Decisions, Decisions, Decisions….A Testimony of Faith

Testimony of Cathy Byrd- August 2015

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions……

This summer our church has been blessed to hear the personal faith stories of pastors and members through sermons and videotaped testimonies.

Each believer has a precious and personal perspective on his or her relationship with the Lord.  And it is an evolving story with a red thread of salvation and purpose.  What a joy it is to hear the grace and truth expressed in each person’s story as that thread is woven into the bigger tapestry of God’s story unfolding for all humanity.

My own story and journey of faith has been guided by many people within Christ’s church- those who taught me piano, led and sang in choir, taught Sunday School, preached the Word, offered communion, fed us as children spiritually and physically, and shared their time, experiences, and resources with me and others so generously in the name and in the Spirit of Christ.

There was not a single decision, a moment of “coming to Christ”, but rather a series of many decisions that have been marked on the journey.   And those moments of decision are continuing in my life even today.  Each day is a new opportunity to affirm my desire to know and follow God’s will.

As a 12 year old, recognizing the eternal value of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity, I felt drawn to him during a summer revival in my home town church.  I walked forward at the invitation and professed my faith in Jesus.  Life was happy, but not particularly different.  Later, I would realize that I had made a heartfelt acknowledgement of Christ as savior of all mankind more than full understanding what it meant to submit all of my life to Christ out of a deep conviction about my sinfulness.  How much sinfulness can a 12 year old really feel convicted about?  So many aspects of my life had not yet even come into being – relationships, marriage, sexuality, career, finances, parenting, civic responsibility, and more.  But I made a decision to give what I had at the time- the simple heartfelt desire to love Jesus.

After leaving home I became less faithful in church attendance and other faith-developing disciplines but by the time Bill and I had married and had 2 small children, I knew that they deserved and needed the experience of fellowship and learning within the community of faith and we made the decision to attend and participate in the life of a United Methodist church in Montgomery. I resumed the pattern of my childhood- Sunday School, worship, choir and women’s ministry instead of youth ministry. And so we went, Sunday after Sunday.  But the rest of the week passed with little acknowledgement of God’s presence or power unless we hit a bump in the road and felt the need of an urgent prayerful plea for help.  We lived a worldly existence, giving a Sunday nod to God – more duty-bound “churchians” giving God 2 hours of each week’s 168 hours and little else instead of being bona fide Christians in love with and following Jesus.

26 years after my childhood walk down the aisle I found myself broken and surrendered, kneeling before Christ in full submission to his Lordship over all aspects of my life after nearly a decade of bad decisions, a secret and selfish rebellious spirit, and a life marked by the woundedness of sin.

I rose from that altar in new life, joyful in embracing the REAL JESUS, in a relationship of trust and love, and with both a decision and a desire to know all of him I was capable of understanding in all of his being- Creator, Savior, Master, Teacher, Comforter, Healer, Helper, Friend, Guide…..Almighty God.

That decision led to 5 years of growth and greater understanding of discipleship and of each believer’s call to ministry.   I still struggled with the place of Scripture.  There were things that appeared to be contradictory.  I lacked understanding of certain things, trying to reconcile its principles, proclamations, prohibitions, and promises with some of the beliefs born out of culture’s influence as a child of the 1960’s.

One Sunday in February 1997 I sat in a worship service listening to a powerful and bold preacher and I was challenged about my submission to the authority of Scripture.  Not realizing fully the implication of my prayer, I simply made another decision.  I prayed sitting there in the pew listening to his exposition of the book of Romans and said, “I surrender myself without reserve to you in this.  I will quit saying, “Yes, but…”  I will trust you to instruct my heart about your Word according to your timing and your purpose for my life.”  That decision to surrender entirely to God’s will and wisdom instead of my own in the reading and interpretation of his Word was a pivotal point in my life.

Within 30 days my life was challenged in ways I’d never imagined it could be.  I was hearing from God in ways I’d never experienced through his Word, in prayer, through teachers, in circumstances, and having to rely heavily on my pastor and his wife to confirm, reassure, and disciple me.

In a matter of 2 months my life was under assault.  I found myself in a place that seemed unreal, feeling that I was losing my marriage, my job, my mind, my sense of self, and my Christian witness.   Even in the midst of what felt clearly like an attack, I knew the still, small voice of God telling me He was there.  To wait.  To be still; he was at work.

It was hard, but I made a decision to simply take it one day at a time and wait through that stormy time that lasted almost a year.  Eventually, the restorative power of God gave me back the things that had been so embattled –  my marriage, my mind, my ability to work at a responsible and fulfilling career, and a sense of purpose in his kingdom.

Over the next 5 years I felt God calling me to vocational ministry and I began working part time in Christian education ministry.  He led me further into healing ministry.  I left my job and returned to school and eventually to a decision to say yes to the call to ordained ministry as a deacon, which in the UMC is a position of teaching the Word, service, and acts of compassion and justice in connecting the church to the world and the world to the church.

That is what I have been working toward since 2008, discovering along the way what it means to make a decision to surrender authority over one’s life to God’s representatives within the church.

There are many decisions about my life that are not mine to make any longer once I surrendered my life to the church.  As all in ordained ministry in the UMC know, we must trust God’s Spirit at work not only in what is best for us as individuals, but also what’s best for the direction and leadership of his church.

It has been and continues to be a journey of joy, knowing that God has a plan and yet called to wait for his timing and purpose each step of the way.

One key Scripture in my spiritual formation has been Psalm 37:3-5:  Trust in the Lord and do good and you shall live securely in his kingdom.  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you (or mold within you) the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to him, trust in him, and he will act on your behalf.

In that Scripture I found 3 invitations:  To trust him, to delight in him, and to commit my way to him.

I also found 3 promises that accompany the invitations: The power to live securely in my faith, to have my desires molded and met in him, and to enjoy the peace of knowing that he goes before me and will make a way for me to continue faithfully.

Our life in Christ is not the result of only 1 decision.  It is many decisions made in response to God’s call to go deeper and deeper in relationship with him.

For me it began as a somewhat innocent 12 year old deciding to give my heart to Jesus.

It continued as a 38 year old deciding to give my soul over to the authority of Christ as Lord of my life.

It continued as a 43 year old deciding to give my mind over to the instruction of his Holy Spirit in order to understand his Word and know his purpose for my life.

It continued as a 53 year old deciding to give the remainder of my years and strength to service in his kingdom within the church in full time ministry.

And it continues daily with the decision to seek his will for the day’s challenges and opportunities.  How are you living out the call to love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength? And to love others as yourself?

What decisions have you made in your life?  Do you need to make a decision today?  Pastors and others are available here to listen and pray with you as you seek answers to questions and God’s will in decisions for your life.