“To God be the glory great things He has done.” Ira Sankey
The defining moment of my life happened 40 years ago today. It was a Monday night, October 25, 1971. My wife and I had agreed to attend a Bible study that was meeting at a home located in St. Paul, Minnesota. We had already attended several times and initially it was with some reticence. My sister had been cajoling us for months to check it out. We had seen a marked change in her life which she attributed to a new found faith in God and we were happy for her. Our first visit was simply to please her and get her off our backs. When that meeting concluded, everyone in the group was discussing where they should gather the following Monday and my sister, bless her heart, suggested our house. And that is how we got roped into weekly attendance.
At first I puzzled at what an odd collection of people made up this group. To be honest they were people I would not have chosen to hang out with. But what gave the study credibility, beyond my sister, was the man who led it. His name was Dr. William Backus* and he was a psychologist at the then Minneapolis General Hospital. As a philosophy major and seeker after truth I was very impressed to learn that in addition to his psychology doctorate he also had a seminary degree and in his earlier years had served as a campus pastor at the University of Minnesota where I graduated.
As the weeks unfolded I learned more about Dr. Backus and why the group had the make-up it did. Dr. Backus, although a very erudite man and schooled in theology, had never had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Earlier in the year, before we met him, he had a born again experience and was baptized in the Holy Spirit. It revolutionized his psychology practice and he began sharing with his patients the hope that he himself had found in Jesus Christ. He began leading a Bible study as a natural outworking of his conversion and invited those he was working with to attend.
We were studying the Gospel of John and each week Dr. Backus would take us through a chapter verse by verse. Having never read the Bible, I found the in depth study very intriguing and a spiritual hunger began to grow within me. With each passing week I began to see Jesus and Biblical Truth as I had never seen them before, and their contrast with my life was unsettling. It was a progressive process but I was coming to the realization that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners and my life was unquestionably in desperate need of a savior.
The capstone of that preparatory process was when God opened my eyes to see that salvation was a free gift and not something I must earn. One night in the Bible study it was like He turned a light bulb on. When that happened and I saw that Jesus had already paid the price in full for me at the cross for my salvation and I simply had to receive it by faith. (Romans 4:4-5 & Ephesians 2:8) It’s like the prison door of my spiritual oppression and guilt swung open wide. Although at the time I did not choose to walk through that doorway of faith into freedom, I now knew the way out, and that in itself was liberating for me.
And so forty years ago today, my wife and I drove from our North Minneapolis home over to St. Paul for our weekly dose of Bible. When we arrived we were surprised that the little living room was jammed with people. We found that Dr. Backus had invited an out of town friend to be a guest speaker. His name was Erwin Prange** and he was a pastor from New York. As Prange began to share riveting stories from his ministry experience of the present day power of God and miraculous healings, my heart was pounding within me. I decided right then and there that I wanted to experience that reality in my life and that it was time for me to cross the threshold of faith. At the close of his talk, Prange offered to pray for any in the room who wanted to accept Jesus, be baptized in the Holy Spirit or needed healing.
Several of us indicated that we did and one by one Dr. Backus and Pastor Prange began to move around the room and pray individually with each person.
When they finally came to me I told them I wanted to ask Jesus into my life. I knelt down and as they were praying for me an inner struggle ensued. The Holy Spirit was asking me if I was willing to make Jesus Lord of my life. While I desired to take Him as my Savior and believed that I could receive the forgiveness of my sins and His salvation, I knew that the crux of my encounter with Him was about His Lordship in my life.
I was accustomed to being the lord of my own life. I liked calling the shots. As a result I had made other things god in my life, principally self. There were things I clung to that I did not want to give up and I knew that if Jesus was going to be the Lord of my life, those things would have to go. One of the biggest things was track and field, which had literally been a god in my life for ten years. As I was kneeling there, grace flooded my soul and one by one I surrendered to Christ’s Lordship in each area of my life. The last stronghold was my love of high jumping. It sounds like such a silly thing now looking back these many years. But it was huge for me at the time. My success at it had defined who I was. To yield that to Jesus would literally mean the death of my self. But thanks be to God, His love for me and promise of so much more nudged me to the edge of an all out, no holds barred commitment and I took the plunge.
No sooner had that final “yes” to Jesus’ Lordship been uttered in my heart and all heaven opened before me and joy flooded my soul. It was a dramatic conversion experience in every sense of the word. Immediately I burst forth in praise to God with a new prayer language, just like those converted on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. God had cleansed me from all the shame and guilt of sin and delivered me from self. When I left that living room I was a completely changed man.
I genuinely felt like a new creation. I had a new set of values, a new world view, a new purpose in life and even a new wife. Kneeling beside me she had asked Jesus to be her Lord and Savior too. I also left the room with a new vocation. That night God spoke to my heart and called me to serve Him in the ministry.
Forty years . . . seems like just yesterday as I recount it. Amazing how God works in our lives, from such seemingly small beginnings. Oh yeh, track and field – it was nearly a month later when I was surprised to realize I was no longer working out. All desire was gone and I actually took a three year hiatus from any kind of athletics before picking up running as a hobby. There were much more important things to me, the primary ones being loving and serving God.
Thank you Lord for all you have done in my life as a result of that day! May all glory and praise be yours forever and ever!
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* Dr. William Backus went on to open his own psychological clinic and became a well-known Christian author of a series of books entitled “Telling Yourself the Truth.”
**Rev. Erwin Prange also became a popular Christian author.