I didn’t know diddlysquat when I became a Christian. I had attended church sporadically during my childhood, but I paid no attention to the then-to-me boring verbiage that poured forth from the pulpit. The only Bible I had ever owned—a children’s Bible I was gifted on my eighth Christmas—was buried somewhere in my mom’s storage unit. Beyond understanding that Jesus was the Son of God who loved me and died for my sins, I was 100% ignorant concerning biblical Christianity at the onset of my relationship with the Lord.
But I sure did trust him.
Thinking back on that first year or so, I’m pretty bewildered by the vigor and solidity that characterized my faith. I wasn’t aware of the extent of God’s sovereignty. I didn’t understand my salvation was eternally secure. I didn’t even know God promised to work all things for my good. Yet, despite my lack of acquaintance with the Bible, I believed with unflinching certainty that God was bigger than anything else, he was more important than anything else, and that his love for me knew no bounds. My faith really couldn’t have been simpler, but it was unshakeable and sure—which was demonstrated as I endured my first fiery trial.
My pre-conversion life was a reckless blur. When the grace of God sobered me up from my addiction, I began to see things clearly—including the very real dangers I had drunkenly subjected myself to over the past couple of years. One of these dangers was an HIV exposure. I was likely exposed to the virus multiple times without my knowledge. But on one particular occasion, the other party told me beforehand they were HIV+, and I responded with a slurred, “Who cares?” In the semi-sober days following this exposure, I definitely cared. Dread consumed me. But as was my addictive practice, I soon forced it out of my mind by flooding my system with alcohol—not really thinking about it again until I became a Christian.
I so wished I could have entered into my new life in Christ without dragging behind me this fear of having potentially contracted a life-altering virus. But I couldn’t wish reality away. I had been exposed, and I needed to be tested. So I scheduled the test, had it done, and then began the eternal waiting period (7 days) for the results to come back. I don’t want to insinuate at all that I wasn’t fearful about what that test might show. I smoked a lot of cigarettes in that seven-day waiting period! However, I also really believed in God.
I believed God knew.
I believed God cared.
I believed God was there.
I believed God would never leave me.
So simple. So elementary. Yet these childlike beliefs gave me enormous strength in the face of this Goliath-like enemy who wanted to devour my peace and joy. I was definitely afraid, but, more than that, I was fully convinced that God would be sufficient for me no matter the outcome. I really trusted him to be enough for me even if my earthly life was turned upside down or perhaps cut short by illness. I was nervous, but I was hopeful—not hopeful for merely a physically healthy future, but hopeful that God would be “the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26)—whether in sickness or in health.
The test came back negative. Praise God! To be on the safe side, I decided to be tested periodically for the next eighteen months. Anxiety accompanied these subsequent testings (which all came back negative) but so did a powerfully sustaining, childlike trust in God. When I think back on this faith-trying stage of my Christian infancy, I am encouraged most not by the negative test results—though I am incommunicably thankful—but by the tenacity of my kidlike faith in God. I didn’t know much, but I trusted much.
I have learned a lot about God in the last six years. He has given me an insatiable hunger for biblical understanding that has led me to feast daily on his Word. I have grown light-years in my knowledge of biblical doctrine as well as in my ability to communicate it to others. However, if I’m honest, my trust in God at this present moment is so much feebler than it was when I was “theologically ignorant.” Today, situations far less trying than the HIV situation so easily smash my joy and peace to pieces.
Is my growth in “knowledge” to blame for the weaker state of my faith? Absolutely not! Developing a deeper understanding of God and the reality in which we live doesn’t war against faith—it gives structure to faith. However, intellectual knowledge about God is not faith’s power source; God himself is faith’s power source. In my Christian infancy, I continually lingered at the Father’s side in prayer. I believe this is why my faith—however “ignorant” it may have been—was so durable. These days, though, I don’t draw near to God in prayer much. I read the Bible. I think about spiritual realities. I have rich, theological conversations with other believers. But I don’t dwell with the Lord like I used to. My prayer life has become dry and mechanical, lacking heartfelt affection for God and a desire to simply enjoy his presence.
This is why I barely trust him.
This is why I am an anxious mess.
This is why I am finding it so hard to believe.
I need to keep growing in my intellectual understanding of God. But if I have learned anything lately, it’s that I can’t intellectually argue myself into a state of joy and peace. My brain can’t make my heart believe in God’s sovereign goodness or his unwavering commitment to me in Christ. If I want my heart to take God at his word, I need to take my heart to God. Dwelling with him—not merely thinking about him—is where the power is.