James R. Aist
“I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (Romans 10:20)
I love to hear people tell the story of how God saved them. These stories all have some common ground, of course, but they are all different too, sometimes in interesting and amazing ways. Consider the range of salvation accounts recorded in the New Testament: an Ethiopian eunuch was saved through the one-on-one teaching of Philip (Acts 8:26-35); Simon the Sorcerer was saved through the public preaching of Philip (Acts 8:12); and Saul (later re-named Paul) was saved through the experience of a blinding light and piercing, convicting words from Jesus Himself while on the road to Damascus to persecute the Christians there (Acts 22:6-15). The details of the salvation experience in this day and age can also be far-ranging and fascinating. I know some who came to a gradual realization of the truth of the Gospel, which lead, ultimately, to an awareness that they believed in Jesus Christ, and others who had a sudden, miraculous experience that resulted in the immediate gift of saving faith. Now, regardless of how God brings you to the point of saving faith, you are just as saved as anyone else who gets to that point in life. My personal experience happens to be of the sudden, miraculous nature, and, if you will allow me to do so, I would like to share it with you now.
A Little Brown Church in the Vale…Well, Sort of
My family was Methodist, having moved from Maryland to Arkansas by way of Indiana. We lived on a working dairy farm in central Arkansas, and our house was located on a little dirt road off another dirt road, way “out in the sticks”. This very rural community was called “Cypress Valley”, because Cypress Creek ran through it. The houses were, generally speaking, at least a quarter-mile apart. Well, there was a little, wood-frame Methodist church located only about 75 yards from our front door, so that’s where we attended church, faithfully, every Sunday. Actually, the building itself was not really brown; it was more of a dull, gray color where the white paint was peeling off. Nor was it in a “wildwood”. But it was in a “vale” (which means “valley”). Well, that’s the venue, so on with the story!
An Old-timey Revival Is Coming to “Town”!
In the Summer of ‘53, the powers that be in the Cypress Valley Methodist Church decided it would be a good idea to invite an evangelist to come and preach a revival. Now, I was only eight years old at the time and had never heard of a “revival.” But I soon learned it meant that, during revival week, we would all be going to church not only on Sunday, but on the next three nights as well. That sounded to me like it would be the most excitement that we had seen in Cypress Valley since the dog came home from the creek bottom with swollen jowls from a snake bite! So, although I didn’t know what a “revival” was, I was looking forward to it, nonetheless.
A Date with “Fate”
Revival week came, and off to church we went. We would sing some hymns, have some prayer, listen to the evangelist preach, and then have an “altar call” for those who wanted to get saved. Up to that point, I knew nothing about being “saved” or that I even needed to be saved. Oh, I was aware that I had done some bad things – like lying and cussing and smarting off to my parents – but I was unaware that God would hold me responsible for my wrong doings, after my parents were done with me. I breezed through the first night of the revival, just taking it all in without thinking much about what was really going on. The second night, however, was different for some reason. When the evangelist began to preach, I found myself listening intently to what he was saying; it was as if he was talking to me, personally. He didn’t deliver a “hell fire and brimstone” message at all that night. Instead, he focused on how God loves me so much that he sent His only Son, Jesus, to sacrifice his life for my sins by dying on the cross for me. As he was explaining just how amazing such a love is, I had a “vision.” I first saw something like a dense fog or cloud that parted in the middle, then a soft and diffuse light appeared, and then I heard a voice speak into my mind and say something like, “What he is saying is true. You can depend on it. Believe it and do not depart from it, no matter what.” Then the vision went away, and I was so excited that I could hardly wait for the invitation to come forward and confirm what had just happened: God had saved me through a glorious vision and a message from heaven that validated to me – beyond any doubt — the evangelist’s message of God’s love that night! So, when the time came for the altar call, I was quick to go forward and let everyone there know that I had just believed in Jesus. We all rejoiced at the good news and went home. But I didn’t tell them the part about the vision and the voice; I was only eight years old, and I didn’t know what to make of it at the time.
But, now I realize just how perfectly my conversion experience exemplifies what the Bible says about salvation. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17). “There are three that testify on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood…” (1 John 5:8); I heard the Spirit testify that night. And, I praise God that the word He sent out to me that night did not return to Him void, but accomplished His purpose (Isaiah 55:11).
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