I’m Phil, and this is my story.
I grew up in the most beautiful Christian family. You know, when I was young, I’d come down in the morning and find both my parents reading their Bibles, that kind of thing. So I was aware of the Christian faith from the very start.
But for me personally, there were various key moments in the development of my own faith. The first of these was when I was six years old, in a big tent somewhere. I remember being told that Jesus loved me, that he had died for me and that I was a naughty boy (I knew I was a naughty boy!!) and that I could go to heaven. And I decided that that was something I wanted to do.
In teenage years you then have to decide whether to keep doing that, keep believing that; and in those years, I kept deciding to follow Jesus.
But the ‘rubber really hit the road’ for me, at University, aged 21. I was studying Law at Sheffield, and during my final year, one Saturday lunchtime, my phone rang; and it was one of my Mum’s friends. And she said words I’ll never forget: she said, “Phil, your Dad has died.” These words just ripped my world apart. But it was a real choice-moment, a faith-defining-moment. I had to decide between angrily rejecting God, for allowing this to happen, or saying “God, I really need you right now”. Our whole family’s story is that we chose the latter and that God’s faithfulness to us has in fact been extraordinary.
I had been a Christian since I was six years old but the closest I have known God was in those first few weeks after Dad died. The words, “When your heart is broken, God is close to you” (Psalm 34:18) really resonate with me…..
My sister was 18 years old and on a gap year, and my brother was just 13; and it was actually my young brother who had found my Dad after he’d died from a heart problem. And that night, my Mum read Psalm 68 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”
Knowing the Bible, and having it in your heart is life-giving. From the age of 11, my Dad used to drive me to Birmingham, from where I’d get the bus out to school, and he used to encourage me to learn Bible verses on the way in the car, which was fantastic! Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….” etc etc , all the way through. But for Mum it was that verse in Psalm 68 about God being “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” that was so significant.
But you know, reflecting on what I have been through. I would rather have had the Dad that I had for those 21 years, than some other Dads that I’ve come across, who are still around.
A living faith in Jesus is a precious thing to pass on to your children. Christian faith came into our family through my Grandfather. He served in the war in the Isle of Islay – on the West Coast of Scotland (which has since become a lovely holiday haunt for us). He was led to faith there by the Army Chaplain where he was working in a U-boat tracking station. In those days everyone went to church, but the Army chaplain said to him “If it was illegal to be a Christian –would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Those were the words that lead him to faith . Now my Grandfather was a big personality, a real ‘force of nature’, so when he came home on leave – he lead his whole family to Jesus. So that’s my heritage, rooted deeply in a deep love for the Bible.
Life is full of suffering, suffering is everywhere. I’ve just heard yesterday that someone close to me, has less than four years to live. He’s 36 – and he might be dead by Christmas and he has two young children.
This question of suffering is so important for all of us because comfort has become a ‘god’ for so many of us today. Life contains so many things which are just beautiful, but life’s also really hard. So many people today have a complete lack of resilience. I think that comfort is the real enemy for many people, and when suffering comes it completely floors them, because they have no resilience. Romans 5:3, says “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” But people who have managed to avoid all suffering and confrontation their whole life, who have managed to be constantly comfortable can fall apart when it suddenly arrives.
The next chapter in my story, is about the extraordinary things which faith in Jesus gives you. Jesus has given me real purpose, meaning and guidance; which are things we don’t talk about enough, but are things we should intentionally discuss. Because if you don’t believe in God, then the best you’ve got is ‘the pursuit of happiness’ and you’re left with some vague sense that the meaning of life might just be to ‘do good and be nice’.
However, for the Christian, there is just so much more than this, which is why I have always been an evangelist. Since the age of six I have wanted to tell people about Jesus. When I was in junior school, I got every boy in my class to come to Boys Brigade. Actually it was every boy in my class except one; and I wept the day that he left because I thought I had missed my opportunity. But my Dad said to me, “you’ve done alright!”, and from then until now – I’ve always just wanted to share my faith.
I finished University a term late, because of Dad dying, and graduated with a law degree, and began looking at jobs and careers. At that point, a director at Youth for Christ, Gav Calver, asked if I would consider joining them. So Gav famously wrecked my promising legal career! If I had followed that route, I would have been a lot richer, but a lot more bored and a lot less fulfilled, I think! I loved working with them. I had an amazing time – on so many weekends away, giving young people fantastic holidays. Over the years we saw thousands of young people give their lives to Jesus – and that was the best bit. We had so many great things, but when you see a kid say yes to Jesus – well, that’s the best bit! So God guides our paths, gives us meaning, purpose, and direction.
But the final part of my story is really that, in the last few years I’ve been having medical tests (because Dad died so young), and it turns out that I have the same heart condition that he did – a dilated aortic root, (if you want the technical term). My brother’s got it too; it’s just one of those inherited conditions. Where having Jesus really makes a difference is this. There are times when I have woken in the night, with my heart going at a rate, and I’ve wondered if I was about to die – and I can’t tell you the difference it makes to know that God is with me in those moments. But also, if my heart does ‘go’, I know where I’m going, and that makes a huge difference too.
The reality is that 14 years on, the Bible’s claim that God is “the father to the fatherless, the defender of widows” has been proved in my family; in our experience. We have been outrageously blessed and protected – and that is the story.
Phil Knox is the Head of Mission to Young Adults at The Evangelical Alliance: www.eauk.org