What do the following things have in common? And what do they have to do with your life?:
- A near shipwreck.
- The beauty of an English day in mid-winter.
- The repetitive chant of a child from a neighboring house.
- A skin disease.
- A “hard boiled atheist’s” evaluation of the gospels.
- A modern piano composition.
- Facing charges for tax fraud.
- A mother reading her children bedtime stories.
Answer: they’re all things that God has used to draw people to faith.
John Newton, a one-time slave-trader and eventual author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” characterized his experience with a near shipwreck and subsequent calling out to God as the beginning of his conversion.
A former professor of mine had sunk into despair as a young man and was determined to end his life when he was struck by the beauty he saw all around him on clear January day. Encouraged by the experience to continue searching for meaning, a friend eventually guided him to the truth of the gospel.
Augustine, one of the most famous names in Christian history, heard a child nearby chanting the unusual phrase, “Take up and read.” He responded by reading from the book of Romans and turning to Christ.
A serious skin disease led the otherwise successful and influential Syrian general Naaman to follow the recommendation of a Jewish slave girl to seek out the prophet Elisha. After being healed by Elisha, Naaman became convinced that “there is no God in all the world except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15).
At young scholar named C.S. Lewis was alarmed when “the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence of the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good.” A shaken Lewis would soon convert to theism, and eventually, to Christianity.
When concert pianist Jaqueline Chew first heard Olivier Messiaen’s Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus, “she felt an almost supernatural “calling” toward the music–an odd sensation for an atheist. “Little by little, I started believing,” Chew remembers. “First I had responded purely to the music; eventually, the religious context became essential.”
My friend Andrew’s life was thrown into upheaval when he faced tax fraud charges from his career in the financial sector. That chaos led him to seek the help and perspective of Christian friends and, eventually, to belief in Christ.
Finally, just like countless other parents, my mom read stories to me before I went to bed, everything from comic books to stories from the Bible. That helped create an environment in my house that fostered my own faith at an early age, and continues to encourage it today.
Having mentioned all these things, I want to make a couple of observations and offer some encouragement:
1. Even this relatively small sample goes a long way to demonstrate the extremely wide variety of experiences that God can use to draw people to faith in Christ.
2. None of these experiences occurred in a vacuum, so to speak. In each case, they were part of a longer and larger process through which the person in question heard about and believed in Jesus.
3. If you’re a Christian, it might be worth reflecting on the various people and experiences that contributed to your own faith. Many people think reflexively about a particularly important or memorable event: a conversation with a believing friend, a church service, reading a specific book, etc. But I’d encourage you to think deeper. What were the factors that led you to that conversation? And how did your friend come to believe? Why were you receptive to reading that book? Why did you find believing in Christ to be plausible? Desirable? And so on. This is an exercise that can increase your appreciation of and thankfulness for the lengths God has gone to in showing you grace.
4. It should also make us hopeful that God is at work in the lives of those around us. And with that hope, we should also think broadly of how we might be a part of the process. How can we help our friends, family, and acquaintances toward faith in Christ? More concretely, is there a way we can help someone take the next step toward believing the gospel? This might look very different depending on the person. But given what we’ve discussed above, if we’re actively looking, my guess is we might be pleasantly surprised at all the ways we might play a part in someone coming to faith.