by Mike Ratliff
In January 1986 on a cold Sunday morning I drove my family to church. I took our son to his Sunday school class. He was four. My wife took our daughter who was seven to her class. The Church was a Southern Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Pastor was a friend from High School. We attended that church because my wife and I felt that our children needed it. I had turned 34 the previous October and had lived those 34+ years the way I wanted. I grew up going to church, but as soon as I was old enough to do so, I quit. Neither my wife nor I were attending church when we met then later married. We chose that church because my friend was the Pastor. I had been baptized when I was in the 4th grade because all my friends did. I was as Christian as this Apple Computer I’m typing on right now.
Our Sunday School class met in the choir room. My wife and I met after we had delivered our children to their classes then we went in and found our seats. The teacher stood at the base of three levels of seats that were set up like the choir loft in the auditorium. That meant that we looked down on him as he taught. We always sat on the top row as far from the teacher as I could get. I expected the same old thing that happened every Sunday. I would zone out in class then later zone out in church until we could get home. However, that Sunday was different. Just as the seat of my pants hit the seat I suddenly came under very intense conviction about my lost condition. There was no way I could turn it off. There was no way I could silence that condemnation pouring into my mind about me being bound for Hell. Needless to say, I had no idea what went on in class.
After class we went to church after picking up our children from their classes. I was under such severe conviction that I am surprised that I remembered to go get my son. I have no idea what the sermon was about or what songs we sang. All I know is that I felt as if I was about to die and I was at an eternal crossroads. How did I know that? I have no idea. We left church after bundling up against the cold then went home for lunch and NFL playoff football. Well, I have no idea who played that day or anything else. I simply sat there in spiritual agony. As evening approached and we prepared to return to church for evening services something miraculous happened. As I turned right onto the main road out of our neighborhood I remember vividly telling God that I believed that Jesus died for my sins, was my Saviour, and that I surrendered and I was his to do with as he pleased. As we drove to church I was filled with a level of joy that I cannot describe. I knew that my sins were forgiven and Jesus was my Lord.
Was that a decision for Christ or was it something else? When we arrived at Church I was both ashamed and full of joy at the same time. I was ashamed of all of those wasted years, but I was full of joy because I now had a relationship with God through the Son. Our Pastor ended his sermon and I was down there at the front before the “invitation” even started. I told my friend, my Pastor that I was now a believer, but I wasn’t when we joined that church. He had me pray with my Sunday School teacher. I simply thanked God for saving me and I prayed that He would use me for His glory. I was Baptized the following Sunday evening to the shock of my son. I was a Southern Baptist from that point until about a year ago. During all that time I did grow and mature in Christ. However, I was taught in those churches that I was saved because I decided for Christ. I was convinced that I made that decision and was awarded with Salvation for that step of faith. However, the problem for me was that it also meant that I tried to maintain my walk by will power alone.
At the end of 2003 I was taking a Sabbatical from teaching Sunday School. Our Pastor asked me to start a new class for young adults. For some reason that terrified me. I had been a Bible teacher for many years. I had been a Certified Precept Leader as well. I was driven to my knees. I had become severely convicted over the last few months that I was serving God perfunctorily. I was on cruise control. However, this new task required some effort on my part that I was not used to. As I prayed I knew that I had to do something about my relationship with my Lord because I was not really relying on Him at all.
I began to have a quiet time in the mornings before work. Over time I added godly books to my reading list and stopped reading worldly books. I stopped listening to secular music and replaced that with praise and worship music or preaching. After about six months of that I began having a devotional at work as well then I added another one in the evening. Instead of watching Television, I read my Bible and worshipped God until it was time to go to bed. After a couple of weeks of this I found that there was no time in the day in which I was not in some form of worship or Bible study or theological research.
It was the second week of August 2004. I was sitting in my living room listening to a Jeremy Camp CD and writing in my prayer journal. I began to weep and weep and could not stop. It felt as if someone was doing heavy construction in my heart. I really have a hard time describing this. I woke up the next morning to get ready to go to work and as my feet hit the floor I began praising God and suddenly I realized that God had changed my entire value system. He had replaced my old values that I had built up for over 50 years with His. I was floored. I saw things from His viewpoint. I no longer saw as important what I used to value highly. I now valued highly things I avoided thinking about most of the time.
At first I attributed this to the time I spent with Him over those many weeks and months. However, I soon realized that it was something God had done. He had drawn me to Himself and as I obeyed Him I was drawn even closer. It was from this that my first two books were born. This revival or restoration or whatever it was changed me forever. I began to wonder whether that was my real point of salvation. All I knew was that God did it all. My part was to seek Him and obey Him. I am convinced that He drew me to do it just as He drew me to Himself that cold January day in 1986.
God’s ways are mysterious. They are not our ways. I was convinced that the closer I drew to God and the more I proclaimed what He was doing in me and through me that my fellow Christians all around me would be just as excited as I was about it. Nope! In fact, I received discouraging and disparaging remarks from all but a few of them. It was through that that God spoke to my heart about the spiritual darkness in most professing Christians hearts. They are enslaved to their flesh and they serve God on Sunday mornings and always perfunctorily. They believe their religion is what God wants from them. This became a huge burden for me. I began writing about it and that became my first book. I was attempting to describe what I was seeing. I thought that God wanted me to write that book to help others find the way from darkness to light.
What actually happened though was that when I became published, my pastor began to look at me suspiciously. I was cut out of most things going on in Church and then He began to bring in the Purpose Driven Church stuff. That drove my wife and I out of there. So, what’s the point? God changed me. He gave me a different way of looking at things and from that I became separate from most of the Christians I knew. We have been looking for a new church ever since.
I wrote this short testimony in preparation for my post on Irresistible Grace. However, as you saw as you read this, it turned into something else. This is normal for this is how God works in my heart as I write. I have learned to follow His lead and forget my ideas and plans. He is Lord.
It was from this work of God in my heart that Possessing Treasure was born. Its mission is to shine the light of God’s truth into the hearts of His people so that they will repent of their sins, turn their hearts back to Him, learn to be Sprit-led and live for His glory alone. That mission has never changed. I still ache for all those professing Christians out there who are all wrapped up in religiosity, but whose hearts are far from God. I was there once and I know the powerlessness of that. My prayer is that all reading this will seek the Lord and dedicate themselves to denying themselves, taking up their crosses and following Him. Spending more time with Him than you are used to doing is where it must start.