Sparks fade as workers switch off their hand grinding machines. Buffer wheels spin to a standstill and saws cease kibbling through steel. Pulverizing shears hush their thrashing and drills stop whirling. A pleasant quietness descends in the factory during the quarter of an hour rest break. It was the most important fifteen minutes ever. A simple conversation. A conversation with a welder which ended with an unexpected twist from which I’ve never recovered.
‘What are you reading?’ I asked seeing my friend Roy removing a book from his locker.
‘I’m preparing a Sunday School lesson’.
Roy attended church and I was resentful of his beliefs. I didn’t even know what he believed. I placed my tea mug on the metal bench and leapt forward. Standing on the hard industrial concrete floor I confronted Roy with my thoughts.
‘I KNOW THERE’S A GOD, YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ME‘ I said wagging my finger irritably.
I affirmed that God created the moon and stars and designed the human body. The splendour of God’s creation has always been appreciated in my mind. learn more about creation. https://bibleblogger.online/2018/01/29/4-things-to-know-about-everything-jesus-created
But I was now twenty five years old and I’d lived a far from perfect life. So I changed the tone of my conversation and was more respectful with my comments.
‘If I had a wish right now, guess what it would be Roy?’
‘I wish God would take every bad thing I’ve ever done or spoken, compress it into a ball and throw it away forever‘.
I explained that I was confused by the many religions from which to choose. ‘I wished I could find the true God’ I said in a frustrated tone of voice. After all how do you choose the right God from an estimated four thousand two hundred religions in the world?
Roy and I didn’t finish our conversation because the siren sounded the workforce back to its duty. I didn’t think further about the discussion. But next day at home in my flat everything changed.
I awoke from sleep dazzled by sunlight gleaming through the window. The strength of the sun’s rays caused me to squint. The light was especially bright. I’d never seen the sun shine like this before. Arousing myself out of bed, I went into the bathroom, washed and dressed. I was emotional and burst into tears. These were strange tears. I wept like a baby and my face was soaking wet.
Along with the weaping my mind was overwhelmed with a dominant thought,
‘JESUS CHRIST IS WHO HE SAYS HE IS YOU MUST BECOME A CHRISTIAN’.
This wasn’t an audible voice but it was a very strong prevailing thought. I stepped outside to breath in some fresh air. Walking along the streets my attention was drawn to a couple of clouds hovering in a blue sky. The clouds appeared to be so low I could have raised my hand and touched them. I was experiencing joyful feelings which I’d never experienced before. I viewed everything in high definition bright colours rather than standard dull resolution. My purpose in this world became substantially more meaningful to me than ever it was before.
I screwed up the courage to visit a local church. I didn’t attend church before except for funerals and weddings.
‘Can we help you?’ asked the church minister.
‘Yes, I want to be a born again Christian exactly like Cliff Richard’ I said full of enthusiasm like a lucky guy who’d won the Lottery.
The Pastor smiled.
‘Are you willing to get down on your knees and pray the sinner’s prayer?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, but I don’t know the sinner’s prayer’.
‘Just repeat the words after me’.
I did. I recited the Pastor’s every word and I meant what I said. I thanked the Pastor and told him I’d visit his church again. I was now an official Christian and I’d changed.
I sold my music records to friends and donated the proceeds to a famine disaster fund. This was out of character for me.
‘Don’t you think you’re going over the top with your new faith?’ asked a work mate.
Various explanations were put forward by people to explain my bizarre religious experience.
‘Do you think you’ve had a bad trip on drugs?’ a friend suggested.
I wasn’t a drug addict but I did take drugs socially. I regularly smoked cannabis. I also dropped a tab of acid occasionally. Tabs were little pieces of cardboard. They were labelled with a picture of the Pink Panther’s face. I’d just chew the cardboard and swallow it and trip out. I walked home one night after taking a tab and I thought that I was trekking through a jungle. I saw a massive constrictor snake crawling along the pavement into my legs. The snake had the coarse rough skin of a crocodile. But no,
‘It’s not the drugs I’m certain of that’ I told my friend.
‘How do you know?’
‘Other people have had similar religious experiences like me but they’ve never taken drugs’ I said proving my point.
I’ve not smoked any cigarettes or taken drugs since that conversation with Roy. I have though enjoyed one panama cigar in my mate’s garden. We relaxed puffing smoke into the moonlight as we counted the stars. Initially I became tea total and gave up alcohol completely. Now I enjoy a couple of beers with friends or share a bottle of wine money permitting. I also stopped gambling but unfortunately lapsed back into this addiction for some considerable time. This had an impact on my finances, ministry, and relationships.
