For those of you who have befriended me on Facebook, you know that I rarely enter a post. I usually leave that for my precious wife, Cindy. However, today is a special day for me in which I am overflowing with gratitude.
You see, it was forty years ago today that I was sitting in a civic auditorium in downtown Memphis listening for the sixth evening in a row to a tiny man unpack a variety of truths and principles from a book that I had rarely ever considered was really for me. At the close of this weeklong conference, this man gave a challenge to all of us in the room: “to commit our lives to Jesus Christ.” Now, I had heard those words spoken before, usually with much volume and just enough guilt to make me want to crawl under my seat. But this night was different.
Through his soft-spoken manner and methodical teaching, I knew that I had been living a lie and I certainly wasn’t fooling God. He knew the real me. Most people thought I was a good guy, and perhaps on the outside you would consider me good, but on the inside I struggled with all the selfish desires and temptations of a nineteen-year-old male. If God really was willing to take charge of my life, I was ready to give the controls over to Him.
So, in the midst of some five thousand strangers, I retreated into the quiet room of my own mind and heart and I turned over all of my life that I could understand at the time to the God who had given me life nineteen years earlier and trusted Him to lead me in this new journey in the years ahead. Now, as I look in the rearview mirror, I would say it was on that evening in Memphis that I began my journey of attempting to follow Jesus as his apprentice and disciple.
During these last forty years I’ve had countless people invest their life of faith into mine. In the Scriptures there is no such thing as a disciple formed in isolation. A follower of Jesus is formed in a community of others who are on the journey with you; those ahead of you are pouring into you what they have gleaned and experienced through the years; some are walking beside you encouraging you and challenging you; and others are looking to you for wisdom and guidance as they follow your footsteps toward becoming like Christ.
I realize the majority of you understand my attempt to describe this journey of faith, but I also recognize there are some of you who can’t quite identify with my reflection. Please notice I haven’t used words like “religion,” “church,” or even “Christian” to describe what I’ve experienced. I’ve found that these words only tend to muddy the waters of understanding what Jesus truly wants to accomplish in and through us. The bottom line is that He desires and calls all of us to follow Him, to live our lives as if He were living His through us.
Those of you who have come across my path during these last forty years know that I have a long way to go in my journey with Jesus of becoming like Him. My scars and shortcomings are all the more glaring the closer one gets to me, but I am so grateful for Jesus loving me enough and believing in me enough to choose me to become His disciple.
I have spent time today reflecting on the faces of those who have shaped me into the person I am still becoming. It would be impossible to mention even one name since God has used so many to chisel away the rough edges through the years. However, I abound in gratitude for a mother whom God used to sacrifice her personal comforts to raise me pretty much single handed; for professors and pastors who stretched my mind and heart to grasp the words God intended for me to embrace; for six local churches who welcomed me and my family and helped shape me into a pastor and teacher; for a group of men who in recent years awakened me to my passion and joy as a disciplemaker; for friends like you who have walked this journey alongside me; and for an organization who has given my wife and me a global context to live out the calling that God has been preparing us for during these last thirty-four years of marriage.
Speaking of gratitude, each day I stand in wonder of the three precious daughters that I have the privilege of being their Daddy. By God’s abundant grace, they and their husbands have begun their own journey of following Jesus and are all seeking to impact their culture and generation living out their faith in unique ways.
And, apart from the formation of God’s word and his abiding Holy Spirit, my partner and devoted wife has had the greatest influence on my spiritual formation. Sometimes I just wish God would speak to me directly instead of passing His instructions through her. Cindy has been so patient and selfless during this thirty-four year run and I know I would not be near the person I am today without her.
So, on this 8th day of June, 2014, I am abounding with gratitude for all that Jesus has accomplished in my life and I look forward to experiencing all that He has for me in this fortieth year of my apprenticeship with Him. And wherever you are on your journey of life, may God continue his amazing work in you until his work is done.
Denny & Cindy Heiberg