You can’t force someone to believe
I can’t count the number of times I was told I was going to Hell if I didn’t accept Jesus Christ as my savior.
Because I didn’t do that until I was in my 30s, I had many conversations with (mostly) well-meaning Christians who focused on the dire consequences of not believing in Jesus.
Those messages didn’t bring me a single step closer to Him. If anything, they drove me away.
You can’t threaten someone into believing.
Telling people they’re going to spend eternity locked out of Heaven isn’t going to lead them into a relationship with Jesus.
It’s not that I didn’t want to believe—I just didn’t get what I called “the Jesus thing.” I believed in God. I prayed to Him regularly. I trusted Him.
I enjoyed occasionally attending church services with my Christian family and friends. I found discussions of religion and faith thought-provoking and energizing.
But as soon as someone said any variation of “You must believe or you’re going to Hell,” I tuned out.
I tried telling them:
“I hear what you’re saying. I understand it intellectually. But I’m not getting it in my heart.”
It didn’t work.
To one friend, I said:
“I know you care about me and you’re worried about my soul. If I told you I accepted Jesus as my savior, you’d feel better—but I’d be lying. Is that what you want me to do?”
After a moment of speechlessness, she said no.
When I was little and resisting going to sleep, my mom would say: “If you’re not asleep when I come back, you better make me think you are.” I didn’t know when she was coming back, so I would lie there with my eyes closed, pretending to be asleep—and often falling asleep. Mom knew that was likely to happen.
But it doesn’t work that way with Christianity. You can’t fake it ‘til you make it with Jesus.
Being a Christian is about a loving relationship with a savior, not a fearful relationship with a master.
Even when I didn’t believe in Jesus, I believed in a God
“who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4, NIV)
The truth is so much more than simply escaping eternal torment.
In my prayers, I asked God to help me understand “the Jesus thing.” I believed that when the time was right, He would do it.
Finally, one evening at an unexpected time in an unlikely place, I felt it. I got “the Jesus thing.”
It didn’t happen because I didn’t want to go to Hell. It happened because I opened my heart and Jesus came in, filling me with a level of joy and peace I’d never experienced before.
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:25-26, NIV)
One of the most important lessons I have learned—and continue to learn—on my faith journey is to trust God’s timing and, even more important, to trust God.
He doesn’t want us to believe because we are afraid not to. He wants us to know and love Him, to accept His love, mercy, and grace, and to find joy and peace because we have freely chosen to walk with Him.
Related: My Life is Better as a Christian