I want to share with you a story which at one point in my life, when I heard it, really turned on the lights for me and gave me a deeper understanding for what gospel transformation looks like. It was a story from a woman who had gone to a Christian conference called “Sonship,” (for both genders!) which is one of my favorite studies. It was started by one of my favorite heroes of the faith, Jack Miller (C. John Miller), a Presbyterian pastor, author, missionary, and seminary professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, in Philadelphia.
The story of this lady’s experience, now included in the Sonship materials, reveals that Christianity has to be more than just a “head-knowledge” thing. It has to change us internally and take root deep down or it is possibly not the real article. Until grace starts to deal with things deep down in us, it is possible that we are just being “religious” and do not truly know God, personally, as He truly is.
The following is what she shared at the conference:
“The Holy Spirit really dealt with my husband and me at the Sonship week conference in answer to many prayers. I am seeing that as good as theology and teaching techniques are, it is the Holy spirit alone who changes my heart. He tears down the idols and pride and replants the simplicity of faith in Christ. I realized that my greatest sin was unbelief and so lightly esteeming all God has given me in Christ.
“One day when I was very young, I saw my older sister hanging up my father’s white business shirts on the clothesline to dry. I was suddenly filled with the urge to hang up one of my daddy’s white shirts. He was my daddy too, and I was his daughter; I loved him in my childlike way and wanted to express it. I couldn’t reach the clothesline. It was too high, but I saw a wheel barrow in the yard and its handles were just the right height for me. I didn't notice how rusty it was and I rather joyfully clothes-pinned the wet shirt to the handles.
“When my dad got home and saw the shirt on the wheelbarrow, he became very angry with me and punished me severely for ruining his shirt. I had not realized, the impact that event and others like it had made on me. However, as I was repeatedly convicted during the Sonship conference for not believing God concerning his delight in me and in the gracious nature of my relationship with him, this memory returned to me. Now, you cannot hardly get through 24 hours of a Sonship conference without realizing that your own heart is as murderous as anyone else’s, so I wasn’t primarily focusing on only being the innocent victim of my father’s cruel anger.
“As I remembered these scenes from the past, I saw that through the years I had not been believing that my Father in heaven was any different than my earthly father. I had not been listening when he described himself. In short, I hadn’t been believing the gospel, that by faith in Christ and his perfect atoning sacrifice, he now loves me, and is forever for me and delighted in me. In Christ, he has made me beautiful and pleasing to him forever.
“So the next morning I told our counselor that I thought I was beginning to understand. I told him the memory and said that I guess if the Father saw me standing next to the wheelbarrow with the ruined shirt on it, he would forget the shirt and hug me. “You still don’t understand fully,” Jeff said. “God would not overlook the shirt, but take it, put it on, and wear it to work. And when someone commented on the rust marks, he would say, ‘Let me tell you about my little girl and how much she loves me!’” I was overwhelmed with that realization.
“I am beginning to realize that my Christian life has been a continual effort to earn God’s pleasure by “getting the shirts hung up right.” God would answer if my prayer was right. God would smile upon me if my theology was correct. And since I knew how I had failed day by day in my works, I sort of snuck them up on the line and tried to be away when God got home, so to speak. Someone at the conference said something that seems to apply here. He said, “God will not despise the tainted love-gifts of the sinner who looks to Jesus.” My entire Christian life had been oppressive. I did not know how to live, day by day, without an overwhelming sense of failure to perform up to what I thought God demanded. With that came a sense of God being disappointed and even disgusted with me.
“How overpowering it is now to realize that because of Christ, I can experience a daily freedom to move out into people’s lives. I can love others. I can obey God with my heart because I don’t fear that he will be furious with me if I “get the shirt a bit rusty.” There is a freedom to love that I have not known since the moments before my father got home that day long ago.”
Prayer: Lord, search me. Help me to let your gospel dig deeper into my heart and transform possibly deep patterns that I’m not even aware need to be changed. Amen.