Written by Ingrid Heizelmaier
When I was 16, doing a good deed every day was just part of being a good girl-scout. Along with it also came the bad conscience… if, once again, I did not manage to do such a good deed that day. The good deed, however, never seemed to make up for what was going wrong in my life. And I asked myself: How on earth will I ever get an ‘okay’ from God? Later on, while driving on the highway, fear strangled me. What if this car would now smash into the concrete wall? I wasn’t prepared to meet the One who had created me. All in all, my belief as a teenager was a mix of thinking about things and just trying to do my best.
The fear of failing God
It must have been a similar scenario for a student of Law, when he got caught in a thunderstorm in July 1502. When a bolt of lightning strikes close to him, the fear for his life makes the young Martin Luther join a monastery. There his days and nights are filled with prayer and studies. But, a crucial space in his heart still remains empty. It is only a few years later that Professor Martin Luther meets the living God. This so-called “tower experience” in 1515 is the stone, which will set the reformation in motion. Luther is sitting in his study in the tower of the Wittenberg monastery. He is fascinated by the discovery he makes while reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, which strikes the God-seeker like a bolt of lightning: “The righteous will live by faith.” For Martin this sentence breaks the prison- walls of his own efforts and performances. Faith, which sets you free, is a result of a relationship with God. Shortly before his death, Luther looks back at the change which happened in him: “This was the moment, when I felt that I was totally re-born, and that I had entered the open gates of paradise itself.”
Only by faith
A few months had passed since the drive I mentioned, when I was gripped by the fear that I would “fail” before God because of not having done enough good deeds. At the youth-group of my church a few young women from several countries of Europe speak in quite a carefree way about it, and say: “We have come to this city so that young people would newly discover their faith.” And they say that they are “living by faith”. A friend asks me after the evening: “How can you ‘live by faith’?” I would also like to know! With this friend I go to the Gratis-Café a few days later, to which our visitors have invited us. We talk for hours. My personal “tower experience” happens on the phone. Sighing, I tell one of these young women: “Today I again made so many mistakes. I still need to work hard on myself until I can get to heaven.” And it is at that moment - as she replies the following - that the penny finally drops for me: “No - that is not true. You only need to believe what Jesus did for you. Then you will have the ‘okay’ from God.”
If you believe, you will entrust your heart to God
After this telephone conversation I scribble many pages into my journal. I thank God that I now know why Jesus came into this world. The fear and trembling I had in order for my life to be a success, leave me. God takes the load of my failures, which weighed so heavily on me, from my shoulders. I sense a hitherto unknown inner connection with my Creator. It fills me with joy. I only come out of my room after several hours. It seems as though the sun is shining outside. Even though the weather is grey and gloomy, something bright and new has begun within me. “I believe in God” – since this turning point in my life I can say the creed with conviction. The Latin word for “faith” has its origin in “corem dare”, which means: “give the heart”. Anyone who says the creed, should bear in mind: “Faith” means to entrust your heart to God.
Never before have so many people in the world given their heart to God as at this time. A mighty awakening begins to move around the world 500 years after Martin Luther’s wake-up call. Especially in those areas, where the Gospel was not welcome for a long time, it today spreads at a breathtaking speed. China, Nepal, Cuba, or Iran – these are countries in which the Good News is meeting with a tremendous response: Often people are secretly meeting in small groups and finding God’s comfort. Their faith is strong. They are experiencing signs and miracles from God, just as they are described in the Bible. And their faith in Jesus saves them from despair. His step of faith also costs Professor Luther a lot. Years full of fear and uncertainty. For several months he waits at the Wartburg castle. During this time, he is able to translate the New Testament. His relationship with God grows during this time of crisis. The Good News of the grace of God takes its course hereafter, through the Reformation movement.
Doing good deeds does not need to be difficult
Before my personal “tower experience” I found my search for God very strenuous. But since then? I have discovered that the faith of Martin Luther does indeed know good deeds. This is how he sums it up in a nutshell: “Faith should be sealed and tested by our good deeds; because just as a letter must have a seal in order to be reaffirmed, just so faith should be reaffirmed by good deeds.” Even in this age of networking, important information must still be certified by a stamp and a signature. To me, my faith – i.e. my relationship with God – is more precious than gold. This precious treasure wants to be communicated. For example, in a friendly smile for a tired person. In having a bit of time for an overworked neighbour or an asylum-seeker who is waiting for months already to get some replies from the authorities. Or by not losing the perspective during a chronic illness. The big difference is: everything is no longer so terribly strenuous. I receive the energy through the Love and the Spirit which flow through me from God since I said to Him: “Yes, I believe.”