rev._joaquin_willis_3.jpgI’m ashamed to admit it but it wasn’t after joining the church, or going to Seminary or even after being ordained that I gave my life to Christ. Rather, it was on a dark, stormy night in the Saudi Arabian desert, during the midst of serving as an Army chaplain in Operation Desert Storm.

With the bombs and gunfire in the background, out of  nowhere suddenly came the darkest, ugliest rain clouds I had ever seen, heading for my campsite. Sitting with a fellow chaplain, we watched frightened as the storm came our way.

She began to sing Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, which I learned that night. As the storm raged, the words sank deep into my heart and my faith grew and I gave my life to God.

Have you given your life to God? If so, can you remember when? For years, I thought I had but actually had not until my faith was tested in the desert that night.

Jesus said, “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.” (Matthew 10:39 MSG)

I found God and myself that night.

In Matthew 10:34, Christ tells us, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” When we give our life to God, the first thing we can and must expect is a fight against God's enemies. In Ephesians 6:10-17, Paul tells us to put on the full Gospel armor and “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

In Matthew 10: 32-39, Christ makes it clear He did not come to make us cozy or to give us peace. In heaven we can count on peace,but not on earth. This, for some, isn’t good news. The good news is we are being equipped here for peace in heaven.

The peace Christ gives on earth is peace with God. We get this peace when we give our lives over to God. It is then we gain peace in our consciences, peace in our minds, peace in our homes, on our jobs and on the battlefields of life. It is then that we also gain peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

When we truly give our life to God, it means we become swordsmen for Christ and soldiers in God’s army, armed with His Word to use as lethal weapons in our fights against fear and evil. Christ gives us a conquering work, where we must use the sword of the Word to fight against the world’s sword of persecution.

The Gospel draws people to Christ and makes us want to give our lives over to Him. But there remain those even in the church who, much like me before that time in the desert, do not or cannot receive Christ’s message because it’s just too hard and we will not give our lives over to God until tested.

When some believe and others do not, the faith of those who do believe triumphs the faith of those who do not. But, over time and through genuine battles of faith, we see real proof of increased honesty, integrity and belief in God’s Word. Though sometimes it may take a lifetime for this to happen, ultimately we do turn our life over to God.

After the storm and our singing stopped, we were all comforted and lifted up. The chapel tent was still standing  and we were both glad and relieved that we made it through. We decided to stick our heads outside the tent to check and assess the camp and we were shocked to find our tent was the only one left standing.

We learned a big lesson that night. We concluded that it was not only our genuine praise that lifted our spirits and protected us but that it also had kept our tent from falling down.

When you forget about yourself, genuinely praise God, you not only get lifted up but you don’t lose anything either.

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or