I’m truly sorry for all the hurt I caused during this spiritually cold time. I’ve also come to terms with some of the fake news propagated by unforgiving people. But I am very grateful for the forgiveness I’ve received from, friends, enemies and new connections. And where would I be now without the unconditional forgiveness of God?
In spite of all my failings, I’ve stumbled upon things which have enriched my Christian faith in the most unexpected and joyful ways. God’s love and grace sticks with you all through conversion. Not just the good bits of conversion. The moment you’re born again God’s power and person invades your soul and his spirit never leaves you. The passing of time confirms this to be absolutely true.
In my early conversion my elder brother Tony thought that my strange religious experience was due to a mental problem.
‘You’ve had a nervous breakdown like mother when she gave birth to you’ said Tony.
If this is the case why didn’t anyone call a doctor? Why wasn’t I sectioned or taken to a psychological unit to be rehabilitated? I wasn’t ill. I continued to work with no medication. But I did carry a little white Bible into the factory every day and I read it joyfully. There was also another suggestion for my religious experience.
‘You’ve started going to church because you’re afraid God will punish you for your miss spent youth’.
My fiancée thought I was feeling guilty about my delinquent past. I spent my youth in seven institutions (I think eight revising this article). It all ended in nineteen seventy six. I came out of Her Majesty’s Youth Prison and never returned after 1976. I felt that I paid my debt to society. I had many regrets but I wasn’t feeling guilty anymore on account of my previous delinquency. In fact I felt the opposite of guilty at the point of my Christian conversion. I felt forgiven and clean.
Those close to me unfortunately didn’t understand my strange experience. I failed to communicate my experience effectively.
‘I don’t like the way you’ve changed’ said my fiancée
She gave me an ultimatum. ‘It’s God or me’.
I didn’t stop attending church. She followed through with her threat and ended our relationship.
‘Don’t leave me’ I begged on my knees but she was gone and she broke my heart.
Little did I know after that moment God would send the most beautiful and amazing lady to share my life’s journey . Her name is Colleen and she’s loved me with a ‘miraculous romantic devotion’.
However, many of my genuine friendships before conversion faded away. This became a pattern as I noticed that folks avoided me as much as I drifted from their company.
‘You’re a Bible basher’ said a friend.
I was continually mocked in the early stages of my conversion. And I was frequently drawn into religious arguments. Looking back I did behave foolishly and I lacked the wisdom to live my new Christian calling. It was a dramatic change for me and it was difficult to handle.
Some people have steadier conversions or gently grow into their faith. They don’t experience an emotional crisis other than making a conscious decision to become a follower of Christ. But for me I was zapped and I handled the whole thing unwisely.
I was fed up with the criticism I received on account of my conversion. My new faith caused me to lose friends, separate from my fiancée and make demanding changes to my social life.
At one stage I thought that my critics were right and I might be going crazy. I needed God to speak to me clearly and tell me that I was on the true path and that my belief in Christ was valid. Before leaving my flat to go to the factory I read a little booklet called ‘Everyday with Jesus’. On the front page of the booklet there was a photograph of a sheep.
‘Okay God’ I said in a prayer in my flat, ‘if you’re real and all that’s happened to me is down to you and if I’m not going crazy I want you to give me a sign. I want you to make someone say the word sheep in my presence’ I said jabbing my finger on the sheep’s photograph in the Everyday with Jesus booklet.
Then I said,
‘After they’ve mentioned the word sheep they must also make a sheep’s noise. I want you to make them bleat’ I asked prayerfully.
I didn’t tell anyone about this stupid prayer.
But sure enough next day at work I was filing a piece of metal in a vice. A factory employee nick named Nephew was an evolutionist. He always disputed my conversion story and the relevance of the Bible. But this morning he was used in a remarkable way to answer my stupid prayer.
‘Kevin you remind me of a SHEEP,’ he said.
I turned around and looked at him. ‘BAAAAAR’ he said imitating the bleat of a sheep.
Then Nephew walked away in the direction of the metal shearing machine. It was the very sign I’d asked God to give me the day before when I was praying alone in my flat.
‘Get someone to say the word sheep and bleat at me’ I asked in a desperate prayer.
God answered my request in such an exact manner. This helped me cope better with the troubles I was experiencing because of my recent conversion to Christianity.
I didn’t tell anyone about the incident with Nephew because I thought no one would believe me and they would definitely think I’m crazy. But I’d made a discovery. I’d experimented with prayer and my prayer worked precisely.
