I longed to be happy. I wanted to be one of the happiest people in the entire world. I also desired meaning in life. I was looking for answers to the questions:
“Who am I?”
“Why in the world am I here?”
“Where am I going?”
More than that, I also longed to be free. I wanted to be one of the freest people in the whole world. Freedom to me was not simply doing what you want to do–anyone can do that. Freedom, for me, meant having the power to do what you know you ought to do. Most people know what they ought to do but don’t have the power to do it.
So I started looking for answers. It seemed that almost everyone was into some sort of religion, so I did the obvious thing and went to church. I must have hit the wrong church, though, because it only made me feel worse. I went to church morning, noon and night, but it didn’t help. I’m very practical, and when something doesn’t work, I chuck it. So, I gave up religion.
I began to wonder if prestige was the answer. Being a leader, accepting some cause, giving yourself to it, and being popular might do it, I thought. At the university I attended, the student leaders held the purse strings and threw their weight around. So I ran for freshman class president and got elected. It was great having everyone know me, making the decisions, and spending the university’s money to get speakers I wanted. It was great, but it wore off like everything else I had tried. I would wake up Monday morning (usually with a headache because of the night before) and my attitude was, “Well, here goes another five days.” I endured Monday through Friday. Happiness revolved around three nights a week–Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Then the vicious cycle began all over again.
I suspect that few people in the universities of this country were more sincere about trying to find meaning, truth, and purpose in life than I was.
During that time I noticed a small group of people–eight students and two faculty members. There was something different about their lives. They seemed to know why they believed what they believed. They also seemed to know where they were going.
The people I began to notice didn’t just talk about love–they got involved. They seemed to be riding above the circumstances of university life. While everyone else seemed under the pile, they appeared to have a content, peaceful state about them that wasn’t driven by circumstances. They appeared to possess an inner, constant source of joy. They were disgustingly happy. They had something I didn’t have.
Like the average student, when somebody had something I didn’t have, I wanted it. So, I decided to make friends with these intriguing people. Two weeks after that decision we were all sitting around a table in the student union–six students and two faculty members. The conversation started to get around to God.
They were bothering me, so finally I looked over at one of the students, a good-looking woman (I used to think all Christians were ugly); and I leaned back in my chair (I didn’t want the others to think I was interested) and I said, “Tell me, what changed your lives? Why are your lives so different from the others on campus?”
That young woman must have had a lot of conviction. She looked me straight in the eye and said two words I never thought I’d hear as part of a solution in a university: “Jesus Christ.”
I said, “Oh, for God’s sake, don’t give me that garbage. I’m fed up with religion. I’m fed up with the church. I’m fed up with the Bible. Don’t give me that garbage about religion.”
She shot back, “Hey, I didn’t say religion, I said Jesus Christ.” She pointed out something I’d never known before: Christianity is not a religion. Religion is when human beings try to work their way to God through good works; Christianity is God coming to men and women through Jesus Christ to offer a relationship with himself.
There are probably more people in universities with misconceptions about Christianity than anywhere else in the world. Some time ago I met a teaching assistant who remarked in a graduate seminar that “anyone who walks into a church becomes a Christian.” I replied, “Does walking into a garage make you a car?” I was told that a Christian is somebody who genuinely believes in Christ.
As I considered Christianity, my new friends challenged me intellectually to examine Jesus’ life. I found out that Buddha, Mohammed and Confucius never claimed to be God, but Jesus did. My friends asked me to look over the evidence for Jesus’ deity. They were convinced that Jesus was God in human form who died on the cross for the sins of mankind, that he was buried, that he arose three days later, and that he could change a person’s life today.
I thought this was a farce. In fact, I thought most Christians were walking idiots. I’d met some. I used to wait for a Christian to speak up in the classroom so I could tear him or her up one side and down the other, and beat the professor to the punch. I imagined that if a Christian had a brain cell it would die of loneliness. I didn’t know any better.
But these people challenged me over and over. Finally, I accepted their challenge. I did it out of pride to refute them, thinking there were no facts. I assumed there wasn’t any evidence a person could evaluate.
