One man’s journey from unbelief, to doubt, to small faith.
I guess at first that title doesn’t seem very remarkable. Unshakeable faith, and mountain moving faith seem to be a much better conclusion. Bear with me please, as it’s quite a journey. It all started with my cousin Gilbert who had made a profession of faith when I was 14 years old. He introduced me to Christian bands, such as PETRA and Stryper, and over the years, even though never at that point becoming a Christian, I was the proud owner of every single PETRA album up to the age of 21. Those bands in particular drove me to pretty much almost all Christian music, and because of that I began frequenting the Christian bookstore monthly. At this time I was getting a strong distaste with my current unfulfilling life, and for some strange reason I started reading a Bible in the evenings after work. No one told me to, and honestly, I really didn’t even know what I was doing. Just reading. For some reason I didn’t start in Genesis. I actually started in Matthew, and everyday I read and read. One key passage that hit me like a ton of bricks was Luke 5:8, “Depart from me I am a sinful man.” Yet, I just didn’t believe.
Back to the Christian Bookstore
One day I decided to get a book called “Answers”, which was a small book by Josh McDowell. Oh boy, talk about getting nowhere. Not faulting Josh, but that book gave me more questions than answers. So back to the Christian bookstore I go. “Evidence that Demands a Verdict”? Sounds compelling! Negative! One after another, and nothing. So I keep reading the Bible and finally get to the book of John, where by now in the narrative Jesus is washing his disciples’ feet. I read John 13:8 which says “If I do not wash you , you have no part with me.” FREIGHT TRAIN COMING! I start to weep uncontrollably. And yet still, the Resurrection? I mean come on! Not there yet. Not there yet!
This is where Paul would say “BUT GOD”. I get to John 20:24-29, which says “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” It felt as if JESUS CHRIST walked into that living room that day and said to me “Gabriel, reach your finger here and look into my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side, be not faithless, but believing.” As I read the next verse I started to cry like never before. Over and over and over I shouted “MY LORD AND MY GOD! MY LORD AND MY GOD!” And then verse 29!!!! WOOOO!! Thomas believed because he had seen, but Jesus said blessed are they that have never seen and yet believe. That’s me! I danced, cried, and laughed for what seemed to be forever. Later that day I was at the local grocery store and in line and told the checker “I believed in Jesus today!” 21 one years old and weeping to a complete stranger, but I didn’t care.
About two years later, I’m off to Bible college. That’s a whole crazy story for another time. I’m ready to tackle the world for Jesus, and if my Professors need any help connecting to Jesus, it’s gonna be OK, because Bible college has me now. I felt as if the Lord had let me loose on the world and said “sic ’em boy!” You probably see where this is going. Too bad I didn’t. It all started with sharing brotherly friendship. “How did you get converted?”, and “How about you?”, people would ask. It seemed like everyone had the same sort of story; a revival, a youth camp, a pastor, a youth leader, or a faithful parent. Someone had led them to Christ or maybe they were touched through a powerful sermon. No one I had spoken with had come to Christ reading the Bible on their own. How about a “sinner’s prayer” Gabe? Surely, you said one of those. No! No! No! None of those. Conclusion…I must not really be saved. FREIGHT TRAIN COMING! Quick Gabe get on your knees and say a sinner’s prayer. No reprieve. “Please God, I know I’m yours, right?” Fast forward through 10 professions of faith, and two baptisms while I’m at Bible college, and for a season, I finally I get a temporary break from my doubt.
My sophomore year I meet a young man named Doug Thorpe who was another doubter much like myself. We became great friends and sojourners in doubt, and for a season we get reprieve. Shortly thereafter, I end up sitting out of college for a year only to find that doubt, despair, and NOW sin are chasing me down. It is during this process I continue to read, except now, I’m reading theology books on salvation. A small book called ” Putting Amazing Back Into Grace” is the book that changed my whole theological grid. While reading these books, I get the idea to call one of the authors and describe my dilemma, to which he agrees, and offers to have a long distance counseling session. This man (John Piper) God has used immensely to shape me and help grow my faith. Unfortunately, that day he really didn’t have any special advice or counsel, but he loved on me, and at the end of it he told me he would send me a cassette. It was the story of the life of William Cowper, who was one of the great doubters in Christian history. Cowper’s tragic story is one of immense doubt, depression, and faith. He was a great friend of John Newton and even a fellow coauthor of hymns alongside him. He is credited for writing some of our most noteworthy songs of faith, and yet he had several failed suicide attempts due to despair. The dilemma of his heart was that he trembled at the thought of not being a genuine believer. Ultimately, the tape ended with no conclusion, and I was still left hurting. Yet through all of this, my soul would cry out continually, “My Lord and my God, I believe help my unbelief.” of which I’ve probably said at least a hundred thousand times.
