Michelle Alston wrote a testimony that wonderfully captures how God meets us in a variety of ways through the body of Christ. Sometimes that grace comes to us through a counselor, sometimes a patient friend, sometimes a friend who gives an afternoon to fix our car, and sometimes through singing hymns with our brothers and sisters in Christ. All of that is the body of Christ in action and the grace that comes from it! I hope you are as encouraged as I was.
By Michelle Alston
Hi! Who went to the hymn sing? Raise your hands! I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Thank you to Philip Sasser for arranging a fun afternoon. As we sang one of John Newton’s hymns “I Asked the Lord that I Might Grow” it made me think of all the events that brought me to this day. Sitting here with my church family. The last lines of the hymn struck home to me:
“Lord why is this,” I trembling cried.
“Will You pursue Your worm to death?”
“This is the way” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and strength.
These inward trials I employ,
from self and pride, to set you free;
and break your schemes of earthly joy,
that you may find thy all in Me."
Well, when my “inward trials” started I hadn’t been praying for grace and strength – I wish I could say I that was even looking for the Lord – but now, when I sing “that you may find thy all in Me” every part of me knows it is true. I still stray and I still get sad; however, I know now that God is with me in my weakness.
Many, many years ago I became a Christian, but then I forgot about the Lord and just thought about me. And God, in His mercy, decided to remind me that He was still here. And He wanted me back. Unexpectedly, MY plan for my life was taken away, and I developed severe depression. It is almost indescribable, the pain of major depression. My mind was overtaken by evil thoughts that I was convinced were true. To this day I cannot believe I survived it; it was that horrible. I didn’t trust anyone. Depression is a filter that only allows negative thoughts through. And the enemy was right there ready to play on my doubts and weaknesses.
However, the Lord had His hand on my life, and brought me together with a Christian therapist that I would actually listen to. Slowly, love started sinking in. And great sorrow instead of hopelessness and hate. I had myself convinced that I couldn’t return to my Savior. It was too shameful. My therapist went through the Gospel again with me, concentrating on covenants. Trying to get me to see His promises are forever. My homework was to memorize psalms. My first choices were parts of darker psalms like,
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.” Psalm 13:1-4
I started studying and my heart started yearning again for His love. Psalms was my refuge. I began to give God my pain, and I began to remember Jesus as my Savior again. The Bible is magic to me. The Word fills me as I read. The pain in the Psalms was my pain. My therapist convinced me it was safe to go back to church. And, as silly as this might seem, I was scared.
When I walked through the doors of Sovereign Grace, I was so nervous I almost left. Obviously, I didn’t. Again, God had His hand orchestrating everything. The first people I met were perfect for my personality at that time – which was “Say hi, smile, but don’t push if I don’t talk.” And they were so nice. I think I even said I didn’t like to talk, and they said okay!
Everyone at Sovereign Grace has been wonderful. Truly Christ-like. Truly “I was a stranger and you took me in.” I was loved and nobody knew me. My life was a disaster and still I was loved.
I joined a home group because my therapist “told” me too. I was too nervous to go alone, so I made my daughter drive home from Boone to go with me the first time. I was certain I was going to have to talk, or read, or answer questions or something uncomfortable. As it turned out, the evening was actually perfect! God again! The group was so wonderful – actually, amazing. The people were so natural, so caring; it was if everyone knew exactly what I needed to feel right at home.
I know we are practicing “Every Member Ministry,” and I looked on the blog to see when the phrase was first used. I found it used in May 2013, but didn’t see it used in the few months before that. I can assure you that Sovereign Grace has been an “Every Member Ministry” for over the more than two years I have been here.
In the first month I was here—remember I didn’t talk and share, so I was unknown—someone came and fixed all the leaks in my roof. For free, of course. My car inspection was overdue by ten months–I guess God had blinded the person at the DMV who was supposed to send out fines for that sort of thing—and someone in the church purchased the part my car needed and installed it for me so my car could pass inspection. When my home group found out that my homeowners insurance had threatened to cancel me because my home needed repairs, I had a team of men show up at my house one weekend to do them all. When I wanted to sell my piano but couldn’t find a buyer who could actually pick it up, I sent out an email asking if anyone had a truck, and within 18 hours I had four strong men with a truck and trailer to move the piano and deliver it for me. This church – showering me with an abundance of Christ’s love. I wasn’t even a member yet. And they gave sacrificially.
This church body has been evident in my times of loneliness, sadness, and confusion. There were women who let me come over to their house to “hang out.” And they allowed me space to “be.” I could sit and read by myself, or interact with them, or nap on their couch….just because I couldn’t stand another day of being alone. Never once did they make me feel odd about this unusual behavior; actually I felt the opposite. I believe they went out of their way to make sure I felt at ease. I received emails, text messages, phone calls and prayer support from women who cared about me and shared in my burdens. A new experience for me: sharing. Only because of the unconditional love that was shown to me, I started trusting and loving and forming relationships.
God has used his church to change me, to help me grow, to point out my weaknesses, and assure me that (unbelievably) I am still loved by Him. I have had people ask me if I would want to do it all over again, to get to this place. That is a really hard question. My depression almost killed me. I wouldn’t wish chronic nerve pain on anyone. Financial difficulties, shame, loss of relationships…Is that a fair question?
I can’t go back, but I can praise God that He brought me here today. And on Sunday I was worshiping Him with my church family and singing hymns. Wow! Isn’t God good? And now, when I pick out my Psalms to memorize, I include the endings of the ones I memorized before –
But I have trusted in Your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me. Psalm 13:5-6