From Lisa to Elisabeth--34 Years of Grace

This week marks my 34th year walking with the Lord. I can’t remember the exact date though I know it was sometime in the middle of January 1981 when the Lord completed the work He started in my heart so many years previously.

I think I was about 9 or 10 when I started thinking about God and what it meant to follow Him. This is pretty amazing since I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. We were the family who showed up to the Episcopal Church on Christmas and Easter every year, yet even that miniscule exposure to the things of God formed a foundation of belief in my young heart. Somehow I picked up that God was the Creator of all things, that He was Jesus’ Father, and that He and Jesus and the Holy Spirit were One. I knew that Jesus was God and that He came to earth to die for sin and somehow my sin was mixed in there too. I knew there was a heaven—and a hell. I knew there were people who knew God in a real and life-changing way and that I wasn’t one of them. I also figured that someday, when I was old—like 30, I would follow Him.

That’s a lot of thinking for a little girl, but there’s more. I was…am a dictionary reader. They are splendid things and we had a marvelously fat one when I was little. It was huge, probably 5 or 6 inches thick, and contained all sorts of extra tidbits of knowledge, but the part I liked best was the section on names and their meanings. Eagerly I looked up “Lisa” and discovered my name was taken from “Elisabeth” meaning “consecrated to God.” Well, I had to look that one up and discovered that “consecrated” meant “dedicated or set aside for God.” I hoped that one day my life would belong to God and I would truly become “Elisabeth.”

Looking back I marvel at the receptiveness of my little girl heart to the things of the Lord, and the depth of understanding I had in spite of my spiritual blindness. Today I know that any spiritual desire on our part is placed there by the Lord for no one seeks God on their own (Romans 3:11), but at the time I was somewhat bewildered by my phases of seeking after the Lord and then “falling away,” as I saw it. No matter how fervently I prayed I didn’t feel any closer to the Lord, nor was there any permanent change in my life. I had no Christian friends and no one teaching me about God, yet I had a deep and abiding conviction that a true Christian’s life would be markedly different than the one I was experiencing—surely there was more to it than this! My elementary school years through the end of high school were punctuated by periods of drawing near to God and then falling away. I grew progressively more frustrated with God and slowly, consciously began to harden my heart against Him. I even asked the Lord to quit making me feel guilty when I sinned. He answered that foolish, wicked prayer so that I could sin without my conscience bothering me. Little did I understand the danger of my soul!

As you can imagine, my rebellion against the Lord didn’t make me a kinder, sweeter person and I entered my first semester of college at Boise State University unhappy and discouraged. One evening in early December 1980, as I drove home after work, my thoughts were centered upon my current boyfriend and how to break up with him so I could pursue another young man. Suddenly, it was as if I saw my thoughts for the wicked ones they were and it shocked me so much that I proclaimed out loud to myself, “You’re going to ruin your life. You need the Lord.”  

The weeks of December and early January were marked by reading the only Bible we had in the house and me trying to clean up my life so God would accept me for real this time. I viewed all those years of drawing near to God and then falling away as a failure on my part, and desired to show God how much I wanted to follow Him. Desperation fueled my prayers as I begged Him to really and truly save me. I couldn’t bear the thought of staying the same and returning to that old life—a life without Him. I had no Christian friends; no one shared the gospel with me; my biblical understanding was miniscule, yet that didn’t impede the Lord. He was drawing me to Himself in His way and in His perfect timing.

I had no idea how to be saved and thought I needed to go through certain steps in order to “seal the deal.” I was also afraid of going back to a life without God, without being changed so I set a due date for my salvation. It seemed to make it more real and serious that way. Daily I prayed things like, “Lord, I’m coming to You. I don’t know how to be saved. You’ve got to do it. Get ready, Lord, because I’m going to be yours in just two more weeks. Please don’t let me stay the same.” The week before my salvation due date, I just couldn’t wait anymore, so I went forward during an altar call at the church I found to attend. It was time to see if my life would be different.

So I went forward and prayed and hoped and waited to see if anything changed. For a few days I alternated between despair and hope that God had heard my prayer and had accepted me as His child. On Tuesday or Wednesday of that week I was reading in Philippians when I realized the words seemed different. It was like the Bible was alive and speaking directly to my heart. That was the moment I knew God had heard my pleas for salvation and change. How I rejoiced then because I knew my life would never be the same.

Only then did I remember two people I had briefly met months before who attended a Bible study, so I went and visited them separately to tell them that I had just become a Christian. They welcomed me into a whole new world of Christian fellowship and began to help me grow in my baby faith. They told me to read my Bible, so read it I did. During the three months of summer I read the Bible 3 times through and then I began to read each book of the Bible 30 times. Slowly, my shreds of Bible knowledge grew into a steadfast and firm faith. 

I love my story. I love it that the Lord used His Word to save me. He didn’t send someone to talk with me. I had never even seen a gospel tract. It was just the Word drawing me to Himself as I read a banner with John 8:32 on the church wall, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” And later, it was still the Word when I pondered what it meant to be a Christian in Matthew 10:37-39, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

Later when I read what Moses told the children of Israel about God’s Word in Deuteronomy 32:47 my heart understood, “For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life.” The Word of God not only gives life, it is our life. It’s for this reason that I’m so passionate about studying the Scriptures. It’s not something we just do. It’s our very life breath that keeps us spiritually healthy and strong; it softens our wayward spirit and leads us back to the place of peace and safety; it reveals our Savior to us and prepares our hearts for heaven. Psalm 119:103 proclaims and my heart echoes, “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

I hope some part of my story encourages you today. If you realize your life has never really changed, that you’ve never placed your hope in Jesus alone for salvation, and you realize the Scriptures seem dead and wooden to you, then let today be the beginning of change for you. You can have your own story if you’re willing to call upon the Lord, confess your sin, independence, and hatred of His ways, and beg Him to save you and transform you. The prophet Isaiah tells us how to do this in Isaiah 55:6-7: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

Psalm 119:175 Let my soul live that it may praise You, and let Your ordinances help me.