GROWING STRONG IN THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

Sarah J. Blake

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Sarah's Testimony

I gave my life to Christ formally at the age of 12. Following this event, I grew in spurts alternating with stagnant periods. My early growth was encouraged through music--I was deeply touched by music, and I was hindered by lack of access to a complete Bible in a form I could read. In those days there was no Internet, and as a blind child I relied on books in braille. A braille Bible was available from the American Bible Society at the time for $40 per volume. Occasionally my parents were able to purchase a volume for me; but thies did not happen very often. I think that by the time I graduated high school, I had nine of the 18 volumes: all of the New Testament and a little of the Old Testament.

What began as discouragement about lack of access eventually became indifference. I supposed that I would not ever be able to fill in the missing pieces, so I didn't begin to open my mind. I never sat up all night reading or felt a deep, burning desire to study the Bible. Despite my desire to know God and "to please Him" (which I knew I could not do apart from accepting the saving grace of Jesus Christ), I became indifferent regarding Bible study. I knew all the basic stories that were taught in children's Sunday school classes; and I became frustrated about lack of new content as I grew older.

As I moved into college, I acquired a Bible on cassette. I was initially excited about this, hoping that it would allow me to study. However, I discovered a problem: if I found anything meaningful, I could not refer to it in discussion or in my journal. I was also moving into new environments where "daily quiettime" was emphasized; and I felt guilty if I missed a day or two, as if I had been a bad child. Reading my Bible did not give life to me.

With this mindset, I was set up for failure from the start. I was failing at my faith. God wasn't pleased with me. And if He wasn't pleased with me, He probably was angry with me and didn't love me. Reading the Bible became a chore (a good work) rather than an act of willing submission to God. My faith wasn't faith but a vain effort to reach God--and of course, I did not understand what I read. I had not asked God to open the eyes of my heart. I was trying to open them on my own so that He would be happy with me. I was still denying the power of Jesus Christ, still implying by my actions that his death and resurrection were not enough and had not made me worthy to stand blameless before God. How could I be hungry for the truth when finding the truth was not pleasurable?

In his book, Speaking of God, Ben Campbell Johnson defined evangelism as the facilitation of the connection between human and God (p. 23). While we often think of evangelism in terms of what we do to reach people who are not currently attending church, it is better thought of in terms of the act of leading people into relationship with God, be they inside or outside the church. Some may be children inside the church who have not yet solidified their relationships with God. Some may be seekers outside the church who are exploring the Christian faith. It is important to note that disciples are not made when people make an initial acknowledgement of faith, get baptized, or begin attending church. Discipleship is an ongoing lifestyle. It requires ongoing relationship with the community of faith in order for maturity to develop. My interest in the Bible as the Word of God developed as I began to question it, struggle with it in the safety of mentoring relationships, and in time to see how it changed the lives of other people and test its ability to change my life. The "Word of God" is not the book but the content in the book that changes lives. Experience first brought me in contact with God; but it could never sustain me. Only the Word of God can do that; and I need that encounter regularly. That is why I am passionate now about making study accessible to people with various special needs, whether that be disability or chronic illness or something else.

Prayer

As my hunger to know God increased, the quality of my prayer life also improved. I began to solidify my thoughts about prayer and to study about the various kinds of prayer, examples of prayer in the Bible, and the place of prayer in my relationship with God. Prayer isn't only about the words we speak. It is about communing with God in a way that changes us. Jesus taught not only about how not to pray, but also about how to pray. He taught about attitudes, and he taught about God's heart.

To read more about what I have learned about prayer, please visit my prayer page. There I share some of my thoughts as well as quotations and links to additional resources.

The Importance of Relationships in Spiritual Formation

Nurturing relationships play a vital role in the process of spiritual formation. I have written about this process in several articles on this site:

Granny's Story
My mother's mother lived near me during my childhood and adolescence; and I became close to her emotionally and spiritually. Our relationship had a strong impact on me in many ways, as I tell in this article and in related links. In this tribute, I talk about family relationships, spiritual formation of college students, and pastoral care issues affecting families and especially young adults coping with the terminal illness of a family member.

Gramps
"Gramps" was another nurturing person in my early life, though much of my memory comes from my observations rather than from direct interactions.

I Remember Vicki
When I first began communicating online, I met a friend who became a personal acquaintance. We met in person after several weeks of email correspondence and shared a rich friendship until her death ten months later. In my tribute, I talk about the impact of our friendship and pastoral care issues affecting college students and people coping with traumatic loss.