As a kid I grew up barefoot in bathing suits running around the surf shop and beaches in Florida. When it was time to enroll me in school, my parents selected a private Christian school where at chapels and events, we were repeatedly asked to give our hearts and lives to Jesus.
I don’t remember the first time I went forward to the altar to commit my life to Jesus, but I do remember going forward many, many times. Sometimes the invitation to follow Jesus was issued in the context of the goodness and love of God, and I’d run for the altar. Other times the invitation to follow Jesus was issued in the context that if we didn’t become followers of Jesus, we’d have the consequences of hell. And I’d also run for the altar—but those times faster!
In fact, I went forward so many times, I remember one day a loving teacher put her hand on my shoulder and pulled me aside. “Margaret, do you know that you only need to go forward once to become a follower of Jesus?”
I had no idea.
She began to explain the truths that my parents had discovered years before, namely, thatsalvation is a gift given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. She helped me understand that salvation is not just being saved from the consequences of sin but being saved for relationship with Jesus. That it was not something I had to keep running to the altar for every week. This gentle teacher opened my eyes to the person of Jesus and helped me to encounter him in a more meaningful way.
As I grew older, Jesus began revealing Himself to me as I’d read through the Scripture. My faith was sparked through stories of other people who shared how they met and encountered Jesus and the transformational miracles he’d done in their lives.
Now when I look back on how my mother, father, and I all encountered Jesus, the stories are so very different. The fact is, and I believe God planned it this way, we all have different stories, unique portraits of the ways we first encountered Jesus.
That’s one of the most beautiful truths we discover when we open the Gospel of John. John goes out of his way to describe in detail the stories of how the first followers encountered Jesus, and each one is laced with unique meaning, hope, and beauty.