Guest Writer: Matt Seiboth
Writing / drawing out my ‘spiritual timeline’ is something that I started doing following a sermon I heard at BCEC titled Spiritual Development Milestones (from 13 October 2013). A spiritual timeline is a timeline of your life, but instead of focusing on key life events – such as your first day at school, the first time you went to the seaside, your wedding, etc. – this timeline focuses on the events in your life where you have seen God at work and which have helped to reinforce your faith.
I’ve tried to summarise in a few words the key events and how they have helped my faith grow.
- I was born to missionary parents this impacted my upbringing and my outlook on life and faith
- Christmas tree incident this is one of my earliest experiences of God
- Praying in Year 2 this is a story of how prayer first became something real to me
- Quiet time this is a moment when I was about 8 when I realised that God can actually speak to me through his Bible and it felt alive to me
- Christian schools growing up in Christian schools helped to build a foundation of Bible knowledge that served me in the future
- Holy Spirit experience this is an experience I had of the Holy Spirit shortly before my baptism.
- Baptism I decided to publicly declare my affiliation and desire to follow God with my whole life. Following this choice I felt my spiritual life developed in new ways.
- Return to the UK / Attending Youth Group in Liverpool This was a tough time of leaving friends and familiar life in southeast Asia to return to the UK. Looking back now I can see that it was also a time where I developed in new ways which probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed where I was.
- University life There was one year at university which was particularly difficult and where I faced a choice to give up on my faith – but I discovered that I couldn’t because it was too real to me and I couldn’t just pretend I didn’t believe in God and the Bible.
- Getting my job in Birmingham This is a story of God’s gracious provision for my job and also an indication that He called me to Birmingham.
- Finding a place to stay in Birmingham Another gracious provision of God (the coincidence of it makes me believe it is God).
- Birthday SOZO Prayer ministry that I received that unlocked baggage I had been carrying for about 10 years
- Season of some sort of sadness / depression A tough time of life with dark thoughts and wrestling with God. It culminated in a sermon about Daniel I heard that truly spoke to me and a return of peace and joy to my life.
- Alpha course Leading the Alpha course was something that was amazing but definitely felt like something God set up for me to do; it was not something I could have made happen or initiate on my own.
There are two things about this process which I find helpful. This first is that it is a greater reminder of all the things God has done in our lives. Sometimes we forget the things God has done in the past and reviewing your spiritual timeline is an encouragement; because He has been active in our lives before, it gives us hope that He is still active in our lives now and will be in the future.
The second thing I find helpful, is that it reminds me of some of the reasons why I believe in God. This is useful when you are facing doubt about your faith and it’s also a great answer to the question ‘Why do you believe in God?’ or ‘Why are you a Christian?’. It equips you to share your own story about God and the good news he brings.
When you are sharing with someone, it is very unlikely that you will be able to share your whole timeline of everything God had done in your life. So it is useful to identify and focus on a few stories that you can share in those situations. For me there are three key stories I generally share: 1, the Christmas tree story; 2, the Holy Spirit Experience; and 3, the ‘getting my job’ story.
The Christmas Tree Story. When I was about four years old, my family was living in Taiwan and we had a Christmas tree set up in December. I was really excited by this and wanted to show one of my friends who lived on the same street. My friend came over and I went to plug in the lights. However, my hand was wet (and the plugs in Taiwan at that time didn’t have an earth pin) and next thing I know was that there was this strange sensation coursing through my body. My friend was saying ‘let go, let go’ but I couldn’t let go. My friend went to go get his dad, and I remember praying ‘God please help me let go’, then all of sudden I could let go. My friend’s dad came and checked me over (he was a doctor) and saw I was fine. I didn’t understand at that time what had happened, but looking back I can see that God was watching over me then.
The Holy Spirit Experience. I was 13 and it was a couple weeks before my baptism, and I was still a little unsure if this was the right decision at the time, or if I as ready. I was praying one night in my bed, praying my usual night time prayer before I slept, when all of a sudden this extreme feeling of joy came over me. I wanted to jump out of bed and start singing or speaking words of praise to God. I was so excited that I ran downstairs to tell my parents. Looking back now I understand that it was the Holy Spirit making His presence known to me and a confirmation that baptism was the right decision. This is always a moment in my life I look back on for comfort that God is with me and has a plan for my life.
The Getting My Job Story. After university one of my classmates let a few of us from the same course know about a job opportunity in Birmingham. So a few of us applied to go for the interview. My interview went okay and I was quite excited for the opportunity to finally have a proper job (I was working part-time in a family business which made chili sauce, hoisin sauce and frozen siu mai). But a few days later I saw that one of my other classmates who had gone for the same interview had posted on Facebook “Got the Job!”. My first reaction was ‘oh no, that means I didn’t get the job…’ and then ‘oh, I should probably congratulate my classmate’. For the next two weeks I was really down and thought I would never get a proper job. Then after two weeks, I prayed to God “I’m sorry God for the way that I’ve been behaving, that I’ve been self-pitying and sulky. If I didn’t get this job, it just means that you must have something better lined-up for me”. The same afternoon after I prayed that prayer, I had a call from the company in Birmingham saying that they wanted to offer me the job (because in the two weeks, they hadn’t actually contacted me to tell me I hadn’t got the job, I had just assumed that I hadn’t; it turns out my classmate had turned it down for another job in Leeds). So when I surrendered my plans to God, He provided the job to me (if only I had prayed that prayer sooner and saved two weeks of heartache).
So pick a few of your own stories that you can share with people when they ask you about your faith. Depending on the time you might only be able to share one of those stories. And depending on the situation it might be more appropriate to share another story (for example if someone is going through a rough time having to move to a new city, I might share my story about moving back to the UK instead). Having reviewed your timeline and what God has done in your life, you are better prepared to recall stories that are relevant to share in different circumstances.
I really hope that you will give this exercise a go and that you may be blessed again by remembering what God has already done in your life and encouraged to know he is still working in your life.