach causing me to lack appetite and feel nauseous but now the peace that I felt was a warmth that started at the seat of my anxieties – my stomach – and spread through the whole of my being, up to my head and down to my feet.
This was a profound and unique experience of tranquillity and peace in which I had no sense of anxiety, discomfort or physical sensation of any kind, I was not even aware of my heartbeat. It lasted for a short time only, but I knew something very real had happened.
The following day the anxieties and tensions that had gripped me for the previous couple of weeks were all gone, and I knew a confidence that enabled me to step into an unknown future that I had earlier feared. In fact, I felt that I was no longer being asked to step into the unknown because I had a deep sense of God’s love and compassion at the personal level.
Many seek peace through meditation and self-discipline and other means and some describe a similar kind of peace and tranquillity that I experienced that night but my experience was granted as an act of divine sovereign grace, with no meditation or self-discipline, nothing of myself to boast about and this, I believe is the mark of a true spiritual experience of the One True God.
After I had taken the step of faith and committed my life to Christ, I recognised that I never had been, nor ever could be, independent and in full control of my own life but now that I had tasted a little of His gracious presence I no longer feared the loss of personal autonomy and was happy to accept His sovereign control over my life. I am content in the knowledge that the grace that saved me when I had reached the end of myself – the same grace that has kept me through many years and many experiences – will continue to keep me whatever comes my way in the future.
The circumstances that led to my conversion – my senior being off sick and me being moved to a section where I was sitting next to Albert – were no accident but were, I believe, a divine appointment. That appointment in turn led on to other significant events in my life including; meeting a young lady who became my wife, and later, employment as a tutor in electronics for more than a quarter of a century. These events too were life-changing, initiated by divine appointment and deserve testimonies of their own.