“When I Can’t, He Can”

The Personal Testimony of Lydia Harding

I was born and raised in Pontotoc, MS, where I attended Grace Baptist Church and was taught the truth.  From a child, I was taught that salvation was not something that you could do but something God did “to” you.  I had a happy childhood, loving parents and church family.  I always knew my church loved me.  From a child I always saw their love for each other and was shown that this was what God’s church was supposed to be.  There was never backbiting among the people.

 Even though I was brought up in the truth I was always more interested in everything else and never paid much attention.  When it came time for me to start listening in church, my mind would wander, daydreaming, never able to stay on task and pay attention.  Soon after, I was old enough to be in the youth group, and listening became mandatory.  I was excited to now be old enough to take part in all the fun things the youth got to do.  I got to go on the trips and have fun with the older kids.  A year after I came into the youth, my parents left as directors of it, and Caleb Owen took their place.  One of the first things we started to go over in Sunday school was the Confessions of Faith.  This was a book that explained fundamentals such as salvation and faith.  I listened and studied, but really only for a test.  After going over much of this book, Caleb told us he was going to start something different.  We were going to start being tested on what Bro. Terry preached the previous week.  Being one who struggled staying focused in church this really started making me listen harder.  I began taking notes and trying to listen.  However, I never really listened for the right reason.  I always listened to take a test and not for my own benefit.  Being one to think I was too young for anything that was said to apply to me, I never tried to listen for it to help me.  I only listened so I could do well on the next test.  I actually feared the day when I would have to face the things that were preached and go through the experiences required to make it to God for salvation. 

I believed myself a “good” girl even though in my head I knew I was “sinner.”  My parents taught me to do right, and I struggled seeing myself needing the things that were preached.  I always got scared at camp meeting not wanting to be put under conviction or that I might have to go to the front.  As I got into high school I soon grew distracted by the world.  I never thought this to myself, but the signs prove that I was.  I was more interested in band and making good grades than going to church.  Countless sermons passed me by, as my high school years went by.  I would say to myself, “Bro. Terry isn’t preaching to me.”  I was too young for this.  I still saw myself as a little girl compared to everyone else, not realizing how old I was getting.  I realized my heart was growing cold and I was never stirred by anything in church.  One spring Caleb set up a Young People’s meeting with Lighthouse, a sister church.  I went up there more excited about seeing my friends and hanging out than really anticipating the meeting.  I was also nervous, knowing that since the youth were the only ones that would be there, the preaching would be directly pointed at us.  There would be no way to say it was not for me.  The first night Caleb and Bro. Scott started preaching on being thankful.  They said that you could be thankful before you ever got saved.  That we owed God thanks.  You could hear a pin drop in the church.  No one did anything.  I was too afraid of being heard and doing something just because I was supposed to and not because I meant it.  Bro. Scott got up at one point and went to go get something.  He came back with a glass and a pitcher of Kool-Aid.  He started pouring the Kool-Aid and did not stop when it was full.  He let it overflow.  He told us this was God’s grace and goodness in our lives.  It was overflowing, and we would not even say thank you.  Jeremiah was the first person to break.  He began thanking God.  Caleb started telling us of all the things we should be thankful for and I started crying and I was able to be thankful.  I knew this was God helping me, because my heart had been so cold and nothing like this had ever happened to me before.  After the service I was still shaken and Caleb came and hugged me.  He asked me if I was okay, and I said, “Yeah.”  He asked me if I had just wanted God to touch me and I knew that I had wanted that for a while.  I had been afraid of my cold heart and God showed me he could melt it.  I was afraid to leave and did not want to because I knew I would feel the light that was given us leave me.  However, we had to.  The next morning Josh Moffitt preached on not forgetting what was preached to us.  It was not like the night before, but he told us to hold fast to the light and words given us and not to let them go..  Going home and to church I was excited, wanting things to be different.  However, I soon got distracted again and fell away from really listening like I should.

