My faith and my relationship with Jesus has become one of - if not the most - important parts of my life and my journey as a professional golfer over the last few years. I find strength, guidance, peace, and hope in messages of the Scriptures. In this post, I want to take a few minutes to share my testimony and talk about some of the ways that surrendering my life to Jesus has fundamentally changed me.
To understand my journey, I have to take you back to the beginning. I was raised in the Catholic Church, and while my experience wasn’t bad in any way, I also never felt like I connected to God. My family went to church on Sunday, and Christmas Eve, and I even went to Saturday school to learn more about the Bible. I was baptized as a baby. I attended weddings and funerals in my church. In practice, I was a Catholic. But any true believer knows that no act can replace the feeling of being truly connected to Him.
When I was old enough to think for myself, I decided that I was a doubter. After all, how could some all-powerful man in the sky have sovereignty over my life and everything else in the universe? So for a long time, I drifted through life with a very undefined relationship with any higher power.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college, when I hit rock bottom. I felt lost, I wasn’t amounting to much as a golfer, my grades were suffering, I wasn’t much of a socialite - I was broken.
I will never forget the night that I acknowledged God for the first time as a free thinking adult. All of the stressors came to a point, and I crumbled under the weight of everything I was experiencing. It was sometime in late October, so the evenings in Lakeland, Florida were just starting to cool down. I decided to go for a walk to clear my head. As I wandered around Florida Southern’s campus in the dark, I thought about all of the things that were causing me stress. My mind jumped from one thing to another until I sat down and looked up at the sky. It was a clear night, and just dark enough that I could see a few stars. And I felt COMPELLED to pray.
I have to imagine that my prayer went something like this - “Hey, God. Been awhile. I know I haven’t talked to you much, or really at all, but I don’t know what to do. I could really use some help.” And then I probably laughed at myself for talking to some imaginary ghost in the sky and walked home.
In hindsight, I think I was a little more like Nicodemus, the disciple who first came to Jesus in the dark because he was afraid of acknowledging Him in the light. (The Scriptures juxtapose light and darkness as the embodiment of clarity and sight versus obscurity and confusion)
And here’s the crazy part - the very next day, things started getting better. Little by little, all of the things weighing me down felt a little less heavy, like Jesus was taking the weight onto His own shoulders in my place. Sound familiar, Christians? In just the same way He put the cross on His back and became the substitutionary atonement for the sin of man, He takes the burden off of our shoulders every day.
And the better things became, the more I prayed. And the more I prayed, the better things got.
Now keep in mind, this all happened before I was a believer. I was just some kid with his back to the wall who grew up Catholic. But the cycle continued. There are some details that I am going to keep to myself in this story, but the end result is a follower of Jesus Christ who wholly believes that His sacrifice counted for me and who calls Him Lord openly.
That’s all well and good, but that’s only the beginning of the story. I was a believer, but I had no idea what that actually meant. Later that year, I went and bought my very own Bible, and I started trying to figure it out. I’m going to skip a lot of the theatrics and get straight to some of the most profound takeaways my faith has given me over the last 5 years.
Jesus is always with me
I am one of those people that tends to feel very alone when things aren’t going well. I shut down, push people away, and close myself off from the world. When I didn’t have Jesus, that was a pretty heavy burden to bear. But with Jesus, I am never truly alone.
I am a sinner
I’m human, after all. Jesus was sent to die on the cross as an atonement for all sin, past and future. This has a couple of implications. When I sin, I can be at peace knowing that I am already forgiven. God is a loving Father who wants the best for His children,
Jesus is NOT a hall pass to sin. Human nature is to sin. Temptation is powerful, life is messy, and Jesus is the only one who ever lived a perfect life. But to knowingly and willingly sin with Jesus as a scapegoat in your mind is to deny Him. The goal is to live a moral life knowing that I am going to slip up along the way, and when I do, I am forgiven.
Nothing is impossible with faith
As a Christian, I’m taught by the story of Peter and John healing the lame man at the steps of the temple, and the story of Peter walking on water with Jesus (anyone who didn’t know that was part of the story?) that it is not enough to simply ask God to do things for us. It is by stepping out in faith, and being the vessel through which God can work, that miracles are performed. Prayer is the call to God to use us, but we must take the first step to allow him to do so. Once we do, anything is possible.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life
This one is a direct quote from Scripture.
Jesus is the way to heaven. The only way.
No matter what I believed before, Jesus is, and always has been, the truth.
I was born spiritually dead. Jesus gives life where none existed before.
Intentions are worthless in the Kingdom
Intention without action is a good way to never make progress. That applies to both our earthly lives and our eternity. Taking ownership and taking action is the first step to changing our circumstances.
Not too long ago, I was a begrudging, bitter person who had a hard time forgiving others or myself. As I strive in discipleship to be more like Jesus, I realize that forgiveness is a fundamental characteristic of who He is. I mean, Jesus was literally nailed to the cross with Roman soldiers casting lots for his garment (a fulfillment of a prophecy of Isaiah) when he said “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) He is in the process of being executed by the most painful and inhumane method ever invented, and he is asking for the forgiveness of those responsible for his position. If he can do that, I can forgive the guy in the group behind me for hitting into me.
I am still very early on my path as a Christian, and I have so much to learn. I am striving every day to be more like my Lord, Jesus Christ. The last 5 years have shown me so much and brought me so much closer to Him.
Having a relationship with God doesn’t mean life is easier. There are still the same challenges. In fact, in this day and this culture, walking with Jesus is as hard as it’s ever been. But if you truly believe, He shoulders the burden enough for you to keep pace.
My faith has been slowly growing for years now. In the last 8 months, my eyes have been opened to so much with the help of the Church of Eleven22 in Jacksonville Beach. I attended their Thursday night service right up until I moved to Naples, and I have been listening to every sermon through their app since. I encourage anyone, whether you are a believer, curious about Jesus, or a doubter, to listen to the message they have to share.
In my mind, this blog post is the most important thing I have every written. Remember, intentions are worthless. Saying you are a believer is a kind of intention. Sharing that belief and carrying the Scripture to the ends of the earth - just like Jesus told his Apostles they would - is that first step in faith that allows God to do his work. If anyone wants to have a conversation about Jesus with me, or if you want to share your own stories, or even ask me questions, please reach out. I cannot describe the weight that is lifted off of your heart when you get saved, and anyone who has experienced that knows what I am talking about.
This is my first attempt at sharing my faith and hopefully starting a conversation about Jesus. I hope I reach at least one person’s heart. I’m praying for every single one of you. God Bless.
Michael VanDerLaan is a professional golfer from Southbury, Connecticut. He is currently competing on mini tours throughout the United States and chasing his goal of being the world's number 1 ranked golfer. Michael currently resides in Jacksonville, Florida.