Atheist Epiphany (ATP)
“Pastor Renee, at what point when you were an atheist did the Holy Spirit come upon you and “make” you start turning toward God?”
I was raised in an atheist home. My parents were wonderful, hardworking, and loving people but they didn’t believe in God and never took us to church. We never had a Bible, a prayer, or even a Noah’s Ark story book in our home. I didn’t know any different and it was very much normal to me to live life without any sort of religion. This being said, I had an aunt who went to church and my cousins were my best friends. On several occasions, I went to church with them but I never tuned in to what was being preached, plus I don’t recall really sitting in the message part of the service anyways because they sent the children downstairs. My parents never looked at church very kindly and Christians were weird, hypocritical, etc. I remember the Gideons group handing out mini Bibles on the street corner on my way home from school and coming from a home that didn’t have a lot of “extras” I loved getting those free Bibles. I used them to teach my dolls and stuffed animals but I never read them. That was the extent of my upbringing with the Lord.
As a child, I was different. Maybe people didn’t notice, but I noticed it on the inside. I pondered the meaning of life and what we were here for. I recall on several occasions looking around and realizing everyone around me was going to die one day and weeping to myself with pain too great for a child to bear. I was tormented in my dreams and even experienced many dark spiritual manifestations in the waking hours. Some I spoke of, others I did not.
The point to me sharing this is that I believe looking back the Lord was dealing with me from a very young age. I was always intrinsically motivated to succeed and to learn. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a teacher and worked towards that goal. While in college, I studied courses like world religions, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and ethics. I learned many theories and ideas. Nothing made much sense to me and all seemed false. It wasn’t until I graduated college and met my husband, a then backslidden Christian, that I ever considered setting foot in a church. He asked me to come with him expressing that he knew it was the only way for a relationship to work, and it was my love for him that brought me in. When I listened to the scriptures and the message being preached I compared it to all I had remembered learning in college and this suddenly didn’t seem so far fetched. It didn’t take long for things to be brought to my remembrance like those moments as a child where I pondered the meaning of life and my purpose. It was two weeks into going to church that I became so intrigued by the practicality of the Word that I began reading my husband’s Bible. I began tuning into Christian radio. I began asking questions. I guess you could say I was intrinsically motivated to learn, something I believe the Lord put on the inside of me.
I love Matthew 13:44 (The Message), “God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidently found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field.” It was as if a treasure had started to be revealed on the inside of me. One night I was driving home from graduate school and I heard a salvation prayer on the Christian radio station. I had heard the same prayer the last two Sundays at church. I thought, “OK. I’m going to pray this. I’m going to jump in and see what happens.” Romans 10:8 (NASB) says, “…THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching.” The words of salvation were right there, ready for me to grab. There was no making me do it, just this gentle nudge on the inside. From that moment on, I never turned back. I never stopped coming to church. To this day, I’m still listening to Christian radio. I’m still reading scripture, but now I’m understanding it more and more.
I said earlier, I believe looking back that the Lord was always dealing with me, from a young age. After I got saved, the Holy Spirit reminded me of many times I heard the gospel preached without realizing it. Two of the most prominent recollections were my favorite teacher in high school, the reason I became an art teacher, always telling me about her faith and always testifying in her great love and kindness. She wrote “God Bless” on the back of all my artwork as she graded it and would give me notes and gifts of encouragement always sharing her faith and her love for me. I recalled a young girl in my college history class who stood up and told the class the only way to Heaven was through Jesus. Matthew 5:14 says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” This fellow student of mine was opposed, booed, and purposely put on the stand to be made a mockery of, but she didn’t care. She calmly proclaimed Jesus. It spoke to me, but I never mentioned it to anyone. The Lord reminded me of that moment after I became a pastor. I believe both of these witnesses were the Holy Spirit moving me towards Him. I believe both of these individuals have rewards for all those my life will impact and bring into the kingdom of Heaven.
The Word is near that atheist friend, family member or acquaintance. Your light matters. As you live truly on fire for Him, not dim, but shining in His glory, it will speak to them. Trust Him.