 My senior year of high school my best friend, Hannah Hill, started really seeking to get saved.  Stupidly, I let all the sermons that eventually led to her getting saved fall to the ground.  I thought that they were only for her and never applied them to myself.  When she got saved, although I was happy for her, it really shook me up.  I was also sad and scared.  It was hard for me to be fully happy for her the way I should have been.  I could see myself getting left behind.  Months passed by, and I got distracted again.  I was wrapped up in senior year and all of its excitement.  Graduation came and went.  Now I had to decide what to do, whether to work, or to go to school.  I had been planning on going to Itawamba Community College.  The Sunday after I graduated Bro. Terry came into church and said that that morning was going to be different.  God had given him one specific person to preach to.  He said God told him to preach to Lydia.  I was immediately awake to what he was saying.  He began to tell me how I needed to wake up.  He explained how one wrong decision can mess up your life and that I needed to consider what I was going to do next.  Sometimes God would not tell you what to do but let you choose yourself.  This was not something to take lightly.  He showed me how important church was over everything else.  What would school matter if I never got saved or I wandered for four years, putting off what needed to be taken care of right then?  After the sermon I went to talk to Bro. Terry.  In the past I had been afraid to talk to him, but because of this sermon being preached directly at me, I had to talk to him.  There was no way I could evade this one.  I told him how I never realized how one decision could be such a big deal.  I was worried.  I asked if I needed to go to school or not.  He told me he could not tell me what to do.  This had to be a decision I made.  He said that God had not told him for sure that I should not go or that I should.  It was up to me.  This literally scared me to death.  He told me though, that most of the time school distracted people from God.  However, he did not know if it would for me.  He just knew from people’s past experiences. Bro. Terry said, now could this be the wake up call that you needed and that maybe you can stay focused on church while in school.  Maybe.  He told me, school is not a sin unless it distracts you from God.  If you can go to school and not get distracted, then that is fine.  “Maybe since you have been told ahead of time you will be able to stay focused.  I don’t know.” With this in mind I had a lot to think about.  Could I stay focused on God and go to school? I went ahead and went to registration and signed up for classes.  Bro. Terry and I talked and I decided I would go over there and try it.  He said sometimes you cannot tell until you get over there. 

With this settled, the summer went on.  One Sunday morning, probably after June Camp meeting, Bro. Terry was preaching on faith and how it is similar to sitting in a chair.  During the sermon he began to talk about how when he was lost he kept pushing God away and when he finally got saved he was told, “Don’t say goodbye to God.”  He began to give an invitation for us to come.  I drew up inside and did nothing.  After I did this, I realized that during all the other sermons similar to this where I was called, I would draw up and not come.  I was torn up inside, wondering if I could have gotten saved that morning if I had done what was told to me.  I went to Bro. Terry telling him this.  He told me that yes I could have gotten saved and that God was still there.  I was already crying but when he told me this I got scared and drew up inside again.  I missed it.  Twice in one day.  I was dying inside over this.  Bro. Terry told me it was okay, that now I knew that the feeling inside me was the Holy Spirit working.  That now I knew what to look for next time.  He said I was not far off.  I went home disturbed that I had missed God twice in one day.  The summer and autumn passed and I was still not saved.  November Camp Meeting came around and I knew I needed to be listening.  That camp Bro. Mike preached on the cross and what Christ did for us.  That story had never been so real to me.  It was like I could see it happening.  And I was one of the ones who put Christ through that.  I wanted to break but was afraid to.  I was always afraid I would be heard.  Mrs. Audrey broke and then it made it easier for me to let out what was inside me.  However, all I was doing was crying over everything being preached.  Christ did all this for me and I was the one that put him there.  Bro. Terry got up after Bro. Mike finished and told me, “Lyd, why don’t you just tell him you love him.”  So I did.  I said the words, but they were so full of unbelief that nothing would happen.  Bro. Terry later told me this was why nothing happened.  I was also looking for salvation because I was actually saying this.  The last sermon of camp Bro. Claude preached on being thankful.  He said in the scripture it says to enter his courts with thanksgiving.  He told us we had so much to be thankful for and that we owed it to God.  I struggled, not able to get the words out.  Afraid of what might happen.  When I finally began to whisper the words I knew nothing happened.  I began to despair for the rest of the sermon crying loudly.  After the service, Bro. Terry asked me what was going on.  He thought maybe I had been being thankful when he heard me crying as I did.  At first I was confused wondering if I had, but deep down I knew I had not.  I was sorrowing that nothing had happened.  I, unfortunately, left camp unsaved, again.  Bro. Claude reminded me that thanksgiving was the keys to the kingdom before I left. Although I was distraught, I tried to remember this. 

