In my early twenties I was drawn to various Eastern philosophies and was an ardent student of various European and Eastern belief systems. I had come to believe that life should essentially be lived moment by moment without desires, goals or purpose and even to look for meaning in it was a pointless activity.
Many years ago (I find myself having to say that these days!), when I was 23, I had arranged to go on a three day youth-hosteling walk around the North Downs with my friend Andy. The week before we were due to go, Andy dropped out, but I decided to go anyway, thinking that I would use it as a sort of attempt to find out what life was really all about. During my walk I passed two or three village churches with open doors and when I went inside they all seemed to have a series of little booklets in them called The Islington booklets with title such as “What is Prayer?” or “Who is Jesus?”. Despite my conviction that to look for faith in anything outside yourself was a false road, I remember taking one of these every time I saw them and reading them during my walk. Strangely, I came home with a desire to find out more.
Soon after that I was sent on a computer training course and I sat next to a man who was what you might call a committed Christian. I remember having conversations with him about my beliefs, particularly my interest in various Eastern philosophies. He was quite stridently against what I was saying and suggested that I went to the Scripture Union bookshop in Wigmore Street to get a book on Christianity.
Later in the week, I decided to seek out the shop and I went in and asked an assistant if she had a general introduction to Christianity. She seemed rather taken aback by my question but eventually recommended John Stott’s book Basic Christianity. I took it home and read it cover to cover that evening. In his book, John Stott gave a complete overview of the life of Christ and what it meant for us, and he drew on C S Lewis’s argument that in order to make the claims about himself which he did, Jesus must have been either mad, bad or speaking the truth. When Stott wrote at the end about the verse in the book of Revelation, “Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me”, I willingly and enthusiastically asked Jesus Christ to come in to my heart and life.
The result was dramatic. The next day I woke up with God in the world and in my life. My whole life was reoriented around the Christian faith. I had no contacts with any Christians at that time and I knew there was a Christian bookshop in nearby Bromley so I went down there and introduced myself to a worker there called Brian Cross and told him my story. He told me about a Bible study group run by a young married couple who worked full-time with homeless people who had problems of addiction. Later in the week, he took me along where I found a group of young, radical Christians. They were studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship (now retitled Discipleship) which had a huge effect on me, dealing with the topics of “cheap” discipleship as opposed to the costly,life-changing variety.
Before long I was involved with going on Friday nights to the South Bank area of London to help with homeless people and also to a related residential centre at Wateringbury in Kent where we all helped in various ways.
One day at Wateringbury I was assigned to help paint the stonework on a balcony overlooking the beautiful Kent countryside and I remember that all day I was filled with a sense of complete elation, almost a physical sensation which I can only describe as the presence of God. This one-to-one experience was far different to anything I had encountered during my search through other faiths and the sense of close relationship with God drew me into seeking adult baptism as a Christian and has lasted all my life. It continues to inspire me more and more each day.