I was blessed to grow up in a home with parents who taught me about John 3:16—how God loved me so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to be my Savior. From the time I can remember, it was my desire to be accepted and loved by Him. Even though I was told that God’s love for me was not dependent upon what I did or didn’t do, I still stumbled through times of darkness and feeling separated from Him.
Often at night, I would be gripped with fear that the world was coming to an end and I had not achieved the perfection needed to go to heaven. I could literally hear the congregation singing, “Oh when the saints go marching in…” But the part that haunted me was, “Oh Lord, I want to be in that number…” It was as though I was crying out, Wait for me! Don’t leave me behind. Usually these night-doubts would drive me to my parents’ bedroom where I would plead with them to pray for me to have peace.
Finally, at age eleven, I had an encounter with God on my knees between my parents at the sofa of our home. Soon thereafter, I was baptized in Coal River on a cold November day—so cold, they had to crack the surface ice to complete the baptism. I expected that after that day, I would no longer be plagued with doubts about my salvation. I had such a wonderful peace—and a feeling of being on top of the world. However, I still didn’t comprehend that feelings are fickle—that salvation is by faith, not by feelings, and that I would not always “feel” saved–loved and accepted by Jesus.
My hunger to be accepted by God was misappropriated. I picked up the list of “thou shalt nots” from my holiness teaching. Conforming to outward appearance only sufficed to appease the flesh. My spirit continually hungered for more of God. I struggled to perfect my thoughts and attitudes and clung to God’s promises of being with me “always.” I involved myself in as many spiritual activities as I could—revival meetings, conferences, Bible reading, choir, classes, church services, and Bible Club at school. Each one gave me the euphoric “feeling” for which I longed, but much like caffeine gives you a lift, it soon wore off and I needed more.
Probably the most significant characteristic that derailed me was my often-untamed temper. I doubt that few outside my family knew there were times when I simply “lost it.” I was not rebellious against my parents. I was not disobedient. But the emotional outbursts came primarily when I was unable to accomplish my short-term goals or to rule over my spirit in certain emotional settings. He who has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls (Prov.25:28, Amp). When-ever this happened, the enemy brought accusations against me—both true, based on what I had done or thought, and false, just to torment my mind.
I had just turned 18 and recently graduated from high school when a very wise Pastor Haynie prayed with me that the Lord would “restore the joy of her salvation.” That summer, I spent many hours driving out onto the dirt roads of the countryside, finding a place to park and pray. There, in those meetings just between God and me, I confessed to Him that I longed to measure up to what I thought were His expectations of me. And He spoke to me about His unlimited love—how it wasn’t based on how I performed or felt. There, with the wildflowers blooming around my feet and the cows grazing and gazing over the fence, I gave Him my life with all of its quirks, doubts, misgivings, and frailties. I surrendered to Him my plans, my goals, my desires, and my excessive temper—all of me. In exchange, He gave me a promise of righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom.14:17).
That summer a new chapter in my life began. Did I ever fall short and fail Him in my attitudes and thoughts? Of course—but I confessed, and He forgave. Did I ever have doubts again? Of course—but I cast them down and refused to doubt my salvation. Did I ever feel unworthy again? Of course—but I remembered that it was not by works of righteousness which I have done that saved me in the first place. Did I ever have more out-of-control tempter? By God’s grace, no more tantrums, but thankfully healthy emotions remained.
God surely did lead my life from that point on—in a way that neither I nor anyone who knew me could have predicted. His unlimited love has enveloped me until this day—and will forever be mine. The Psalmist wrote from his heart, and I share his testimony: If God hadn’t been there for me, I never would have made it. The minute I said, “I’m slipping, I’m falling,” God’s love took hold and held me fast. When I was upset and beside myself, He calmed me down and cheered me up (Psalm 94:17-19, MSG).
I thank God every day for His love. It cannot be grasped. It cannot be comprehended. It is so high, so wide, and so deep that it covers every imaginable situation. And He’s given it for free. Oh how He loves me—and you!
Eph. 3:17-19, NLT – Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Lord, You have bade me do Your will,
And I have struggled firm and still.
Yes, Lord, I love Your Name to tell about,
And I love to sing and pray and shout.
But, dear Lord, that night I promised You
I’d be Your child all the way through,
I did not know if You would call me
To carry Your message at home or across the sea.
Now, Lord, You know I am Your child,
And I’d walk for You that last long mile.
Although at first reluctantly,
I now commit myself to Thee.
Whatever, Lord, Your call may be
Gladly, I shall answer Thee.
Wherever that the field is bare,
Please, dear Lord, send me there.
If it be Your will for me to go,
You’ll be my guide through ill and woe.
Yes, dear Lord, I’m ready now;
My life is Yours this very hour.
Thank You Lord for matchless grace,
Someday I’ll see Your glorious face.
In my back yard or across the sea—
Gladly I’ll go, where’er You send me.
Age 18, Summer 1958
(c) Yvonne Karl. Published 10/31/2014. firstname.lastname@example.org
This song, written by Homer L. Cox in the early 1930’s, truly describes my experience: “IT’S REAL!”
1 O how well do I remember
how I doubted day by day,
For I did not know for certain
that my sins were washed away;
When the Spirit tried to tell me,
I would not the truth receive.
I endeavored to be happy,
and to make myself believe.
But it’s real, it’s real;
O I know it’s real;
Praise God, the doubts are settled,
For I know, I know it’s real.
2 When the truth came close and searching,
all my joy would disappear.
For I did not have the witness
of the Spirit bright and clear;
If at times the coming judgment
would appear before my mind,
O it made me so uneasy,
for God’s smile I could not find. [Refrain]
3 But at last I tired of living
such a life of fear and doubt,
For I wanted God to give me
something I would know about;
So the truth would make me happy,
and the light would clearly shine,
And the Spirit give assurance
that I’m His and He is mine. [Refrain]
4 So I prayed to God in earnest,
and not caring what folks said.
I was hungry for the blessing;
my poor soul, it must be fed;
When at last by faith I touched Him,
and, like sparks from smitten steel,
Just so quick salvation reached me;
O bless God, I know it’s real! [Refrain]
Source on Wikipedia: African American Heritage Hymnal #417