As I continued through this process of doubt, God continued to place pastors and men who would input deep truths in me. One such truth was an illustration of a diamond. The pastor had explained to me that if your hands are filthy, weathered, or calloused and you hold onto a diamond the value of that diamond doesn’t diminish. To which he said “so it is with the object of our faith, our faith is not dependant on our strength, or ability, or even ourselves; it stands alone on the value of the object. Jesus is that object. He is the diamond.” This brought some temporary comfort, but only temporary. The last great truth was Mathew 12:20, which states “A bruised reed he will not break; and a smoking flax he will not quench.” Well, what does that mean? Simply put, a small twig Jesus won’t snap in half, and a little flame He won’t blow out. With these truths, years of doubt passed. Eventually, I no longer doubted, whether I was God’s child or not, but I did begin to doubt if any of this was real at all. I remember the coldest day of my life having this thought run through my head; “I guess this is what divorce feels like, God.”
2 Timothy 2:13 – “If we are faithless, he remains faithful; he cannot deny himself.”
About two years ago, my Lord and my God came and got his son out of the far country. That’s right, I said it. He came, and got me. This prodigal, with all of his doubt, didn’t have the sense or the strength to come back himself. Ultimately, there were four primary factors involved in this; 1st John, Justin Phaler, Francis Chan, and John Piper. God had sovereignly placed Justin in my life (a coworker). He just so happened to be God’s conduit to hit me with truth, just as my heart was needing it. At this same time, my wife (my anchor) was in the process of listening to Francis Chan, as he was preaching on the Churches of Revelation . Revelation 3:1 says, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” Chan made the application that many in the church have a superficial belief; they “have a name”, but really, they are dead. At the same time, 1 John 2:19 was coming to mind “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” This doesn’t really sound very comforting does it? Here comes another FREIGHT TRAIN! Believe it, or not, it was as if all of a sudden my whole life made sense! The Holy Spirit was saying “get up Gabriel… you have a name and you’re NOT dead!”. The very reason you are even hanging on by that thread, and have not completely turned away like “those that were never of us,” is because you’re mine!” Then the most remarkable thing occurred. On the one hand, my heart stood up in defiance to my doubt, and on the other my knees buckled to my Lord and my God. I was both standing and kneeling at the same time. “MY WHOLE LIFE MADE SENSE??” Yes it did! God had commissioned me and called me as a young man to proclaim His word but my pride on the other hand had to be handled. (Just in case you want some biblical support for that sink your teeth in Deuteronomy 8:2 passage.) He had said “Go Gabe to that great city…”, but I needed to be in the belly of the whale for a while… for a long while.
Enter John Piper’s sermon jam “Running.” It absolutely enlarges my heart and gives me strength to get back in the race. Like the flip of a switch, “Running” propels me to run towards Jesus as hard as I can, as fast as I can, and I mean as HARD as I can. The illustration of the diamond has now become my banner. I see that over the course of my life that I have held the diamond with shaky hands, I have held it with dirty hands, and have even held it with my fist clenched in rebellion. Yet, the diamond never changed. Jesus is and has always been the same to me. He is my Lord! He has always been my Lord. Not because I haven’t denied Him, but because He lives inside me and “He cannot deny himself.” Even to this day when I pray publicly, it seems a little strange to me. Allow me to explain. Most of us typically open or prayers with something like, “Heavenly Father, in Jesus name I come…”, but from that day as a twenty year old man through all of the years and doubt, I have almost always, in my private moments, begun my prayers with “My Lord, and my God.”. Those words have been the thread of remembrance that God has used to keep my heart close to Him.
Amazingly, even Cowper has become one of my my greatest allies. Years later I read some of his lyrics. This is from his song titled, “There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood.”
“When this poor lispin’ stammering tongue lay silent in the grave, then in a noble sweeter song, I’ll sing of your power to save.”
Jesus never broke this reed, and He never blew out this candle. Instead, He replaced my fire for His. Over 20 years have passed since I proclaimed to the grocery clerk that I knew Jesus. Even as I write this, I can say with certainty that I have small faith. Nothing remarkable about that, but definitely SUPERNATURAL.
Right now my family is in the process of selling our home and everything we own to go on the mission field. Some may feel, “Well, that must take great big faith.” My answer is simply, “No. It takes a great big Jesus.”
There is one final thought I’d like to share. I often think of what heaven will be like for the Gabriel Perez’s and William Cowper’s of this world. A guy like me will more than likely be at the back of the line in the hall of faith, and in the final row of a great choir. Nevertheless, I know our Savior will hear me. Why? Because I will be the one, if He will allow me the pleasure, shouting and singing for all eternity the song of my heart… “MY LORD AND MY GOD, MY LORD AND MY GOD, MY LORD AND MY GOD, “in that nobler sweeter song I’ll sing of his power to save”.”