Time passed and more sermons and opportunities passed me by.  After one sermon in particular I could not quit crying, upset I had not gotten saved.  Bro. Terry told me that all that crying was not godly sorrow.  He said it was worldly sorrow and that I was not sorry for what I was doing to God.  I was feeling sorry for myself, and I did not want to stop and turn from my ways.  What I was doing was not getting me anywhere and I needed to stop.  Bro. Terry kept preaching to the lost throughout the next year and I kept letting salvation pass me by.  After a sermon on being thankful and what all we should be thankful for, I could never get the words out.  Although I was grateful, I could not really give thanks.  God was all over the sermon as Bro. Terry demonstrated to us how God kept piling on his goodness to us whether we responded or not.  He got a tissue box and began to pull out the tissues and pile them on my dad’s lap.  He just kept going and would not stop.  Whenever I did quietly say the words “thank –you,” they were so full of unbelief nothing ever happened.  I missed this opportunity and then again when our church went to a meeting with Faith Baptist Church where it was preached again.  I had a head start in knowing where Bro. Terry was going with his sermon, and I still would not obey the words spoken.  I was too afraid of what might happen or not happen.  I was afraid of people hearing me and then what if nothing happened?  I left another meeting unsaved. 

June Camp meeting came soon with more opportunity.  However, I was so distracted with having fun with friends and life in general that I was not responding to the preaching.  Bro. Terry told me that I had drifted away and I did not even know it.  I was not even aware of how far off I had gotten.  This scared me and tore me up inside.  I did not even realize it.  He told me how I was so close to salvation a while back, and then all of the sudden I just fell away from the goal.  I would be focused on church while I was there but would quit all thinking about the subject when church was over.  He also told me he did not know how long it would take me to get back to where I was.  This devastated me.  I struggled the rest of camp keeping my mind focused like I was supposed to.  At the very end of services God moved on the people to love one another and everyone was up hugging other people.  I was not doing good and Mrs. Sandra came over to hug me and said, “Lyd, He is gonna save you.  Don’t you doubt for one minute that He won’t.”  This greatly encouraged me that there was hope.  I often wondered if there would ever be an end to the search, if I would ever make it.   After camp was over, I could feel strain and conviction stay on me because I had missed God at camp.  However, I did not like this feeling, and pushed it away instead of letting it lead me to the place I needed to be. 