After many months of study, my mind came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ must have been who he claimed to be. That presented quite a problem. My mind told me all this was true but my will was pulling me in another direction.
I discovered that becoming a Christian was rather ego-shattering. Jesus Christ made a direct challenge to my will to trust him. Let me paraphrase him. “Look! I have been standing at the door and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in” (Revelation 3:20). I didn’t care if Christ did walk on water or turn water into wine, I didn’t want any party-pooper around. I couldn’t think of a faster way to ruin a good time. So here my mind was telling me Christianity was true and my will was running away.
Whenever I was around those enthusiastic Christians, the conflict would begin. If you’ve ever been around happy people when you’re miserable, you understand how they can bug you. They would be so happy and I would be so miserable that I’d literally get up and run right out of the student union. It came to the point where I’d go to bed at ten at night, and I wouldn’t get to sleep until four in the morning. I knew I had to get it off my mind before I went out of my mind! Finally my head and my heart connected on December 19, 1959, at 8:30 p.m. during my second year at the university–I became a Christian.
That night I prayed four things to establish a relationship with Jesus Christ which has since transformed my life. First, I said, “Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me.” Second, I said, “I confess those things in my life that aren’t pleasing to you and ask you to forgive me and cleanse me.” Third, I said, “Right now, in the best way I know how, I open the door of my heart and life and trust you as my Saviour and Lord. Take control of my life. Change me from the inside out. Make me the type of person you created me to be.” The last thing I prayed was, “Thank you for coming into my life by faith.” It was a faith based not upon ignorance but upon the evidence of history and God’s Word.
I’m sure you’ve heard various religious people talking about their personal bolt-of-lightning experience. Well, after I prayed, nothing happened. I mean nothing. And I still didn’t sprout wings. In fact, after I made that decision, I felt worse. I literally felt I was going to vomit. Oh, no, I thought, what did you get sucked into now? I really felt I’d gone off the deep end (and I’m sure some people think I did!).
But in six months to a year-and-a-half, I found out that I hadn’t gone off the deep end. My life was changed. I was once in a debate with the head of the history department at a Midwestern university, and I said my life had been changed. He interrupted me with “McDowell, are you trying to tell us that God really changed your life in the 20th century? What areas?” After 45 minutes he said, “OK, that’s enough.” Let me tell you a few of the things I told him and the audience that day.
One area God changed was my restlessness. I always had to be occupied. I’d walk across the campus and my mind was like a whirlwind with conflicts bouncing around the walls. I’d sit down and try to study, but I couldn’t. A few months after I made that decision for Christ, a kind of mental peace developed. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about the absence of conflict. What I found in this relationship with Jesus wasn’t absence of conflict but the ability to cope with it. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.
Another area that started to change was my bad temper. I used to blow my stack if somebody just looked at me cross-eyed. I still have the scars from almost killing a guy my first year at university. My temper was such a part of me that I didn’t try to consciously change it. I arrived at the crisis of losing my temper only to find it was gone! Only once in 14 years have I exploded (and when I blew it that time, I made up for it for about six years!).
There’s another area of which I’m not proud. But I mention it because a lot of people need to have the same change in their lives, and I found the source of change: a relationship with Jesus Christ. That area is hatred. I had a lot of hatred in my life. It wasn’t something outwardly manifested, but there was a kind of inward grinding. I was ticked off with people, with things, with issues.
But I hated one man more than anyone else in the world: my father. I hated his guts. To me he was the town alcoholic. Everybody knew my dad was a drunk. My friends would make jokes about my father staggering around downtown. They didn’t think it bothered me. I was like other people–laughing on the outside. But let me tell you, I was crying on the inside. There were times I’d go out in the barn and see my mother beaten so badly she couldn’t get up, lying in the manure behind the cows. When we had friends over, I would take my father out, tie him up in the barn, and park the car around the silo. We would tell our friends he’d had to go somewhere. I don’t think anyone could have hated anyone more than I hated my father.
After I made that decision for Christ, he entered my life and his love was so strong that he took the hatred and turned it upside down. I was able to look my father squarely in the eyes and say, “Dad, I love you.” And I really meant it. After some of the things I’d done, that shook him up.
