In the corporate world, you will occasionally hear the phrase “a come to Jesus moment.” It is a discussion held when an employee is atrocious and their boss wants to give them a final opportunity to shape up because firing them takes too much paper work. The hope is that the threat of termination is so great and believable the slacker will suddenly turn into employee of the month material. It is like Warden Norton greeting the new inmates at Shawshank: “Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me.”
Come to Jesus conversations happen because we know anyone is capable of turning their life around and getting their act together. Deep down we want to believe that such change can happen instantly. We desperately cling to the possibility of now or never moments where life is radically altered.
Call it the American Idol syndrome – seeing a star born out of obscurity and becoming an overnight celebrity. Consider the struggling actresses waiting tables in Hollywood cafes hoping a famous director (or any director) would sit at one of her tables. Comic books are filled with the chance encounter trope launching far too many superhero origin stories: Peter Parker’s spider bite, Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s exposure to cosmic rays, Matt Murdock’s blinding accident as he saved an old man, the explosion that merged Carol Danver’s DNA with Kree markers, or Bruce Banner radiated by a gamma bomb. Even science fiction plucked a computer programmer named Thomas Anderson out of the Matrix and transformed him into Neo.
Church folks seem to cherish this idea of instant redemption and 180 degree conversion. After all, our scriptures tell us, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
So we expect it. We see no greater example than the biblical story of how Saul became Paul. Along the Damascus Road, Saul had an encounter. He was blinded by the light, heard the voice of God, and in an instant his life was changed. He was given a new name and a new mission. The man who was a persecutor of Christians became a follower of Christ.
What if it doesn’t happen like that for us? What if we don’t fall asleep as Peter Parker and wake up the next morning as Spider-Man? What happens if we don’t feel like a new creation? What if we still make mistakes or struggle with this sin thing that the preacher told us Jesus died to forgive? Do we get disappointed? Disillusioned? Do we think that maybe we’re doing something wrong? It’s not supposed to be like this. I’m not even supposed to be here today.
While I believe such radical religious conversions are possible, I think they are relatively rare. Rather, the lives of those who begin to accept and explore the claims of Jesus have more in common with the crossfader on a DJ’s mixer.
When you look at a DJ’s console, there are two channels for music. Each input has individual volume controls – vertically placed sliders where the higher you push it, the louder the output. In between the two channels is a horizontal slider control called a crossfader. If positioned all of the way to the left, 100% of the musical output will come from channel 1. If the crossfader is slid all of the way to the right, 100% of the musical output will come from channel 2. But if the crossfader is placed halfway between the two, you will be sending an equal amount of sound from both channels to your speakers.
A talented DJ can quickly switch back and forth between the two channels to create cool cuts and effects. Most DJ’s – the ones performing at school dances and wedding receptions use this feature as a way to seamlessly transition from one song to the next.
At these kinds of parties, silence is your enemy. However, it would be awkward and almost painful to hear if the DJ started playing a new song at full volume while the previous song was still playing just as loud. The tempos don’t match. Songs could be in different keys. It would be a discordant mess as disastrous as not playing any music. The crossfader allows the first song to fade out as the next fades in. It makes the change feel natural. When done correctly, the audience can’t really tell when one song ends and another begins.
You could say the disciples had an instant conversion. They left everything without question to follow Jesus. But you might recall they still had their struggles and doubts and it took them a while before they realized Jesus might actually be the messiah.
You could remind me that apostle Paul is the poster child of instant conversions. If someone as notorious for being against Christianity could convert to the faith so quickly and easily, then why can’t that happen to everyone else?
Maybe Paul's conversion was not so sudden.
I have no doubts that Paul was ready and willing to believe in Jesus after his encounter along the road to Damascus. But I do not think that God instantly changed everything about Paul. I think that Paul still had questions and objections. I believe that Paul still faced temptations and struggled with sin – even while travelling to preach about how Jesus changes lives. Sure, Paul became the author of a majority of the New Testament but he was still a troubled and flawed individual.
After all, this is the man who was brutally honest about how much he still failed to live up to God’s standards. “I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate. … I want to do the things that are good, but I do not do them. I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do.”
Paul also understood that he was a work in progress. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul said “I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. … I know that I have not yet reached that goal, but there is one thing I always do. Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me.” In effect, Paul was admitting he doesn’t have it all together. It’s like he was saying “I’m a mess, but God is still working on me.”
It might be unfair of us to expect those miraculous moments that change everything. Perhaps the old you is the track playing on channel one and the new you is the song on channel 2. And God’s hand is on the crossfader slowly sliding the control from left to right. There might be bits of your old life coming through the speakers, but slowly it is fading away. Before long, it will be gone in a seamless transition into a new life.