Months passed and Bro. Terry started preaching on the fear of God.  He said we had no urgency in us.  That we always thought there would be a next time.  He preached on how Jesus could come back at any time.  That no one knew when he would come.  Bro. Terry stressed to us that we were not safe.  He also said that we should not count on promises that he made to people that implied there would be so much time before he came back.  I always thought about the promise of a thousand men and the one about how much time Bro. Terry had left to do God’s will.  I always used these as a safety blanket that I had time.  They had not happened yet and that meant I had time.  Bro. Terry informed us however that God could cut short the time and those promises if he decided that it was time for Jesus to come back.  Bro. Terry also told us about how we did not believe in judgment and how it was real and would happen one day.  Lastly, he explained how that the fact that nobody knew when judgment would come caused people to seek out salvation.  This is what saved people.  They would seek the Lord while he could be found.  In the days that followed these sermons I would pray before I went to bed for God to give me another chance, another sermon.  To please let me wake up in the morning.  For a time, the fear of God stayed with me and was real in my life.  A storm would make me wonder if God was coming back.  A strange sound in my car would make me wonder if I would make it to work or if my car might blow up.  These sermons, caused me to pay more attention and value the sermons preached more.  Too soon, however, after I had not immediately gotten swept away in a whirlwind, I was back to the way I was.  Taking for granted sermons, and letting more opportunities pass me by.  At one point Bro. Terry said he was going in a different direction for a while and was not really preaching to the lost.  At first I prayed that God would talk to us, not wanting him to stop.  But I only did this once and after Bro. Terry did not preach to the lost I just sat back in my seat.  I did not really care that he was not talking to the lost.  I was just there, able to live without God.  A few sermons later, Bro. Terry said that he had something for the lost again.  He said that he did not realize it but when he did not have anything for us a while back, it was obviously a test.  This was done to see if we would seek after God even when he was not speaking to us.  I obviously was not and had found myself to actually be relieved in some ways when I was not being preached to.   Part of me thought, “But I did pray that one time.  And then I saw and was reminded of how you need to keep knocking when you do not immediately get an answer.  I had obviously failed at this.  Bro. Terry then began to preach to the lost again and said that God still wanted to talk to us.  He told us how we were not able to keep the fear of God in front of our faces.  I knew this was me.  I would be immensely diligent for a while but soon slip back into not caring like I should.  This sermon again brought the fear of God back to the front of my mind for a time.  Even with this, however, I still found myself struggling staying focused like I should. 

Soon it was time for November Camp Meeting to come around.  I was determined this time to stay focused and not be distracted like the last Camp Meeting.  As the meeting progressed my Uncle Greg was called up to preach.  He opened up the Bible and began reading the verse “His banner over us is love.”  He then began explaining what this banner stood for and what it did for us.  He told us that in war a banner showed what side you were on and who you belonged to.  I saw that I wanted under this banner.  I needed someone to keep me from straying off.  I had earlier fought this in a sermon where Bro. Terry had explained we were prisoners of war.  And we were in the wrong camp, we needed to come over to God’s camp.  We would still be bound but that they were good chains.  I struggled with this sermon and accepting it.  How could being under someone and bound like that be good.  When Uncle Greg was preaching, however, I began to see the good in it.  I needed to be under this banner to keep me from straying.  He also said that this banner is one of protection.  When in battle if the banner was raised, it proclaimed your side and if you were under it, God would protect you.  He told us how he was married to Aunt Janet and how he was committed to her and would always protect her when she needed him.  How this is what God wanted to do for us.  I wanted this so bad.  I wanted to be protected and kept safe.  I cried not knowing what to do and I was unable to make myself move toward God.  Uncle Greg finished and Bro. Terry got up.  He began telling us that if we were here then we were already a part of this.  God had picked us out to hear his message to us and we were already under the banner whether we realized it or not.  This was God loving us.  After the service was over, I went to talk to Bro. Terry and told him what was going on in me.  How I wanted to be under the banner and I wanted the chains to bind me to God now.  He explained that I was under God’s banner but I was not able to enjoy any of this yet.  It was like I was looking at the feast, but not sitting down at the table.  I had not sat down yet and taken my place.  Even though I was not saved here, I was helped and greatly encouraged by the understanding given to me on this principle.  How it was a good thing to be under God’s banner. 

In one of the last one another services, Bro. Jeremy Robinson got up and gave a dog cage to the camp that was filled with dog collars.  He explained that these were for the lost that needed God to keep them and wanted to be under God.  He had a song played and said that these were for the lost to come get themselves.  At first I was hesitant, and struggled with the ownership significance of it as I previously had.  I knew I needed this though and reminded myself that it was a good thing.  I tried to push these bad thoughts away to see the necessity of it and coming under God.  I got up to get one of the collars after another person had.  Also, at the beginning of camp and the first one another service, Bro. Dewitt gave a plaque that said “God is my salvation.  I will trust and not be afraid.”  As soon as I saw it I wanted it.  I knew I had extreme amounts of trouble trusting God and being a fearful person.   It sat there for a while and on one of the days, Ms. Gail got up and picked it up.  She said that God had laid someone on her heart to pray for and that this was for them.  She then said that it was me and wanted me to have it.  When she gave it to me, I knew that not only was she thinking of me, but that God was thinking of me.  I never told anyone that I wanted it but she gave it to me.  This, along with Memaw giving me a coaster with similar words on it encouraged me greatly.

