When Digging in Changed Everything: Stefanie’s Story

For the month of October, the women from Heritage will be sharing their individual stories of how and when they discovered the life-changing power of God’s Word.  

By Stefanie McGowan

There are 5 things that got me reading the Word everyday:

  1. Jesus. It started because God nudged my heart. It wasn’t in my own strength or goal-setting. It was The Holy Spirit planting a seed, a hunger for truth… and it started with Christ alone.
  2. Saying yes. When that nudging came, I said yes. I dug into my bible, completely blind, and decided to go for it. I had no idea what I was doing, but Jesus did…. And He faithfully led the way as I prayerfully read His Word.
  3. Prayer. I gave God my whole heart, and wanted to know Him more, but didn’t know how, so I just talked to Him. I was honest, and gave Him all of me in exchange for all of Him. I begged God to show me who He was. My prayer wasn’t fancy, but it was real, and raw, and on purpose. 
  4. Persistence. I just kept reading. I kept going. I read when it didn’t make sense, and when it felt boring. I prayed that God would reveal His character in intimate ways and begged for understanding. I prayed for His strength, knowing I couldn’t do it on my own.
  5. Grace. I missed days. I still miss days.  But it’s my heart change that the Lord is after, not my perfection or performance. Giving our best is all that’s needed, and there is grace for all the rest. 

Before this, I wondered if God was real, and felt guilty for even thinking that. I had one leg in the world, and one part claiming to be a follower of Christ.  I chose personal comfort over a connection with the Lord, and I let subtle distractions rob my time.  My heart followed suit, and I never made time for God. I became conditioned to putting myself first, and God last. My selfish ambitions left me empty, craving something only a relationship with Christ could ever satisfy. I was lukewarm, and didn’t know it. 

I grew up in church but never read my bible. I knew basic bible stories and hymns, and sang Christian songs. I knew of Jesus, but I didn’t really know Jesus. I didn’t know how to know Him. I prayed generic prayers from my head, but not my heart. I thought I was a Christian, but I wasn’t following Christ.  My heart was half in, and I thought I was doing fine. I was distracted, yet I wanted more.

But it wasn’t long before I heard this verse, and it all sank in: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation‬ ‭3:15-16‬)

For the first time in my adult life, I really listened, and I walked away meditating on the Word. I was terrified of what I heard. I feared The Lord, and I knew He was real… I was lukewarm. I wasn’t hot or cold. I was just somewhere in between. I felt spiritually bankrupt; floundering through my life. I didn’t want to be half in. I wanted something real. I broke down and told God all about it: how my faith wasn’t my own. How I didn’t want to imitate someone else’s faith, and I didn’t want to be lukewarm. I wanted to know God for myself. I wanted to be all in. So I prayed. I was raw and real, with nothing to hide. It wasn’t about me being first anymore. It was about falling in love with Jesus first. 

I opened my bible, and it felt foreign. I felt lost. I prayed: “How do I fall in love with you first?” I kept seeking and praying. I enrolled in lots of different bible studies and I just kept showing up. I asked lots of questions, and I practiced praying with my heart and not my head. I tried being honest for a change. 

This continued until Jesus was finally first in my life. And then one day, He gave me someone who loved Jesus too. Who knew the Word, and wanted to live a life that honored Christ. I married that man, and then God moved us away. He drew us out of the familiar, to leave what we knew, and cleave to each other. He moved us into a place where He could make all things new. And it was there, in a tiny town, far from home, in a little, Baptist church, that Jesus nudged me to go deeper. And I said yes. 

I sat in Sunday school listening to how Jesus was in every story throughout the Bible. I learned how He fulfills every law, every prophecy, and how every Psalm speaks of Him (Luke 24:44).  I sat in awe, learning that Jesus was the final sacrifice for my sin (Hebrews 10:12).  And listened to how He is the spotless, sinless Passover lamb (John 1:29); the One who came to redeem us and set us free from the power of sin and death (Romans 8:2). The truth of God penetrated my heart like never before, and I was changed. As class ended, a chronological bible reading plan was offered, and I said yes. It was a lofty goal to read everyday, but I wanted more.

I started the next day. I woke up early, found a cozy spot, and fell asleep within the first 20 minutes. I tried again the next morning… and again. And by the end of the week, I was exhausted. I tried reading at night, but everything distracted me. So I prayed, “How do I do this, Lord? Please replace my exhaustion with a hunger to read your Word. I can’t do it on my own. I need your help.”  And He did.

For the next year and a half, I woke up before the sun to spend time with the Son, by Jesus’ help alone. Before I read, I prayed:  “Father, please be with me as I read. Please teach me what you want me to know. Please help me digest what I read, in Jesus’ name.” And He did.

After 15 months, I finished that study plan, and mailed out 50 more all over the country. I shared the stories, verses, and ways I saw Jesus in the details. I talked about the Word to anyone who’d listen, and the Bible came alive in my life! My being in the Word came as a result of a work the Lord is doing in me (Philippians 1:6); to grow my faith (Romans 10:17), to make me fruitful (Luke 8:15), for His name’s sake, and for His glory alone (Revelation 7:12). God began heart surgery in me, and hallelujah – He’s not done yet. His promise in Jeremiah 29:13 is true: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” In my seeking, I learned that the Word is Jesus (John‬ ‭1:14).  So how could I not be in the Word everyday?  He’s my first love, and He has my whole heart.

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