“…salvation is far from sinners, and a sinner I was at that time. Yet little by little, without knowing it, I was drawing near.”
I resonate strongly with this quote, taken from the fifth chapter of St. Augustine’s Confessions. In fact, I resonate strongly with Augustine all-around: his love and war with the lures of lust, his blind pride, and his godly, praying mother.
This particular quote of his is penned at a turning point in the saint’s story: a point when God answered his mother’s prayers in an unlikely way, (as He often does.) As Augustine’s mother petitioned for her son’s salvation, the multi-faceted answer first came by way of a request from Milan, asking for a master of rhetoric. Augustine, a 29-years-young, educated Roman man driven by his hunger for praise, truth, and compelling conversation, leapt at the opportunity.
Once in Milan, Augustine met Bishop Ambrose, a highly-esteemed orator and man of God. Bishop Ambrose treated Augustine with the kindness of a father, welcoming him from his pilgrimage into his home. Augustine quickly assimilated into his new environment – a warm home laden with well-attended philosophical conversations, led by the Bishop himself.
The Bishop spoke with magnetic force. Whenever he spoke, Augustine “…hung keenly upon his words, but cared little for their content,” rather, he “…stood there delighting in the sweetness of his discourse.” In other words: the arrogant young man loved the preacher, but didn’t love his message. He loved being around this kind old man, but he didn’t quite know why. After all, this Bishop spoke the things of God, and Augustine wanted nothing to do with the Word of God – or so he thought. Years later, God revealed to him this profound truth: Augustine thought he was delighting in the man and the man’s speaking abilities; when in reality, Augustine was actually delighting in God.
“Unknowingly I was led by you to him, so that through him I might be led, unknowingly, to you.”
Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been motivated by pride; only to find God on the other side – eventually seeing that it was God leading you all along? Personally, I think back to the moment I chose to stay celibate and take God more seriously…not because I wanted more of Him, but because I wanted a husband. The desire for marriage (read – guilt-free sex) drove me back to church. I sincerely thought that if I surrounded myself with Christian men, I would “find a husband”. Oh, how confused I was.
Thankfully, God knew my motives. God knew that only His love could fill the caverns of my soul. Through grace, He allowed my sinful desires to lead me to a place where I could receive more grace: church. A place that surrounded me with believers and subjected me to the preached word, all while swaying my heart into intoxicating waves of worship.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” The wisest woman on earth will never accurately explain how God’s will and ours work in tandem to accomplish His divine purposes. But she will trust and believe that at the end of it all, it was Him leading her the whole way through…
…especially if she has a praying mother.