19 Apr If you seek God, you will find Him
As the church celebrates the feast of the conversion of St Paul on January 25th of every year, we also remember and celebrate our own conversions as well. Every person who has had a God experience or a personal encounter with God will surely have a conversion story to tell if asked.
The God we serve is a living God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the same God we are serving. He is ever merciful and He is a faithful God, who reveals Himself to whoever seeks Him with a sincere heart. He has given us this promise and all we need is to believe in Him.
Fr. Joseph had the opportunity to read about Bilquis Sheik’s conversion experience while he was in the seminary.
In her best-selling book and autobiography, “I Dared to Call Him Father”, Bilquis Sheik details her conversion story from a predominantly Muslim family and country to Christianity. As a Muslim woman, coming from a rich family in Pakistan, with family members in government, Bilquis overcame the challenges of converting from her religion to Christianity, and became a strong force that shaped the conversion stories of others. Following her father’s death and separation from her husband, she found no meaning in life, after she withdrew to live by herself. In order to find meaning in her life, she turned to spirituality and even after reading the Quran, she was not still satisfied. In a quest for answers, God revealed Himself to her after she sort God in her reading of the Bible. Not only did God change Bilquis’s life, but He used her to change the lives of others. And despite death threats from her family and others, she did not denounce God or look back. She would later flee to the United States of America and join the Billy Graham ministries, through which she gave many testimonies and talks and many people were converted through these testimonies.
The threats from her family and others are a reminder that anyone who wants to follow Jesus, must be ready to take up his or her cross like Christ said and follow Him. That person must be ready to face rejections, persecutions and even death. Bilquis, like St Paul and others, did not fear the threats. They were ready to lose everything, even their lives for the sake of God. She, St Paul and others went through pain, rejection and persecution, but God lifted them up.
John 15:18-19 says “If the world hates you, just remember that it has hated me first. If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you.”
Brethren, it should not come as a surprise that the world hates you if you choose God and not the world, because the world hated Christ first. Just like Jesus, we are not of this world and when our eyes are fixed on Him, and we realize how much He loves us, we will be strengthened and ready to lose everything so we can gain heaven.
Just like Bilquis felt before her conversion, sometimes we lose meaning for our lives and even the things we thought would bring us happiness turn out to be mere emptiness. Brethren, there’s nothing in this life that can give us meaning for our lives if God is not present in our lives. It’s only when we encounter God and allow Him to take control of our lives, that we find meaning in our existence.
Also, we read in Mathew 4:6 that “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully.” Bilquis and St Paul did what God wanted by answering His call and following Him with all devotedness, despite all the persecutions. Brethren, can you answer God’s call like these two did and as all of the apostles and Jesus’ disciples did? Are you ready to put your hand on the plough and never look back, trusting in God that all will be okay despite all the adversities?
Bilquis said in her book that she was confused as to whether she should receive Baptism or not for fear of the consequences from her family or those in the society, especially against her grandson whom she had adopted. But Jesus rebuked her and gave her this word – Mathew 10:37-38 which says “Those who love their father or mother more than me are not fit to be my disciples; those who love their son or daughter more than me are not fit to be my disciples. Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not fit to be my disciples.” At this, and with the on-going persecutions, she fled to the U.S.A, where she joined the Billy Graham Christian ministries and her life was never the same again.
The Time to answer God’s call is Now!
Brethren, when God calls you or talks to you, “now” is the time to respond and follow Him. Never postpone your conversion. “Now” is always the right time because the next moment or tomorrow is not guaranteed. When God calls you, even though the road ahead might be a rocky one, He knows how to get you out of every situation and turn everything into good. A life without trials and persecutions is not guaranteed. But we are guaranteed eternal life with Jesus for sure.
Isaiah 45:2-3 says “I myself will prepare your way, leveling mountains and hills. I will break down bronze gates and smash their iron bars. I will give you treasures from dark, secret places; then you will know that I am the LORD, and that the God of Israel has called you by name.”
Carrying your cross and facing persecutions is part of following Jesus. And this only lasts but for a moment during our earthly journey, before we wear the crown of righteousness for eternity.
Revelations 2:10 says “Don’t be afraid of anything you are about to suffer. Listen! The Devil will put you to the test by having some of you thrown into prison, and your troubles will last ten days. Be faithful to me, even if it means death, and I will give you life as your prize of victory.”
Brethren, when the apostles received the Holy Spirit, they preached with all boldness and were faithful to God unto death. Bilquis and St Paul, just like many others, were faithful to God without regard for their own lives because they knew that by losing their lives, they would savethem.
God is nearer to you than you think:
No matter what religion you belong to or whether you’re even an atheist, remember that God is your father and when you search for him, you will find him. The Lord says in Jeremiah 29:14 that “I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” St Paul and Bilquis found God because God let them find Him. If you search for Jesus, Jesus will let you find Him.
Proverbs 8:17 says “From there you will see the LORD your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul.”
Also, in the book of Deuteronomy 4:29, it says “There you will look for the LORD your God, and if you search for him with all your heart, you will find him.”
God comes to us in different ways:
There are different ways in which God comes to us. He comes to us through other people, dreams, physically and personally coming to us. God wants to have a personal encounter with us because He loves us. He is our father in heaven, who is not up there in heaven, but comes down and lives amongst us and in us. St Paul and Bilquis were converted by God coming and having a personal encounter with them. St Paul did not get converted through any apostle, or other medium. Just like Bilquis, St Paul had no one to tell him who Jesus was, but he had a personal encounter with Jesus on his way to Damascus and this was a turning point in his spiritual life, and that of the church. It was through Bilquis’ faith, conviction and God experience, that she was converted.
Has God been talking to you through that voice in your head that says do not steal, lie, or break any of the commandments? Did you heed that voice or did you ignore it? Has God been talking to you through other people, asking you to forgive others or to be compassionate towards others and so on? Have you heeded that voice? Do you have a strong urge or desire to know God more or to read the Bible? Have you listened to that voice inside of you? Do you have a strong desire to be the voice of God in today’s world plagued by many ills and have you listened and acted upon that desire? Brethren, there are many ways in which God talks to us. All we need is to listen, discern and act. God wants to come to each of us personally.
Bilquis was ready to give up all her fame, money, influence and family because she found the truth and she found Jesus, whom she was searching for. Brethren, from the example of St Paul and Bilquis and many others, we learn that if we seek the Lord with a sincere heart, we will find Him and He will reveal himself to us personally and allow us to have a personal encounter with him. He is a living God who, though He died over two thousand years ago, resurrected and lives in us and among us never to die again and will continue to live with us till the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).