Also, during a one another service, Sarah Robinson got up to say something.  She spoke to the lost about how she sometimes felt alone being so young and saved because so many others her age were still lost.  She stressed the importance of our situations.  “This is not a joke, this is real life.” She told us weeping for us.  I was torn up inside.  I was hurting others by staying in my lost state.  I went and hugged and cried on her after services apologizing for what I had been doing.

The last night of camp Bro. Charlie Garza began preaching on all the different places you could be lost and how God would deliver you from them.  The waste places, storming sea, and many others.  I struggled, wondering if I was in any of those situations, trying to get there and not able to believe enough to cry out for help or deliverance.  After he had gone through all of these and nobody had moved, he got to the end of the text.  It dealt with being grateful to God.  He encouraged us to be thankful where we were.  God moved on me and showed me how good he had been to me.  I saw all of the thousands of people I went to school with.  I saw that I was one person in that whole school that was chosen to here this.  I began to be thankful for this and everything God had done for me my whole life.  Bro Terry got up and continued in what Bro. Charlie had been preaching, saying the lost should be thankful too.  Maybe we could not praise in the same way a saved person could, but there was still plenty to be thankful for.  This helped me not feel pressured to look for salvation in response to being thankful.  I always struggled giving true thanks because I always looked for a “return” on my praise.  Once things had died down, Bro. Terry encouraged the lost to not leave discouraged but thankful for all that had been done for us.  I left following what he had told us.  I allowed myself to be encouraged by the things that happened during camp even though I had not gotten saved. 

              I came in Sunday morning not really expecting anything. I was not discouraged, but I just did not think anything would happen to me that morning. We had Sunday school and then church started like normal. When Bro. Terry started preaching he told us that God still had salvation on his mind. I did not know if that meant he was just still preaching to the lost or if God actually had it on his mind that morning.  He began preaching on the old covenant that Israel entered into with God through the law. When God asked certain things of them, they agreed to do them.  Bro. Terry then pointed out however, that Israel was never able to perform that which was given them to do.  Why then would God give that to them to do? He told us God would give them something like that to prove that they could never keep their promises to Him. He then compared us to Israel and said we would never be able to do what we said we would do. I started realizing the reality of my inability. So many times called and failed to come.  Told to be thankful but could not get the praise out. Working and trying but always failing, fear and unbelief were always stopping me. He took us to the passage in the Old Testament where God told the people to make themselves new hearts. I began to freak out wondering how I was going to make myself a new heart knowing full well I could not. Quickly, however, he flipped to the New Testament and began preaching the new covenant to us.  It was God's promise to us and only his.  He told us that in the new covenant God made it to where it would only rely on him, because we would never be able to keep our promises. This gave me so much hope. Bro Terry showed us God also would do this for his namesake. For years and years Israel's inability made people look at God in the wrong way. Therefore, God had to destroy the old covenant and make a new one for his namesake. This gave me hope that God would save me not just for myself but for his name among our churches and people.  Bro. Terry then began telling the lost there was nothing we could do, but God could do it.  He told us all we could give God were our words. We never would perform or do what we said. I saw all the times I talked to Bro Terry after sermons figuring out what had gone wrong. And when we would get done talking he would always ask me "now what are you going to do next time." I would always respond with whatever it was I had been found lacking in at the time. I would always think, "Okay, that's all I have to do next time." Simple right, I've got this. But when the time always came I could never do what was asked.  I now saw all those words I could never perform. Bro. Terry began telling us we could not believe, be thankful, or make ourselves better. And then he asked us if we wanted to. If we wanted to believe, be thankful, and be better.  I wanted to so bad. He asked if we wanted God’s help to do those things. I cried and cried not able to make anything happen.  Bro. Terry soon closed the service and asked everyone to stand for closing prayer.  As we did God told me, "You just don't trust me."  I broke knowing this was hurting God who I knew just wanted to love me and save me. Arms open wide and I kept walking away. I also found myself in despair wondering how would I ever get saved if I would not trust God to save me.