When I transferred to a private university I was in a serious car accident. With my neck in traction, I was taken home. I’ll never forget my father coming into my room. He asked me, “Son, how can you love a father like me?” I said, “Dad, six months ago I despised you.” Then I shared with my dad the conclusions I had come to about Christ: “Dad, I let Jesus Christ come into my life. I can’t explain it completely, but as a result of that relationship I’ve found the capacity to love and accept not only you but other people just the way they are.”
Forty-five minutes later one of the greatest thrills of my life occurred. Somebody in my own family, someone who knew me so well I couldn’t pull the wool over his eyes, said to me, “Son, if God can do in my life what I’ve seen him do in yours, then I want to give him the opportunity.” Right there my father prayed with me and trusted Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.
Usually the changes take place over several days, weeks, months, or even a year. The life of my father was changed right before my eyes. It was as if somebody reached down and turned on a light bulb. I’ve never seen such a rapid change before or since. My father touched whiskey only once after that. He got it as far as his lips and that was it. I’ve come to one conclusion. A relationship with Jesus Christ changes lives.
You can laugh at Christianity. You can mock and ridicule it. But it works. It changes lives. If you trust Christ, start watching your attitudes and actions because Jesus Christ is in the business of changing lives.
But Christianity is not something you can shove down somebody’s throat. All I can do is tell you what I’ve learnt. After that, it’s your decision.
Perhaps the prayer I prayed will help you: “Lord Jesus, I need you. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Forgive me and cleanse me. Right at this moment I trust you as Saviour and Lord. Make me the type of person you created me to be. In Christ’s name. Amen.”
A woman shares where she found purpose in university life.
By Marilyn Adamson moment of every day. I mean, how meaningful is it doing laundry? Nor should life always be serious. We all need extremely large doses of just having a good time!
But life has to be more than pleasure-seeking, partly because the enjoyment doesn’t last. It’s here for a moment, then gone. Author Ravi Zacharias said it well: “If there is no larger meaning to life…then life is without a driving force, without overall substance or explanation.”
For several years I studied the philosophies of Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Nietzsche, Socrates and many others–looking for an overriding, motivating purpose to my life. Every few weeks I would “try out” a new philosophy to see if it could work. But I found these philosophies disappointing when applied to actual life situations. My search continued.
An international news correspondent for TIME Magazine, Dr. David Aikman, shed some light on this subject. He has a couple of post-graduate degrees, is an expert in Russian and Chinese history and communist affairs, has worked in more than 30 countries, is fluent in six languages, and is a serious thinker about life issues. He said, “Each of us has a purpose, a reason for being here, that no one else can tell you, but you can find out from God.” Dr. Aikman recommended beginning a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Dr. Aikman gave this account, “When I heard the words of Jesus [in the Bible], it seemed to me he was speaking to my heart, and he was saying, ‘I am the way to life. If you follow me and do what I say, your life will change.'” He then talked about taking the first step to starting a relationship with Jesus Christ, by asking him to enter his life. Dr. Aikman concluded, “I can promise you…anybody that takes that first step toward Jesus Christ will have a very exciting life.”
Like Dr. Aikman, I came from an atheistic background. And like him, I found that Jesus’ statements about himself were quite unique. Jesus didn’t point people to his philosophy on life, he pointed people to himself. Jesus said he could forgive our sins, give us inner peace in the midst of tough circumstances, and guide us to a life of freedom.
I determined that if there really was a God, I wanted to know him. But I was still skeptical. I debated and challenged the Christians I knew. I wanted proof that Jesus was God. One day I took an honest look at the evidence for God’s existence and Jesus’ deity, and I was shocked to find so many logical, historical facts. I then knew I had a decision to make. Was I going to ask him to enter my life and influence it in whatever way he wanted, or was I going to close the chapter on this part of my life and refuse to consider the possibility of “God” ever again?
After reviewing the concrete, intellectual reasons to believe in Jesus, I asked Jesus if he would come into my life. And that very day my search for the meaning of life was completely resolved.
