“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.””
Jeremiah 29:11-14 NIV http://bible.us/111/jer.29.11-14.niv
Two weeks I had been in Teen Challenge now. Two weeks that seemed to promise so much, and yet I was feeling so down. From the initial elation of THAT Sunday evening to this Thursday morning. It was the 5th June 1997. I should be filled with hope at the thought that I had not taken ANY drugs for two weeks. The first time since I was 14 years old that that happened.
The problem was, though, that as the fight for the next fix subsided, it was replaced by the awareness of what my life had been through the years of addiction and trying to complete the tenner.
It wasn’t that I had never been aware of the hurt that I had caused, I just could not allow it to get in the way of getting the next fix. The pain was real, but the craving for a fix was more real
Now I had no cause to distract and no stone to hide behind. I was, to all intents and purposes, as naked as Adam was in the Garden of Eden, my fig leaf had been removed, nothing to hide behind, no Eve to blame and standing before God aware of the effect of the forbidden fruit. My choices had got me here.
I was ashamed. I was drained. I was still aware that I was seeing life differently, and that God was there. I just had no concept of how I stood in those moments. It was a frightening place, and yet at the same time there was a comfort and a reassurance that I could not really make sense of or understand.
Anyway, morning tea break on that particular day I made my way to the chapel. This is a room set apart for the praise and prayer times for the staff and students, as well as a place of solitude and reflection. We would start and finish each day with a chapel time a and the chapels in Teen Challenge were very uplifting, my counselor, Pastor Kerri Jenkins was fantastic.
So in I went. I found myself sitting on the front row, with a tatty blue cardboard covered NIV Bible that had probably passed through the hands of several students before me.
I thumbed aimlessly through pages and words that seemed to have no relevance to me, the way they did to students that had been around longer than me. Nothing jumped off the pages. Nothing made sense. There were many verses that had been scored over with highlighter pens, obviously significant to other enquiring hearts at other times.
My heart cry that morning was simply an “I don’t get this!”
I stumbled upon the brightly colored verses above. Someone had stopped there before, and so I stopped to see if I could see what they saw.
Often quoted verses, I was soon to discover, but I had never heard them before. No one had read them to me as a promise from God.
“For I know the plans I have for you,…to give you a future and a hope” yeah yeah, there seemed to be a lot of talk in TC about that. However in my haze of the present, the future was too untouchable. Too intangible. It could not be seen. How on earth could I get through the mess I had made of my life, and of those I had trashed with my addiction?
So on I read, “In those days when you pray, I will listen…” yep, I had done that was doing that, I sort of get that.
“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find Me…” I really was putting as much energy into seeking God as I had into my addiction. Every spare moment was spent pushing aside the gravestones of the past to try and find Him.
There it happened! I discovered the power of Scripture to make eternity relevant to the present. In the next few moments it was as if God Himself jumped off the pages of a printed book and spoke personally to me. He got my ears. He got my mind. He got my heart.
You know when you hear somebody talking about you, but it is good stuff, in the sense that you know it is right, and it leaves you with a sense of direction. That os how I felt when I heard the following verses.
“I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.””
That one word. “captivity…” I got it. That was how I had been feeling. Existing in the present but trapped in the past. I had not been able to describe it, but that word jumped out at me in a way that made me want to look at the other words it hung out with. I knew I was captive, but I did not know who held the key to the door.
“I WILL be found by you…” wow. It is hard to get across how the weight that had been pressing me down seemed to be lifting at the very sound of these words. It is almost impossible to reflect in words the feeling of rising like helium in me. God was promising that if I kept looking, I would find Him. In a mad sort of way I knew what it meant, without any effort on my part. In years gone by I had walked the proverbial 500 miles in the search for a fix. I had knocked on doors, and confronted fears to satisfy that itch. It was like that, but it wasn’t. It was as if I knew that the search for a fix was the complete counterfeit and polar opposite to what I was hearing here.
I could not wait to hear the next part of this conversation. “and will bring you back from captivity.”
There it was. Keep going Stuart. You are going the right way. Keep going. The illusion of captivity will pass into the reality fo freedom. The shackles of the past, the torment of the present will find their purpose in the promise of His future.
Only minutes had passed since I walked into the chapel. Only minutes sinceI had opened a book, without much hope, but a glimmer was apparently enough. Only minutes since a conversation with myself became an audience with the King.
Eternity could have passed. It might have been years. Time had stood still for just a few seconds, and yet it was long enough to raise this dead man to life.
I had spoken before about how my perspective and outlook changed as I sat with Pastor Robert Hughes and asked Christ to change me. I had mentioned the immediate elation of those moments. I had honestly spent the next week and a half looking for God. Now I was so aware that He had always been there. He had always been at my side. He was just waiting for the moment to speak in a way, and at a time where I would “get it”.
This was that moment. As far as defining points in my life go, this was right up there. It was not so much that I heard an audible voice, but the feeling in my gut as I read those words made it seem audible. The words came alive in a way I had never known my hearing to work before. I could almost believe it was like hearing a whisper in my ear, speaking to me direct.
I knew, in that instant, that no matter what I was to keep going forward, trusting in a God I did not really know and placing myself on a path I did not understand. I knew I had to keep looking, in His Word, around His people open and attentive to know God more.
One day short of it being three weeks since I had felt the gun in my back this was massive. This was different. This was bigger than anything I could ever have asked or imagined, and since all I had asked or imagined was a fiver to complete the tenner…
All of a sudden certain pieces of the Bible I had already hear, like the ones on the “Don’t Quit” poem card my nana gave me made sense. The book of Proverbs encourages me to trust God with all my heart and not try and figure things out. Again the promise that this would restore me.
John 3:16 told me that God loved me so much He gave Jesus for me. This was like a low blow torch to my low self worth. If God thought that much of me, then surely I was worth the work and effort it was going to take to see my life rebuilt, but on God’s terms.
It was as if Christ Himself was with me in the chapel that day. It was like He was telling me that the addiction that I had been locked into and held captive by, He was taking that captive so I could move out in freedom.
Jesus Christ was taking my captivity captive.I stood up and walked out of the chapel and into the rest of my life – more confident – more hopeful – more expectant more free than I had ever been in my life. That was nearly 21 years ago. There have been moments, but thank God I am still free.
If this is your first time here – thank you. This blog is part of a series recounting how I came to faith in Christ. If you would like to know more may I suggest you start at The ghost of Christmas’ past and follow through. They are numbered according to order written, not time lived.
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