Phil works as an office administrator at a commercial vehicle dealership, and is a Deacon at Grace Baptist Church.
We all have certain Bible stories that we learned over and over again since childhood, and know like the back of our hands. The Prodigal Son is one such story. But that parable has become very real and meaningful in my now 43 year old life.
I was born into a Christian family in 1970, and had good teaching as a child. Newtown Evangelical Baptist Church provided great teaching during my formative years, but as with many “church kids” my knowledge of the Bible didn’t guarantee I was a Christian.
That would come when I was in my late teens. On a youth weekend, I recall we closed a meeting with the hymn whose chorus reads “Living He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away, rising He justified freely forever, one day He’s coming, O glorious day”. It was a favourite hymn of many in our church, and I’m afraid my reaction was usually “not this one again!”.
But not this day. On this day, those words spoke directly to my heart. Or more importantly, God did. On that day, all the Biblical knowledge I had learned became Biblical Truth in my life. I was now a Christian.
However, that is not where the main part of my Christian journey is. At the age of 24, my mother passed away from a long battle with cancer. As was my personality, I failed to really deal with the emotions that this brought on, and it became a bitterness that welled up inside me. Unfortunately, as many can attest, Satan can use these weaknesses in us to get in and do immeasurable damage in our lives, and so it wasn’t long before the bitterness became directed to the church and drew me further from them spiritually, emotionally and physically, resulting in me asking for my membership at Newtown to be terminated.
Now, there is an important lesson to be learned here. We are all very keen to criticise our churches and their leaders if they fail to provide proper care for their members. But the truth is, as Galatians 6:2 states, we are to “carry each other’s burdens”. This is a two-pronged instruction. It does of course mean that we are to care for one another and share their burdens. However, it also implies that we must to be willing to share when we have burdens ourselves. Failure to do so can cause us to feel isolated and bitter within the church environment. Rather than “nobody cares”, we should instead be honest and say “nobody knows”. Although even that is a falsehood — as I was soon to be reminded, God knows.
So what happened next? To be honest, I initially thought “OK, I don’t want anything to do with the church, but I don’t need them to be a Christian”. But that very soon became a statement that was proved wrong. Without the weekly Christian teachings and fellowship of the church, I soon thought less and less of God and His Grace that had allowed my salvation, and more and more of worldly distractions and enjoyments. In God’s goodness, I was kept from anything too bad. Sure I began to have some bad habits that were certainly against Biblical instruction, but God kept from anything too damaging. So I didn’t get involved in drugs, drinking, smoking etc. that so many can fall into when away from God.
Looking back, I have to say that although this is not a period of my life I wish had not happened, and was a huge mistake on my part, I cannot fully regret it happening. Seeing the pointers and prods God kept giving me to show he was still there has provided a very important lesson in my life. God put me with people that joked about Him, or alternatively kept pushing me to meet Christians in the most unusual of environments. These interactions either pricked my conscience about the jokes that were being told, or kept my mind coming back to where I once was. And throughout, there was always the feeling that however happy I felt, there was just something missing.
Fast forward to 2005. I had become involved with British professional wrestling. I would help backstage, film events, and ferry visiting “stars” from the airport. On this particular occasion, I was bringing a Canadian wrestler from Heathrow to Orpington and we were stuck in horrendous traffic. The time of the show was getting closer and closer, but when we arrived at Orpington the guy said he needed to quickly stop at the hotel to ensure he was properly ready for the show. We still had time, so I agreed to the stop. While I was waiting, I got a text from the venue that simply read “Eddie Guerrero has died. Everyone here knows”. Eddie Guerrero was a huge star in America, who had gone through pain pill and steroid addictions. Eddie Guerrero was also a very religious individual. More importantly, Eddie Guerrero was also the room-mate of the man upstairs in his hotel room. And so it was left to me to tell this man I’d just met that someone he knew well had died. And had died just three years older than me.
While I was letting the wrestler make phone calls to friends and family to make sure they were OK, I couldn’t get out of my mind that this was a real message from God for me. I guess I’d begun to assume that I could sort things out where church and God were concerned “down the line”, but it struck me that “down the line” could end up being too late. No one can dictate to God when their life ends, and no one should presume they will live to a ripe old age.
This was followed up with a British wrestler announcing his retirement, in order to renew his commitments to the church. That was it. It was time to go back.
I then moved to Hitchin in Hertfordshire, and found Grace Baptist Church just down the road from my new flat! As if that wasn’t a sign, there was an actual signpost right at the end of my road saying “Baptist Church” and pointing me in that direction! Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour?
It took a few more years for me to figure out that I had to fully cut out other things in my life in order to commit to the church, however I am now an active and joyful member of Grace Baptist Church, Hitchin and have recently begun a deaconship within the church.
My life definitely hasn’t been an “ordinary” Christian life, but through constant prayers of family and Christian friends, I was the prodigal son who returned home and the Father welcomed me with open arms. It is an important lesson to me. No matter how far away you are from God, He is never far from you. “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” is so true. And more so, if there is someone you have been praying for regularly for years, never give up. God loves a persistent prayer, and will reward it in His own time.
This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Grace Magazine, who we thank for permission to reproduce it here.