I didn’t deserve to have my stupid prayer answered this way. There’s nothing special about me. I’m not the world’s holiest man or closer to God than any other Christian. In fact that Jesus should die for me on a cross seems ridiculous. I’ve let God down so much even as a Christian. I’ve failed to live up to the biblical standards which I so dearly believe. I’ve broken God’s commandments. I’ve struggled to be holy, truthful, pray and read the Bible. I know there’ s such a thing as sin because I’ve battled with it every day for years. I’ve backslidden on occasions and feel so un-Christian like. So I know I’m not one of God’s favourites. I don’t say this to hurt God and pretend I’m humble. Its the way it is. I’m not the holiest of believers. I wished I was. Yet the remarkable fact is I’m closer to God now than at any other time in my life. God’s irrisitable grace, unconditional love, overwhelming mercy truly does follow you all the days of your life.
I’m not presently in a church leadership position. Yet surprisingly I’m still in a healthy and genuine relationship with God.
I said lots more stupid prayers over time. A classic comes to mind when I finished my ministry.
‘God I’ve messed up again. But I’ve never pretended to be a more “holier than thou” Christian’ I prayed. ‘I’ve always recognised that I’m a sinner and I will always need your love, grace and mercy every day God. But these days it seems that people have forgotten me. They don’t phone me or contact me anymore. It’s like my friends have forgotten me. I think my family have forgotten me. But worst of all God I think that you’ve forgotten me’ I said in another stupid private prayer.
I asked God for another sign. It was an afternoon and I prayed a prayer alone in my rented house in Wolverhampton.
‘God I could do with some encouragement. Everyone seems to have forgotten me. God prove to me that you’ve not forgotten me. At a time when I feel forgotten by those who know me, get someone who doesn’t know me to contact me’.
I wanted to make it hard for God so I said,
‘God if you haven’t forgotten me I want you to get someone famous to contact me and give me an encouraging message regarding my faith and relationship with you. I don’t want anything from the famous person except an encouraging word. Let me know God that you haven’t forgotten me’.
No one knew I’d prayed this stupid prayer. Not even my family. Nobody was in the house when I uttered the silly selfish words. A few days later I received a telephone call from my son Nathan.
‘Dad, Helen Shapiro has got a message for you’ he said totally random.
‘I don’t know anyone named Helen Shapiro son. I know Helen Ainsbury; she’s married now and is called Helen Hands. I know Helen Spicer she lives with her husband Gary, in Coventry. But I don’t know anyone named Helen Shapiro. In fact the only Helen Shapiro I’ve heard of is a famous 60’s actress and singer. She had a big hit record, Walking Back to Happiness’. Helen was very famous to me and the older general public. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Shapiro
Helen was at the height of her fame in the 60’s maybe not so much now. We’re all children of our time. Each generation has its own celebs to admire. And to me Helen is famous.
‘That’s her’ said Nathan. ‘She’s the one’.
‘You’re getting confused son. I don’t know her. She couldn’t possibly have a message for me. You’re confusing Helen Shapiro with another Helen’.
I’d forgotten about my stupid prayer which I mumbled a few days earlier. ‘Get someone famous to contact me’.
Nathan arrived home with Colleen and my eldest son Joseph. My sister in law Amanda was with them visiting the Midlands. Amanda lives in Devon and I hadn’t seen Amanda for at least three years.
‘Something really weird happened to me at work’ said Amanda.
‘Go on, tell me’.
‘You know I work in a hotel right?’
‘No, but yes I do now, go on’.
‘Helen Shapiro, the famous singer was staying at the hotel. She was using a different name’.
‘You mean she was using an alias?’
‘Famous people do that don’t they?’
‘Yeah, but it’s not the first time she’s stayed at the hotel’ said Amanda, ‘Helen is a friend of the hotelier’.
‘Oh’ I said.
‘In fact, Helen didn’t have to pay for her room and she could have stayed as a complementary guest. But she didn’t. She walked into the reception and insisted that she pay her bill. It was then that Helen happened to say that she was on a spiritual retreat and that she believed in Jesus’.
‘Yeah, I’ve also heard that she became a Christian?’ I said.
Amanda explained what happened.
‘I told Helen that my brother in law is a church minister’.
‘Ah, is your brother in law a Pastor, or a Vicar?’ asked Helen
‘I’m not sure, I think he’s a Pastor’ said Amanda.
I was now thinking about my stupid prayer a couple of days previously. ‘God, get someone famous to contact me with a message as a sign that you Lord haven’t forgotten me’.
‘And what exactly did Helen Shapiro say Amanda?’
‘Nothing, she just paid her bill and left the reception area’.
‘I don’t get it, you had me on tender hooks all for nothing’ I said.
‘But’, said Amanda ‘ten minutes later I was cleaning the hallway in the hotel’.
‘Hello’ said Helen, ‘I’ve been looking for you. I want you to do me a favour please’.
‘Sure’ said Amanda.
