And on this road to righteousness

Sometimes the climb can be so steep

I may falter in my steps

But never beyond your reach

— Rich Mullins, Sometimes By Step

Growing up in a Christian family, I was surrounded by deacons and preachers. Just about every adult male was one or the other. Throw into that mix the three generations of church pianists keeping my older brother and me immersed in the church hymnal. I suppose it was my fate to follow suit in some like capacity, and I did, but not before the prodigal years of my youth that would find me drowning in a sea of despair that reciting Scripture and singing hymns could not rescue me from.

I was 7 when the pastor first lowered me into the baptistery. That was good, and everyone was proud of me. After all, that’s what is expected of a kid with such a rich spiritual heritage, isn’t it? It was cool, too, having all those people pass by to shake my hand, give me hugs, smile and tell me how good I was. But I wasn’t good. Not even close. My teenage years would find me into sex, alcohol. At 15, I almost died from an overdose, which turned out to be both good and bad. Good in that it drove me to seek the counsel of my pastor, bad in the counsel he gave.

I knew that I had to make a change, and I knew what that change needed to be. The following Sunday at church, when the altar call was given, I was first in line. A desperate teen, I poured out my heart to the man who gave the invitation, telling him, “I need Jesus. I need to be saved.”

“Haven’t you made a profession of faith in the past?” he asked.

“I have, but —“

He cut me off and said, “It’s just the old devil playing head games with you. You’re only saved once, Pat. You just need to rededicate your life.”

With a brief prayer, he sent me back to my pew, back to a life without Jesus. Ironically, the invitation song we sang that night was called Without Him, and I still was.

I bounced back a little, managing my misery for the following couple of weeks, but old habits die hard and, without Jesus, they’re always there hanging close, like a crouching tiger. Inevitably, the big cat sprang from the tall grass where he lay hiding in wait, and I was back to the same old self-serving, godless me I had always been.

A few years later, I suppose God must have said, “Enough.” At least, that’s how I think of it sometimes. After a lengthy hospital stay, I sat at home recovering — a jobless man with a family to support and no means of putting food on the table. In that, the most desperate moment of my life, I didn’t call on a man. A man could do me no good. I called on Jesus, and he heard me.

Dear friend, I have no way of knowing where you are as your read this — the crisis you may be facing or the depth of despair you may even now be drowning in — but I do know this: God still loves you, and it’s not too late to call on him. Just do it.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
— Ephesians 2:1–7