It amazed me that I could have a relationship with God. I talked to him and, through changes in circumstances, he indicated that he heard me. He led me in career paths that are far more expansive and exciting than I ever dreamt. And I asked him questions and he guided me to appropriate, helpful answers in the Bible.
These things didn’t occur just on one obscure, stormy day. It was a genuine two-way relationship with God that I was enjoying on a consistent basis, and still do. It wasn’t because I became a saint, but because Jesus Christ will enter anyone’s life who truly wants to know him and follow him.
There is a deep joy that comes in following God. Unlike anything or anyone else, knowing Jesus Christ has brought real purpose to my life.
In real life…
Real life is a life filled with fulfilment, acceptance and purpose. We find it in a relationship with Jesus Christ. No one in human history has made the claims Jesus made and given such great proofs to back them up. He claimed to be God, to be able to forgive sins, and to be the only way through which we can know God the Father. Jesus backed up those claims through his resurrection from the dead. He is, truly, the most unique person who ever lived…much more than a great teacher.
The Bible says that Jesus was God who became man–“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”1 He was “the exact representation of his [God’s] being.”2 In short, Jesus Christ revealed exactly what God is like. So how do we begin a relationship with him?
We don’t begin a relationship with God by trying to be a better person. Trying harder to win God’s approval is not the way he wants us to live. Have you ever been in a relationship with someone in which you had to try to win that person’s approval? It’s no fun.
God has such a genuine love for us that he himself provided the way for us to get close to him…but there is a problem. Currently, what stands in the way of us connecting with God is our sin (our self-centredness shown by our anger, our hurtful words, our impatience, our selfishness, greed, etc.). If you’ve ever wondered why your prayers seem to go nowhere, that is why. Our sin has separated us from God, who is holy.
So what has God done so we can have a close relationship with him? Jesus Christ (“God in the flesh”) took all of our sin on his shoulders while he willingly died on a cross. He did this so we could be completely forgiven, completely acceptable to him.
Our problem is illustrated by the university student who is charged with a crime. The judge sentences her to 30 days in jail or a $1,000 fine. The student can afford neither the time nor the money. The judge, knowing this, takes off his robes, walks to the front of the bench, and with his own checkbook pays the fine. Why? Because, as a just judge, he cannot overlook the offense. But, because he is the student’s father, he chooses to pay the penalty on her behalf.
This is exactly what Jesus did for each of us on the cross. He made the great sacrifice of being beaten, humiliated, whipped and crucified on our behalf. He now asks us to respond to his sacrifice by inviting him into our lives.
How we can be in real life
He wants us to know him and to experience his love, joy and peace. When we ask him into our lives, we receive his forgiveness, and we begin a relationship with him that’s meant to last forever. Jesus said, “I stand at the door (of your heart) and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him (or her).”3
If this is now the desire of your heart, the following is a suggested prayer (but the words aren’t as important as the attitude of your heart):
Dear God, I confess that I have sinned against you. Thank you for taking all of my sin upon yourself on the cross. I want to receive your forgiveness. I want to enter into a relationship with you. I ask you to come into my life as my Saviour and Lord. Please give me the real life that comes only from you.
For more on the meaning of life, please see The Source of a Changed Life or other articles on this site.
I just asked Jesus into my life (some helpful information follows)…
I may want to ask Jesus into my life, please explain this more fully…
I have a question…
From the Bible…
“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12)
“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
(1) John 1:14 (2) Hebrews 1:3 (3) Revelation 3:20
NowLooking for more in life NOW?
Here you are. Here. Right now. Looking at a computer screen. Another second goes by. Another moment of life. Zoom. It’s gone. Oops. There goes another one. The seconds and minutes pass. An hour. A day. A week. A year. Here today. Gone tomorrow.
Here you are. Somewhere on planet Earth. What are you thinking…RIGHT NOW? Nothing? Or is it something like, “I want more”?
Yes, but more what? Good grades? Friends? Parties? Dates? Money? CDs? Clothes?
