When I was in a high school, I was big time into “Youth Group.”  That’s what we called church for teenagers back then. Partly because it was expected by my parents and partly because I actually liked it, I attended every Sunday morning worship service, every retreat, every camp.  It was my jam for most of the early-to-mid 90’s.  I remember one year when we went on a mission trip, our youth pastor told us that each of us was going to have to publicly share our “testimony.”  We panicked.  And every time the topic came up, he would break the ice by giving his sample testimony:  “I grew up in a good home, but I started hanging out with the wrong crowd.  I partied too much and drank a lot. Then I got into second grade and Jesus changed my life.”  Haha.  We would laugh and then go back to panicking.

But the truth was that some of my friends did have fairly dramatic stories of how God had turned their life around.  One girl’s dad died when she was in middle school and she fell into a paralyzing depression.  One kid had been arrested for a DUI at age 16, which was pretty hardcore in our sheltered little circle.  Others had been shoplifting, doing drugs, sleeping around.  And of course, they were able to then share about how becoming a Christian provided a stark change to their lives.

Little Jen in t-ball uniform.
My learning has not all been spiritual. I learned that maybe if you didn’t wear athletic socks and jellies you might have better luck in t-ball. And I learned that athletics would not be my calling. Or hats.

And then there was me.  I was a habitual rule-following, compliant child who asked Jesus into my heart at age 8 and had such an annoyingly strong conscience that I once lied to my 7th grade homeroom teacher’s face and later that day I vomited in the bathroom.  Goody Two-Shoes to the core.  When it was my turn to tell my testimony, I felt like I could hear the eye-rolls (yes, hear them) and yawns from around the room. BO-RING.

Earlier this week I was talking with some friends about this very topic.  Those of us who accepted the Lord at a young age don’t necessarily have exciting conversion stories of who we were “before Jesus” and “after Jesus.”  All of our drama has come in the after.  But who says that means it is less powerful of a story?

I think we are quick to negate how much change God will do in the life of a person who already knows Him.  We celebrate at the sinner who repents and finds the amazing gift of grace, and we forget that WE ARE SINNERS who need to repent and we still have access to that amazing gift of grace.  And instead of poo-pooing our testimony because we were already “pretty good” at the time we accepted salvation, we should be shouting from the rooftops how God has worked in our lives and how He is STILL working in our lives to change us and mold us.  Sometimes it is an internal change over time, and sometimes it is harsh and quick and due to life circumstances that we never anticipated.  I know many of you understand exactly what I’m talking about.

I want to be the type of Christian that can quickly identify that I am continually CHANGED by the love of Christ!  The change began in my youth but it continues to this very morning.

Little sweaty teenage Jen does kitchen duty in Haiti.

I personally want to tell you that knowing Jesus has changed the desires of my heart.  The things I used to long for and crave have been replaced by new longings that are more in line with Him.  More and more I see that the things that break His heart are breaking mine.  I know without a doubt that being loved by the Lord has made me LOVE people more, especially people who are not exactly like me. This does not come naturally for me, so I know this is supernatural.  His love has softened me, and at times it has broken me.   In the best possible way.

He has given me a hunger for His Word.  An affection for it that brings me to tears.  I’ll be brutally honest and admit that this is a longing that has only been truly evident in the last few years. That means for much of my Christian life, I knew and read Scripture with quite a bit of apathy and definitely inconsistency.  But this is a change in my heart that I know is from Him!  And the more I study, the more I want to study. It’s funny like that.

Learning more about who I am in Christ has simultaneously humbled me and filled me with confidence.  I don’t know if that even makes sense, but I feel it in my core.  I am humbled by how flawed and in need of grace I am.  I fall on my knees and admit that I have so, so much to learn and so far to go in being like Christ. But I am filled with confidence that the God of the universe adores me and believes in me and gives me a fresh start every. Single. Day.  He thinks I’m worthy of deep, deep love.

Those are just a few examples of how I have been changed by accepting the grace of God.  And just because those changes happened after I said a prayer and “asked Jesus into my heart” does not make them less important for me to acknowledge or to share with others.  I think maybe this is what Paul was getting at when he encouraged the Philippians that “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Phil 1:6.)  We continue to pursue and recognize change in our hearts and lives, not because it is required to keep our salvation, but because He delights in continuing to make us more like Him.  And the more we are changed, the more we long for it. Like I said: it’s funny like that.

Also back in the 90’s we used to sing a song with the words “I will never be the same again.”  I sincerely hope that is true of myself 30 years ago.  But I pray it is also true of myself 10 years ago and 10 hours ago.

A testimony is the story of how Jesus has changed a person’s life.  And that will never, ever get boring.

I really want to know: how has the grace of God changed you?