Thank you for joining me for Part 2 of the story of my Christian Journey. In Part 1, I explained that my first encounter with religion was with the Nigerian God – traditional and not very intellectual. Suffice to say I was terrified of him.
In my childhood, my mother was very spiritual. She belonged to what was then known as the Faith Clinic movement – reputed for deliverance and casting out of demons. We also visited a LOT of churches including White Garment churches and Deeper Life Bible Church. One thing I could not reconcile as a child was the depth of the word of God preached in many of the churches we visited and the wretchedness of their adherents. A part of me understood the attempt at asceticism but as a child, I had already developed a creative soul. I loved order, beauty & the arts and could not countenance ugliness or mediocrity. I was also something of a rebel and was confused by the rigidity and predictability of church. I instinctively rejected the Gospel of wretchedness and tradition and the Nigerian God who endorsed it. I observed Christians who limited their potential because they believed God wanted them to be poor and to spend more time in church than in the real world. (It’s amazing what a child’s mind notices and absorbs.)
Christianity just seemed like work, work and more work with little attendant joy and happiness. Once, I read a book about how Christians were supposed to tithe their time and spend at least 2.4 hours everyday praying. They were also sipposed to live a fasted lifestyle. I began a 6 month journey of intense prayer and fasting. I lost half my weight and experienced persistent insomnia. My mother eventually stepped in to force me to eat. During that period, I recall thinking that I only felt the presence of God and joy twice and worried that my “return on activity” was rather low. That experience changed my psyche. Till date, I shrink at calls to fast or pray for lengthy periods. (I also don’t shout at God. I figure he’s not hard of hearing or forgetful and hears me the first time I pray. I believe in the principle of persistent prayer enshrined in scripture, but “travailing in prayer” is not my default setting.) In a church, when I learnt workers were supposed to fast weekly, I was ready to resign as a worker to become a free will volunteer-at-large. I have an internal aversion to anything in Christianity that is compelled or used to guilt trip people. Church is a choice and everything done therein.
My Christian experience floundered for a bit until something happened. My mom in her continuous church quest took us to a building on Obasa Street in Ikeja – The Household of God Church. There I met a man who would become my Pastor for over 20 years – Reverend Chris Okotie. This musician turned preacher intrigued me. He was obviously talented & accomplished and wasn’t wretched, yet he was a Christian. He didn’t fit my previous picture of tract holding condemnatory Christians. For the first time in my life, I was presented with a picture of excellence that wasn’t at variance with Christianity. I heard Reverend Okotie teach and was blown away by his intellectual approach to the Bible. Thus began my lifelong affair with the word of God.
The Bible became the primary way through which God instructed me and encouraged a relationship with me. The seed was sown in Household. Household also instilled an approach to Christianity based on Grace and not works; love not fear. You may not know this but some churches believed then that if you sinned and died soon after without repenting, you wouldn’t “make heaven”. They also believed “backslidden” Christians were destined for hell. Their definition of backsliding usually meant Christians who drank, smoked, partied, fornicated or got divorced. Unfortunately, they mixed up the principles of covenant and fellowship.
The fact that you are out of fellowship with God does not negate your covenant of salvation with him. It is a covenant sealed by blood and death. Jesus cannot undo the covenant. This is the inherent principle of Grace illustrated by the biblical Parable of the Prodigal Son. In the Parable, although the son left his father and lived a riotous life, he still remained a son by virtue of the son-father bond and covenant sealed by blood and was welcomed back, though he strayed. At the time I became a Christian, the doctrine of Grace was scarcely taught and people lived in great fear of going to hell. I learnt about Grace for the first time at the Household of God Church. I also witnessed a very disruptive non-traditional approach to Christianity. At a point, Household stopped having ushers as people learnt to sit in an orderly fashion. Pastor shared his telephone number and anyone could call him at anytime. I recall hearing how he showed up at the home of church members who called him while being attacked by armed robbers. He showed up with the Police, his registered shotgun in hand. That was his brand of Christianity – active. Because he did not grow up in traditional Christian circles, he did not know how things should be done and so innovated alon the way. He developed many choruses we sing in churches today and created the modern format for church traffic control and Children’s Church. I smile with pride when I see these things in use in other churches. Reverend Okotie once expressed surprise when people wanted him to pronounce blessings on them during our New Year’s Eve service. He wasn’t aware of the custom and for many years would lead us in praise and worship, wish us a Happy New Year and send us home.
I’m no longer at Household, but the church defined my concept of Christianity – extreme love for the less privileged, resistance to tradition, focus on worship, an intellectual approach to the word and extreme excellence in everyday life.
So, the reason why I became a committed Christian and remain one till this day is because I finally met an excellent and extremely gracious God; one who encourages and does not condemn; one who dislikes religion and the traditions of men and who forgives grievous acts yet demands discipline and maturity.
Here are some of the lessons learnt from this era of my walk with God:
1. The people of God define your concept of God. More often than not, God will not appear in physical form. His people illustrate him. Therefore, may you be fortunate enough to meet the right people who represent God.
2. Your ideology and concept of self will influence your Christianity. I was creative and intellectual, so was drawn to these aspects of God.
3. It is important to develop a love for God’s word. God reveals himself directly though his word. His word has the habit of countering wrong doctrines and shaping right ideologies if your heart is open.
4. Grace defines Christianity and not works. Fear and guilt will not help you build a sound relationship with God. Only love will.
In Part 3 of my God Walk, I will describe how I met the God of love and the one who speaks to his children one-on-one.
Thank you for reading.
PS: If you’d like to begin your own God Walk, it’s easy. Simply say a short prayer now asking Jesus to walk with you and acknowledging him as your Saviour. Then begin to read the Bible for yourself to become acquainted with God’s thoughts. (You may search for my “Study Notes” to help you.) Send me an email if you’ve said this prayer.