This document was originally written as part of an assignment in a discipleship course my church offers regularly. I wrote it back in late March of 2007 when I was taking the course. I expanded it in July of 2010, picking up where the discipleship course part of this ended, and talked about what’s happened in my life since then. I hope you enjoy reading this, as it’s been a joy to live it, thanks be to God!
My Personal Testimony
…or “How I Came to love Jesus”
by Joseph Michael Siegler
Jesus has always been a part of my life. My problem is that I never always acknowledged it, or even when I did, didn’t give him the attention he deserved. That’s the crux of my story. I’ve never really let him in the door until very recently in my life.
When I was child, I was raised and taught Sunday School lessons from an early age. I knew all the things you were taught, I even believed them, as much as a young child could believe things in the same way an adult can. I had several years of Sunday School perfect attendance when I was around the ages of 5-7. I could say the Lord’s Prayer at an early age, and I was very much the proper young Christian boy. As time went on, my parents divorced (at 12yrs), and while I don’t have a conscious recollection of that causing a problem at the time, it likely did, as it did upset many portions of my life. Not long after that I started to rebel in school, lost focus, and quite a lot of things didn’t have the same flavor anymore. I used to sneak into my mom’s bedroom on Sunday mornings, and turn off the alarm clock so we wouldn’t have to go to church. I considered church an imposition on my Sunday morning sleep. At this point in my life, Jesus was never really an active thought. Not that I actively campaigned against him, or anything along those lines, it just was never an upfront thought in my mind. Somewhere during this time, I stopped going to church completely, as I didn’t feel connected anymore.
There were a few other moments after that where I had the chance to reconnect, but did not. Looking back, this was probably Jesus knocking on the door, but i didn’t really answer. There was a person who ministered to me in a church and asked me if I was saved, and told me that all it would take would be for me to accept Jesus as my Lord and savior and let him into my heart. I said the lines, and the person said I was saved, but I didn’t “feel it” in my heart. I also attended a Billy Graham Crusade and came forward at the end to receive Jesus. That was an opportunity and I didn’t follow through on that, either.
Some years later, my family happened upon another Episcopal church led by a Father Edd Schultz. Father Edd was the first building block in my return to church in that he was young, and hey – he had Cable TV! A priest who had MTV was something cool to this teenager, so I bought into it. I enjoyed attending church there, and continued there until Father Edd left the church to move elsewhere in the country. At that point I more or less stopped going again. When I moved to Texas in 1992, and all of that was lost – I never went to church after I moved to Texas for awhile.
I got married in 1996; after that my wife and I attended a service at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Garland. We felt the church was nice, but due to my general laziness and desire for Sunday morning sleep, we did not return. At this point in my life, I had pigeonholed my thoughts on religion into this. If I believed Jesus was savior and my Lord, I would be saved. I didn’t need to attend a church, and I didn’t need all that other stuff. I believed, so I was good to go. It was my daughter who ended up leading me back to church – and she hadn’t been born yet.
Late in 2004, my wife and I decided that since we were having a baby, that we needed to attend a church. As our families are about 1500 miles away, we needed a support system. After a couple of attempts elsewhere, we returned to HTEC, as that was the religion I was raised in. After attending several services, we felt very welcomed and comfortable; so we stayed. This was a seriously important decision, as it’s here that I found Jesus for good, and let him into my life in a way that had NEVER happened before. In looking back, I always sort of paid lip service to Jesus. I believed, or thought I did, but it wasn’t until after my daughter was born that I started noticing that I was feeling more filled, and more excited at attending church. That had never happened to me before. I prayed to God a lot during my wife’s pregnancy, and those prayers were answered in the form of a very happy, and very healthy young daughter. Up until this point in my life, Jesus was mostly an afterthought, and he still blessed me with the best daughter I could have imagined. It was that realization that started me back without looking for a “way out” like I used to.
The big moment came when I was standing on the front lawn of my rector’s house one evening. I had been there to fix a problem on his computer, and afterwards we were talking about a discipleship course he was going to soon be embarking on. I was not planning on doing it, mostly because I was (or thought I was) unprepared for the course. After hearing my reasons, the rector rather strongly told me I was wrong, and that I was more than ready to take the course. One wouldn’t think that the turning point in one’s religious life would be standing on the front lawn of the pastor’s house, but it was for me. God gives you what you need, and that’s what I needed – a surprise from an unexpected location like that to get my attention. On the drive home that night, I changed my mind and decided to take the course. It was a giant leap of faith on my part, as I really had NO idea what I was getting myself into.