Remember when you got that thing you wanted, or finally dated that person you wanted to date…remember the feeling you had afterward? Wasn’t it something like, “That didn’t radically change my life like I thought it would”?
Then what do you do? Go back to the drawing board?
Maybe the experience or the thing you hoped in wasn’t really what you were looking for after all. Or maybe you just need MORE of that experience or thing. More clothes. More CDs. More dates. More parties.
But even then you’re left with the feeling, the plaguing thought: “I still want more.”
So you want more. More of something. But you’re not sure what that something is. It’s like there’s a constant itch in your life. The feeling that something is missing. The feeling that there must be something more IN life and something more TO life. Something more to be gotten out of life.
You think, “Am I just a round peg in a square hole? What’s the deal? What’s my problem?” The itch remains. And what you’ve experienced so far just hasn’t scratched it.
Of course, this isn’t something you tell your friends about. If they knew you were having these thoughts, surely they’d say, “Wow…s/he’s getting WAY TOO serious about life.”
But maybe they’ve got the same itch you do. Maybe they have the same thoughts you do. Maybe everyone is under a conspiracy of silence: “I don’t want anyone to know what I’m really thinking about life.”
Have you ever considered that the itch has something to do with God? Sure, God is around us, invisible to the naked eye. But God also exists in realms beyond ours. And maybe that’s the dilemma. We need something beyond our realm to scratch the itch.
What if life has been set up (by God) in such a way that nothing in this realm can fully satisfy us? Even good things like a successful career, a healthy home life, getting married to someone you really love. Maybe even those things still leave the emptiness. Maybe even those things don’t scratch the itch. Why? Because they’re in this realm. And because we need something outside this realm to fulfil our lives.
Maybe God has designed us that way, so that we would seek him.
Think about it. If everything we ever wanted or needed could be gotten from the world we live in, then we wouldn’t want God. We wouldn’t feel the need for him. And maybe he feels he’s too important to be overlooked.
So here you are. Right now. Needing more. Wanting more. But what if the “more” you want isn’t found in this world? Then what? Where do you turn?
Click here to read a Bible story about this phenomenon.
Why does Jesus mention the relationships this woman has had with all of these men? And what has that got to do with living water?
The best way to understand the story is to first realise that Jesus speaks on two levels. He speaks of two different kinds of water. One of the waters is the natural water in the well (regular H20). The other water in question is something he calls “living water.”
What’s the difference between the two waters? Jesus said that regular water does not satisfy our thirst, but that living water will satisfy our thirst. So, what is the living water?
By living water, Jesus meant a relationship with God. Only a relationship with God ultimately satisfies our spiritual thirst. With that in mind, why do you think he asked the woman to call her husband and come back?
Jesus wanted her to realise the places she had been going to get her spiritual thirst met. But to no avail. She had had six men in her life, and yet she was still thirsty. None of the men in her life satisfied her deepest longings.
Our deepest needs and longings can’t be met by anything in this realm. We need God, who is outside of this world, to satisfy us ultimately. We need his “living water.” We need to know him and have a relationship with him. Otherwise, we will be “thirsty” in life. Thirsty in a spiritual sense.
That’s why Jesus says, “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” Knowing him satisfies our thirst. It scratches that nagging itch we have. The itch that nothing else seems to scratch.
In the story, the woman was trying to end her spiritual thirst through relationships with men. This proved to be unsuccessful. Those “wells” didn’t provide living water. Do you have any “wells” in your life?
Often people will try to satisfy their spiritual needs with things that aren’t spiritual — things such as money, popularity, being physically fit, having nice things.
Or they will try to satisfy their spiritual needs through some form of spirituality that does not involve a personal relationship with God. Again, that’s a faulty “well.”
The point of the story is that Jesus himself is the only reliable “well.” He’s the only one who can give us “living water.” And the water he offers is a gift. Is it a gift you would like to receive? It will make a huge difference in your life right NOW.
Yes, tell me more.
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.” (The Bible, Ecclesiastes 5:10)
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“From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (The Bible, Acts 17:26-27)
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From the Bible, John 4:4-18…
So he [Jesus] came to a town in Samaria called Sychar. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”