The Author's Conversion
To understand my story, let me first describe a lesson learned years later.
Lesson: Minimalism vs. Abandonment
During a men's retreat, years after my conversion, the strongest thing God spoke to me wasn't during the talks, but on the football field at rec time. The ball was thrown to the guy I was covering and had I reacted quicker (with full effort) I couldve intercepted. Because I tarried he got the reception. After the play I heard what sounded like the Lord saying:
This is the state of your spiritual life. Your efforts seem reasonable, yet in fact you are not fully giving of yourself. Abandon completely to Me and I will bring the increase.
In other words, if my effort was:
- 25%, then he'd catch it and Id have tagged him with work.
- 50%, then he'd catch it and Id have tagged him with some effort.
- 75%, then he'd catch it and Id have tagged him easily.
- 100%, I wouldve intercepted the ball, changing the entire game dynamic.
See, I used to think that as I give God things, He would give me back things; i.e., "the more I give, the more I get", as in the blue line below.
Minimalism (Blue) vs. Abandonment (Red)
Yet actually it works much more like the red line. Only as our level of effort reaches its maximum, do we begin to experience gainsvast gains.
(Note: I'm not suggesting God doesn't ever use our less-than-full efforts, but it's certainly not the wiser investment!)
The blue line is the attitude of a minimalist. Contrast to King David who abandoned himself, saying: "I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free." (Psalm 119). He does not merely walk in obedience. He runs.
Minimalism to Abandonment: The Dave Nevins Conversion
During my college years at Virginia Tech everything was going great except for academics! I selected math as my major because I knew there are three types of people: those who can count and those who can't. Anyway, I had no great interest in math, but chose it for decent job opportunities, and though competent with it, I was unmotivated. Academic minimalism worked Freshman year, but compounded by Junior year, and before long I was getting all of the grades that are below C. Using my remaining math skills, I figured without getting more As and Bs quickly, I wasnt going to graduate. So I made an all-out blitzkrieg for good grades.
It wasn't good enough.
Concurrently I had stable Christian friends who seemed to get good grades with a lot more peace. Previously, I had been intellectually convinced of Christianity, but had never taken the plunge; yet now I had a good reason: My grades were dying and I needed an expert in resurrection!
So I increased my efforts to be a Christian, but I still couldnt get my grades up. One day the frustration erupted and I became livid at God for not coming through, even though I was being "a good person." After calming down I decided it's no good to argue against the One who gave you reason!
Wisening up, I said to Jesus, "You are the Lord. Take my entire life. I seriously promise to commit my entire life to youforever. If you want me to have this degree I will use it for you. If not, then thats fine. I trust you. Because its not my life anymore. Its yours. You own it. I give to you all my desires and plans and problems."
Following that commitment I began to experience God's peace in a powerful way, like I heard many others talk about. The concern with grades was dwarfed by the experience of God's presence. Wow. God is real. Grades improved significantly and I became at ease with whether or not I would graduate. Previously I couldnt sleep well; afterwards I slept soundly. I didnt even know if I would graduate until after the semester ended, but after the good news the blessings continued: I received my first job right away, without a resume, without even looking for the job, and since then I have never come close to having a financial burden.
That is why today whenever anyone asks me what my major was, I tell them
that my diploma says "mathematics," but my degree is really in prayer!
In the classic Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis distinguishes between simply "trying to be good" versus abandoning life to Christ. Often we see ourselves like an honest citizen paying taxes, hoping when the requirements have been met we will have something left over to do what we really want.
The Christian way is very different: harder, and easier. Christ says 'Give me All. I dont want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I dont want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I dont want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think are innocent as well as the ones you think wickedthe whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.'
Before conversion I was trying to be good and remain the boss vs. letting Christ be the boss. It's the difference between having Jesus in your life vs. having Jesus as Lord of your life.
And this isn't something just for conversion. It starts then, but handing over the whole self is a life process. Its what Christianity is all abouta relationship.
Handing life over to God is a challenge, but is thankfully one that has more to do with Gods love than our efforts! We have to do our part, of course, but the point here is that our part shouldn't be like the blue line (conditional love), but like the red line (covenant love).
Here's more good news. We may feel incapable of getting to the steep part of the red line, but God supplies the strength to get thereHe will never ask for more than we can give. In fact, we may think it's unattainable, but sometimes God only wants us desire to obey Him and hell bring the increase!
The irony is that it is both hard and easy. Theres a cost (our part),
and a huge benefit (His part). It takes great effort to intercept the football,
but once you do it's a new ball game.