As the weeks went along in the course, I found myself believing and reading scripture more than any other time in my life. I started being able to recite parts of it, and I found the course was nowhere as difficult as I anticipated it would be. I found that some of the things we were taught and learned about weren’t the hollow things I thought they were when I was younger – these disciplines like fasting and prayer had real life meaning! As I let these things into my life more and more, I found that I had a deeper peace about various issues in my life that were never peaceful. I found that I did not stress internally about things as much as I used to. Now that’s not to say I can’t still run off the end of the stress meter, and I do from time to time. But overall, I’ve found great relief in simply allowing problems in my life to be turned over to Jesus. To a non believer, that might sound hollow, but the Holy Spirit has worked miracles in my heart.
The biggest changes during the discipleship course came in the latter months after I started taking scripture to heart. Oh sure, I could spend more time with the living word; and I still sin like everyone else, but I have an avenue out. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. An example is that I was lifted of my fear of praying in public. I used to dread that with a crippling fear that would stop me from any public prayer. In one of the discipleship class sessions, we had a big prayer group session, and I felt that something happened to me, but I did not know what. That was answered the next day when I had to take my wife to the hospital, and while driving there, I said a prayer for her healing with my hand on her head. Shortly after that, she told me that after I had taken my hand off her head, it felt like my hand was still there. This was a powerful moment for me, because it showed me what God had done in my heart, which was remove my fear of prayer. And as I’ve learned in James 5:16, “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effect”. I’ve felt no problems with praying for people any longer, and that is a blessing my life. I wanted to cry when I realized what had happened to me.
This discipleship course has given me so much more strength and peace than I could have ever believed I was capable of. Praise God for getting to me through it, as I credit THAT as the reason I now am stronger than I ever believed I could be in Jesus. My wife has told me that the course has changed me externally too, which is nice to hear, since I cannot see that.
After the discipleship course ended, I found that since I had a stronger belief in God, and the ability to believe in what our culture generally refers to loosely as “an invisible person”, that I’ve had a greater peace about a great number of things. One of the things that told my wife an I that God was with us was when our church was starting a building fund for a new church we intend on building. There was a meeting at the Rector’s house to talk about the program, and go over details and whatnot. My wife and I were there, and we both had decided on a number we were going to contribute ahead of time. During the speeches by our Senior Warden, the Rector, and the fellow from the fund raising firm, we both had decided to increase our amount the we would commit. I had decided at that time to give up my weekly bowling league, which I had been in for about 34 consecutive years at that point. I tallied the fees and whatnot, and it worked out to be a number that was within just a couple of dollars of what my wife on her own decided we should increase our commitment by. We were both instantly convinced that this was from God, as we both decided this on our own with no discussion amongst each other (and after prayer). So we were joyous at our being able to donate to the building fund with what we knew was a prayerfully considered dollar amount.
Our newfound prayer and joy was put to the test in early 2008 when my wife and I were expecting our second child, who we had lost to miscarriage. It was a painful thing to go through, as anyone who has experienced that can tell you, but through a lot of prayer, we were able to get through it. In fact, the thing that helped us most was being able to name the child (whom we named Vanessa Grace), and turn the whole situation over to God. Through that act, we were given much peace about the situation. Oh, it still hurt, but I wasn’t as devastated once we made the choice to give the child back to God. This was borne out when during the last night of a healing ministries conference at our church my wife went up for prayer, and was given a vision of what our lost daughter looked like. Obviously this was more powerful for her than for me, but I too took this to heart, and was able to rejoice in that someday we’d get to meet our lost daughter. This act also caused some friction with some who thought we were “weird” or “nuts” for doing something like naming a child that we lost to miscarriage. This was mostly people not from our church, as we received lots of support from our Church family over this issue. However, both of us strongly felt we were being led by God to do this, so we honored that call and were obedient in this matter.