               Bro. Terry dismissed and I waited to talk to him. When it was my turn, he asked me what was going on. I told him what God had showed me and how was I ever going to be saved when I did not trust God to save me. He said, "You know God is still here." I immediately began crying trying to figure out what to do. Bro. Terry told me that God loved me. I believed God loved me. He had been showing me that a lot lately. And Bro. Terry reminded me that God wanted to protect me, from Bro. Greg's sermon at camp. I wanted that so bad. I saw Bro Greg raising that banner and wanted under it. Bro. Terry began to tell me I needed to be of good cheer and be glad-to just rest.  I started to try and do these things and make myself rest.  I quickly realized from past attempts of me trying to make myself rest that I would not be able to do it. I was afraid God was about to leave and finally quit thinking or doing anything. I just gave up. All of the sudden it was really quiet. I was not crying anymore and was just sitting there.  I stayed like that for a little while trying to figure out where God had gone. I was afraid at first that I might have missed Him again because I could not find him but something was different. Bro. Terry asked me, "Lyd, what is going on?" I could not respond for what seemed like forever. Every time I would try to say something it would not come out. I was confused by what had just happened. First I wondered if I did not strive enough and tried to get back to where I was. In the past when I missed God I normally could get back there in my mind, conviction still on my heart. But I could not. I was not crying anymore and was not able to get the conviction back on me. My mind briefly wondered if something had just happened.  I could not say anything, thinking and thinking, trying to sort out what had just happened.  Bro. Terry told me it was okay that nobody but us was around. Feeling better about saying anything, I began to tell him what had just happened. How everything just stopped and how I was a little confused. He asked, "Because everything is quiet?" I told him I just knew I could not do anything anymore. I could not make myself rest. He asked, "and what did God say he would do when you couldn't?" I knew the answer to that. "Could it be?" I began to wonder. He told me there had to be somewhere I believed something God told me.  It was not just completely me quitting. I began to worry wondering where it was. One thing I believed without a doubt was that God loved me. It seemed so small on my part. But I knew God did love me and has all of my life. I said that to Bro. Terry and he reminded me how God speaks in a still small voice and how God had been telling me that’s how He speaks lately. I always thought I would physically hear God's voice speaking to me. Even though it was Bro. Terry who was saying it to me, I know that he speaks in Christ's stead. Therefore, I know it was God saying it to me. I talked for a long time to Bro. Terry. How this was so different than anything I had imagined. You can not figure it out. No matter how hard you try. I always thought I would get saved being thankful, shouting "the glory down." I thought I would be able to pinpoint the moment and see it happen. I could never do it because I was always looking for salvation after I was thankful. Bro. Terry told me that when salvation happens you get righteousness which brings peace. Then thankfulness comes after that. Because I wanted righteousness as a reward for me being thankful, I was never able to do it. That would let me have something to boast in. God knows exactly what to put someone through to get them to their wits end. I never thought I was someone who would be one to "work" for salvation. But obviously I was. That sermon was exactly for me. Throughout the year and all my past attempts to get saved, God had been revealing my inability. My inability to stay focused, to obey his commands, to keep the fear of God in front of my face. I was just a failure. But that day God told me it was okay. That nothing relied on me. Everything would rely on him and his promise to us. And he can never fail. Bro. Terry described it as a car. As soon as I quit trying to drive it, immediately that let God take over. I looked at it for a couple weeks, going back and forth, seeing myself still, and it shaking my confidence. But I could not seem to throw it away. It still blows my mind that the search is finally over, that there is no condemnation. I have found the one that will love me no matter what, despite my faults. I just know I could not do it, but God loved me anyway. And if that was all it took, despite me wanting and expecting something different, I am satisfied. "All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of him."