Are you one of those people who are haunted by the life you lived before coming to Christ? Perhaps you slept around, wrecked a marriage, had an abortion, or abused your body with drugs and alcohol. I gave my heart to Jesus when I was a little girl but turned my back on God for some years in my 20s. I still get flashbacks of scenes from that old life. They fill me with shame and regret.
Paul speaks of such regrets. Memories of his zeal in persecuting the church before he met Jesus make him feel unworthy to be an apostle. I wonder if scenes from events like the stoning of Stephen (in which he participated) dogged him even after his conversion.
“But…” Paul continues, and with that great little hinge word he opens the door on light: “…by the grace of God I am what I am.” So many thoughts flow out of this eleven-word sentence:
- God knows about me and my past and He forgives.
- I can’t do anything to change the past; I must forgive myself too.
- God knows why He put me in the place I am today; it’s not my job to understand His ways or to justify them to others.
If there’s one good thing that can come out of a shadowy past, it’s the way it keeps you from becoming self-righteous. Because when you see someone caught in sin, you know at a gut level that but for the grace of God, it could be you.
PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your grace (favor I don’t merit and didn’t earn) that takes me the way I am and makes me useful to Your kingdom. Amen.
God takes us the way we are. The familiar invitation hymn “Just As I Am” expresses it so well. Charlotte Elliott (a once miserable old maid) wrote the words to this hymn. Robert J. Morgan tells the story in Then Sings My Soul.
A bitter women with broken health, Charlotte railed against God. Her family, trying to help her, invited a Swiss minister, Dr. Cesar Malan to their home for a meal. During the dinner conversation Charlotte lost her temper and denounced God. Family members left the room in embarrassment. Alone with the pastor, he confronted her:
“You are tired of yourself aren’t you? he asked. “You are holding to your hate and anger because you have nothing else in the world to cling to. Consequently, you have become sour, bitter and resentful.”Charlotte did come as she was that day and was forever changed. She wrote the poem “Just As I Am” some years later to help her brother raise funds for a school to educate the children of poor clergymen. It was later set to music by William B. Bradbury.
“What is your cure?” asked Charlotte.
“The faith you are trying to despise.”
As they talked, Charlotte softened. “If I wanted to become a Christian and to share the peace and joy you possess,” she finally asked, “What would I do?”
“You would give yourself to God just as you are now, with your fightings and fears, hates and loves, pride and shame.” (Then Sings My Soul, p. 113)
Here it is, sung by Brian Doerksen
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.