After a lot of prayer and support from friends at our church, we were able to get through it and get pregnant again during the late summer of 2008. Thus began the biggest part of our life with God. Given we had lost a baby recently, this third pregnancy for us was somewhat more fraught with concern for obvious reasons. We wanted it to work, and yet we had the loss of Vanessa in our minds, too. The pregnancy went fairly well, and we were set to deliver our second child, our son David (who was named after King David in the bible) on May 28th. However, on May 6th, we got a bombshell dropped on us, as I found out that my job of 16.5 years was going away. I had lost my job after being there for the better part of two decades, and we had a kid on the way. My last day of work ended up being six days before my son was born, and I have to say, it made that week a complete whirlwind of emotion. It is said God’s timing is perfect, and I think that’s why I lost my job when I did, because I was able to spend time with my newborn son, and be with my family. The lack of work was hard (and continues to be), but we think it was a test from God to rely on him, and rely hardly did we ever!
You see, late in 2008, I had decided that we were going to start properly tithing. My wife grew up in a Ukrainian Orthodox church who doesn’t have the concept of tithing in their church. This was an alien concept to her when we started attending church. As everyone knows, money can be a major source of friction between married couples, so I decided not to go nuclear and start tithing fully when we went back to church, but kind of eased into it, building up until we got to a proper tithe in late 2008. At that time, we had just short of $10,000 in credit card debt to our name, not to mention the usual “real life” things like a car payment and a mortgage, etc.. Our money wasn’t unmanageable, but the credit card debt was a concern somewhat. Still, I felt it was the right time to tithe. So we did. I went and figured out exactly what 10% of our income was, and started (rather happily, mind you) giving that to the church. When I lost my job, I went and figured out what a tithe would be out of my unemployment money, and continued to tithe. It felt good, it felt like the right thing to do. God honored this by keeping us not only solvent through unemployment, but with the means to rid our debt. When I walked out the door at my old job, I still had about 3/4 of that credit card debt on the books. You do not expect to be able to get on top of credit card debt when you lose your job, you expect to tread water, or at best hope not to slide backwards. But we believe our being obedient to the tithe, especially after losing my job gave us the ability to COMPLETELY PAY OFF ALL OF OUR DEBT (save for the mortgage). Our car was paid off within a month of losing my job, and all of our credit card debt was erased during the summer of 2009. More evidence of God’s timing was in play when it came to hospital bills. We received bills for both my wife and my son. Both times when we got the bill in the mail, in the mailbox AT THE SAME TIME was a check (or checks) to cover the bill. It was as if God was saying “I’ll take care of it” with his timing. To make it a better story, I’ve been able to KEEP the credit card debt at zero – praise be to God. It’s July of 2010, and I can say I still have no credit card debt, 14 months into unemployment. We’ve never gone without, and still have been able to live a life we enjoy. Oh, there were cutbacks for sure, and the people who have helped us (both financially and physically) have been a blessing. We thank God for them too for listening to his call to help us as they have. We couldn’t have done it without them.
My time of unemployment has taught me several things. To be reliant on God for everything, and not just “pay attention” to him during Sundays and that’s it. It’s taught me that obedience brings blessings, as this has been borne out by our ability to remain worry free about money during all this time. I think that astounds people somewhat, as I took a trip back in March of 2010 to visit my family back home to visit my grandparents in the hospital. I drove to Philadelphia from Dallas, renting a car, staying in hotel rooms, etc. Sitting in the hospital room with my mom and my Grandmother we got to talking about money and all that, and they showed concern that I wasn’t going to be able to pay for the trip. When I told them it was covered already, they were pleased, but what they probably weren’t pleased with was when I said “..and even if I wasn’t, I’m not worried about it, it’s just money”. To someone as detail oriented as my mother I think the lack of concern about something that is SUPER detailed as money was a shock to her. But I really was not concerned at all about money – I really wasn’t. As I was trusting in God to take care of me and my family, the fact that there was a new round of bills to deal with in regards to my trip did not concern me in the least. On this trip, I was able to pray for several family members (plus some people I did not know), and in a way I found myself surprised at being able to do. I think I was able to show some people in my family firsthand how much I’ve grown. At minimum, I was able to show them a side of me they’d never seen before.
I’ve learned to trust in God, and it’s benefited my family so richly, I can’t tell all of it in this short document. There’s so much more to this story, but I don’t want to write a 20,000 word mini novel here, so I’ll end it with this..
I cannot wait for what else will come on this path I have chosen. It can be your path too. It doesn’t take much to get started on the path either, if you have any questions on how, just ask me. May God bless you, as he has me.
Malachi 3:10: “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”
Ephesians 6:18: “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.”