“Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’  The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” ~Jesus in John, Chapter 3

In Christian teaching, not everyone is born of the Spirit though all are called. There was a period of time in my life where I studied the Bible, understood the call of Jesus and wanted to surrender my life. Yet nothing happened. Month after month, I prayed and pleaded but nothing happened even though I had no idea what “happened” would look or feel like. I just knew that nothing was different.

In the meantime, God was working a miracle in my divorce. After four trips to court, my ex-wife offered a 37 page settlement that left me with one-eighth of my son’s time. In a frightening moment, I sensed a strong inner prompting to reject her offer. The consequences risked the likelihood of two more years in court and another $100,000 in legal fees.  I held my breath, whispered a prayer and called my lawyer.

Four trips to court and four months later, she had a sudden change of heart. In one mind-numbing day, we settled everything. I received nearly half of my son’s time and reasonable support payments. From that day on, we became friends and cooperative co-parents after two marathon years of intense, emotionally draining battles.

At the end of that same day, I experienced brokenness. It was not my first and it would not be my last. But this was different. A deep mourning permeated my being. Like Moses coming off the mountain, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of what just happened. I had taken a leap of faith and God rewarded an unworthy person like me far beyond my wildest hopes.  My brokenness lasted nearly a month.

A month later,  I attended a summer Christian festival in western New York where another miracle was about to occur. I was struggling to quit smoking cigarettes for the seventh time in my life. I felt defeated. In my brokenness, I surrendered in the same way that an alcoholic surrenders. I admitted to God and those around me that I could not beat this on my own strength.

At 2am, after talking by a campfire all night, I crawled into my tent. A clear voice spoke as my head hit the pillow. “I make a covenant with you to never smoke again.”  I fell instantly asleep.

When I awoke, the moment was vivid in my mind. I told my sister Helen about it. She was wide-eyed. I forwent my usual cigarette and attended praise and worship activities. I returned to the campsite at noon. Helen greeted me, a lit cigarette in her hand. I could feel the intense craving.

“Give me a drag,” I said casually.

“Are you sure?” she asked, obviously remembering my tale from that morning.

“Yeah, I’m sure.”  She handed it over. I took it and drew the butt towards my lips. Then I stopped. I could not do it. I handed the half-burnt cigarette back to her. She smiled.

That night, there was an altar call with a pastor named Ron Luce in a crowd of several thousand people. I did not hesitate.  People stood along the sides of the stage to receive people like me. I approached a young man in his twenties. I spoke calmly and confidently. “I want to surrender my life to Jesus.”

He smiled. “I’ll pray with you.” He placed his hand on my shoulder and prayed.

In that very moment, something changed. I felt as if lit by a warm fire within. The next day, the effect was even stronger. I went home, threw out my porn materials and admitted to myself that I had always seen women as sex objects, despite my best efforts to believe otherwise. Furthermore, my desire to smoke was gone, never to be felt again. I was a new man, a new creation.

Like the wind, I could not see it. I was born of the Spirit. I pray that you will seek this treasure with all your heart. Your reward will be to bathe in the warmth of His love in this life and the next.

John †