‘Next time you see your brother in law please give him this DVD and tell him it’s a gift from me’ said Helen.
Amanda accepted the DVD from Helen and said she would deliver it to me in person when she visits the Midlands.
Amanda didn’t tell Helen Shapiro anything about me. Amanda didn’t tell Helen my name. She didn’t mention my circumstances. Amanda didn’t talk about me at all except once in the hotel’s reception area where she told Helen that her brother in law was a church minister.
‘So here Kev this is for you’ said Amanda as she handed me the disc.
‘What’s on the DVD?’ I asked
‘I’ve no idea Kev. I’ve not unwrapped the packaging or played it. But I can tell you this, what occurred in the hotel was strange’ said Amanda.
I told the family about my stupid prayer.
‘I was telling God that I felt forgotten and asked God to get someone famous to contact me and give me an encouraging message. Amanda you turn up on my doorstep a couple of days later and give me this gift from Helen Shapiro’ I said smiling.
It was a conversation stopper. But I saw its significance. God hadn’t forgotten me after all.
‘What do you think the message is?’ asked Colleen.
‘Maybe it’s Helen Shapiro’s song title, “Walking Back To Happiness”. It makes sense if you think about it. I’ve been through a time of failure and sorrow but God still loves me and God will restore my joy’ I said.
I played Helen Shapiro’s DVD next day. Colleen and Nathan sat on the sofa watching the presentation with me. Helen talked between songs before introducing them. She is of a Jewish background and she mentioned how she was surprised to discover Jewish names in the New Testament,
‘Mathew, David, Steven, Andrew’ and she light heartedly mentioned other names like ‘Roger and of course’ she said ‘NOT FORGETTING KEVIN’.
There it was. ‘Not forgetting Kevin’.
The very thing I’d mentioned in my prayer before God on the Tuesday. I rushed into the kitchen and wept. Colleen followed me and consoled me.
‘Dad’s crying Joseph’ said Nathan as he rushed up stairs into his brother’s bedroom.
How amazing, earlier in the week I’d prayed to God and told him I felt forgotten. I asked the Lord to get someone famous to contact me and give me an encouraging message to prove that I’d not been forgotten. And there it was within days. Helen Shapiro doesn’t know me and she knew nothing about this miracle of
‘Not forgetting Kevin’.
I sent her organisation and email thanking her for the DVD. I told them that her gift had a significant impact in my circumstances. They didn’t ask why. I left it at that.
Strange and varied are the ways of life, and stranger still are the ways of God.
My answers to prayer regarding Nephew in the factory and Helen Shapiro indicate that faith isn’t exclusively a personal matter. Belief in God is not confined to a person’s way of thinking. In my situation something else was at work outside of my intellect and psyche.
God is not a figment of the imagination. My mind didn’t scheme to make Nephew bleat like a sheep. My mind didn’t coax Helen to send me a gift DVD with the words not forgetting Kevin. There was an external force operating. These incidents were not contrived in my head. They are real. I was being acted upon. Faith is not dependent upon the believer alone there’s another dimension at work which determines the outcome of events. Helen’s DVD had nothing to do with chance or the makeup of my religious temperament. This is important to know.
An atheist once suggested that my religious convictions were genetically determined at conception. Like the colour of my hair and lots of other things. The atheist reasoned that the size of my nose, my height and even my religious persuasion were all down to DNA.
What happened between Helen Shapiro and I was not crafted by deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). A third presence was involved linking the events. There was a higher external power functioning. This external power was relevant and sympathetic to my needs. This external power is a highly intelligent being. It can hear my private prayers and it can answer them in a remarkable way. Learn more your 5 minutes talking to God https://wp.me/P9kkri-3f
I keep Helen’s DVD as a tangible expression of God’s unconditional love. The DVD is solid proof to me that God exists. However I didn’t need this proof but the incident is still encouraging because it reveals how God listens to every word we say, good or bad. It shows how God can directly and speedily intervene in our lives if he chooses. It proves that God knows all about us, good and bad. He knows every breath we take and every thought we have. He knows every tear we shed and every pleasure we enjoy. God clearly knows the love we need and the pain we feel. The fact is,
‘God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything,’ The Bible
If God can love a hypercritical person like me and encourage a sinner like me by answering my stupid prayers; God certainly loves you unconditionally. And God can reveal himself to you in understandable and helpful ways. I would describe myself as a poor imitator of Christ but the amazing thing is Jesus is patient with me. God has not yet turned me away. The opposite is true. In spite of my many failures God continually encourages me to follow him. I would suggest that you follow God too and see where he leads you.
33 years on in my faith, I can say with the psalmist that
‘the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places. I have a delightful inheritance’
Learn more 3 steps to becoming a Christian