I suppose that the apostle Paul's conversion experience has become the template for many Christians--a rabid persecutor of Christians, he had a life-changing experience with the risen Christ on the road to Damasacus, and subsequently became the foremost promoter of the Gospel he had once reviled.
I think we assume several things about Paul's experience, and I may unpack some of those in the future, but holding up his experience as a standard for all conversions is the one I want to look at in this posting.
I had the opportunity to lead a deacons' retreat for one of our churches last Friday night. The material I was using is very good (Bill Hybels' Walk Across the Room) and, like all good evangelism training resources, explains how to tell your faith story with humility, simplicity, clarity, and brevity. The pattern goes something like this--What was your life like before you knew Christ? How did you come to the point of submitting to His leadership in your life? What was your life like after that decision? Of course, this pattern is drawn from the experience of Paul--one he recounts several times in the Book of Acts.
I asked the group Friday night this question, "How many of you grew up in the church and made a profession of faith at a young age (you can define "young" however you wish). About 80 percent of the hands went up. I was not surprised. I shared my own testimony something like this:
"I grew up in the church and can't remember a time when I did not know that there was a God who loved me. I made a public profession of faith in Christ at age 12. When I was a sophomore in college, I was going through some difficult times. I got down on my knees beside my bed one night and prayed, 'God, I don't know what you want me to do with my life, but there must be something better than what I am doing. I submit myself to you.' Well, things didn't get miracously better, but I began to perceive God's presence in my life, a presence that has stayed with me through thirty years of ministry, a tour in Vietnam, the raising of three children, and the loss of a grandchild to cancer."
Now, this may raise theological questions for some, but I felt validated when one of the members of the group Friday night came up and said, "I am glad that you shared your experience. I thought I was the only one who had come to Christ in that way.
Perhaps it is time to realize that God works with each of us in God's own way. For some, it will be the nurturing process of church and family. For others, it will be a "Damascus Road" experience. Who are we to tell God and the Spirit how to work? If we were more comfortable with the way that God has worked in our lives, perhaps we would be more comfortable in telling others about God.