In this episode of the Faith Revolution Podcast, Kirk and Jenn discuss the simple journey of how Kirk went from skeptic to follower.
Our Starting Point for This Episode
Entering this discussion, Kirk and Jenn considered the following . . .
- Kirk’s personal story of becoming a follower of Jesus
- How Kirk’s story differs widely from a typical evangelical progression of faith
- What are your perceptions of what it takes to become a follower of Jesus?
- Are there obstacles you personally experienced or observed in others when it comes to simply following? Did it feel simple or complicated?
- What are your own takeaways?
References (Click Link)
KIRK: Hey everybody, this is Kirk Walden, and welcome to the Faith Revolution Podcast, where you can find, simplify and multiply your faith. Welcome again to today’s podcast, and I’m talking with Jennifer today, and we’re going to turn things around just a little, and Jennifer’s going to be introducing and talking to me. So Jenn, take it from here.
JENN: Our idea today is to hear about your story. Your story of faith has always intrigued me. I’ve always found it very inspiring. And so I wanted to start by asking you the question… when you were young and growing up, what did faith look like for you? Was your family a church-going family? What did that look like?
Church? No Thanks!
KIRK: It was a little bit different. When I was very little, we lived in Southern California and we were a church-going family. My father had a title in the church, I can’t remember what it was, it was a layman’s title.
And then we moved to Alabama when I was four. And we went to church as a family, but that began to drop off a little bit. My dad began heading to the golf course at a particular time. I can’t even remember quite how old I was, but he would go the golf course.
My mom continued to go to church. And as for me, I found ways to skip church. On Sundays I was often “sick” and I found a way to be sick. “I just don’t feel well,” or whatever it was, and I would watch . . . I would wait till 11:00 and watch Notre Dame Football replays on Sunday morning, ’cause that was the only thing that was on. I wasn’t a Notre Dame fan, but that was it.
Every once in while, I’d watch Gospel Jubilee and think it was kind of silly. But that was my . . . That was as close as I got to church and so I kinda begged off, and I went a few times.
JENN: And about how old were you when you would say you kind of stopped going?
KIRK: Probably seven, eight, nine, something like that. And I had somebody who kind of terrorized me in Sunday school and would push on me and things and nobody really noticed, and I didn’t wanna cry about it, but also didn’t wanna keep going. It just wasn’t a lot of fun. And so I found a way to stay out of church as much as I could.
And then when I was about 10, I was playing golf all the time. I had taken it up when I was nine, my dad introduced me to it. And then when I was 10, 11, 12, not only was I trying to stay away from church, but I began to gravitate toward going to the golf course on Sundays. And at some point in there, my dad began to say, “Yeah, I’ll take you to the golf course.” So that’s what I was doing on Sunday mornings.
JENN: So it wasn’t like you were just in bed, you were hanging out with your dad and that was time you two had together.
KIRK: Yeah, well, he’d generally go play with his buddies on Sunday. Every other Sunday, he’d play with me, but he’d play with his buddies half the Sundays, and half the Sundays with me, and the other times I just practiced. I’d just be on the putting green or on the driving range and I’d hit golf balls. I loved it. I could do that all day long. So that’s what I did.
The Academic Life
JENN: So I know your dad was a college professor.
KIRK: He was.
JENN: And how do you think that affected your ideas of faith or maybe just what church meant?
KIRK: That’s an interesting question. I’m really not sure. But he was around extremely educated people. What he did as a professor at Auburn, he conferred Doctorates in Educational Leadership.
So he was teaching, actually he taught my principals, a lot of them. If I ever got into trouble, I remember one time in seventh grade I got in trouble and the principal said, “I so respect your father. I cannot believe this. And if I ever had to tell your father about . . .” And I just felt horrible, because I knew going through school I had to be a really good kid ’cause my dad was teaching these principals of mine.
So it was interesting. But yeah, some really bright people in his department. They’d have department parties at my house, at our house, and just they’d talk politics and all kind of things and I’d just… They’d let me hang around. My parents didn’t send me to my room. I was right there with them and I probably said some stupid stuff as a nine or 10 or 11-year-old would. But I enjoyed it and I learned a lot. Faith never came up.
JENN: Ah, interesting.
KIRK: I’m sure some of them went to church every Sunday, but I can’t recall one conversation about faith.
A Persistent Big Sister
JENN: Wow. Okay. So then what happens from there? What actually changed? Because all I’ve ever known from you is a person where faith is the absolute foundation of your life. So how do you get from being a kid who really didn’t grow up in church to the person that you are today?
KIRK: It’s kind of fascinating because I actually totally rejected faith at one point. My sister became a Christian when she was 14, she was three grades ahead of me, so I was probably about 11, somewhere in there, and she began telling me, “Well, you’re gonna be saved one day,” and I didn’t know what she was talking about.
When I was 15, she gave me a Bible, a red New American Standard paperback Bible, and I just put it on my shelf. I thanked her and then I paid no attention to it. She wanted me read it, I didn’t. She told me, “The Lord’s gonna come change your life,” and all that.
JENN: And she probably said a lot of prayers for her little brother.
KIRK: She did. And when I say these things, it’s not to her detriment, because she loved me. She wanted change in me, but I just wasn’t interested. Thankfully she kept praying. Thankfully she didn’t push me. She’d just drop little hints and say little things, but she did not push me.
Golf over God
There was a time when I was 15, after I got that Bible, when I sensed something was happening and I needed to make a decision about God. One way or the other I was gonna have to make a decision. I wanted to be a professional golfer, which as you know, I got to do for a short time later on. At that point I was so sold on it, and I realized that professional golf tournaments end on Sunday. I’m a smart kid.
God is not going to allow me to play golf on Sundays if I give my life to him. So I have a choice to make. I can be a pro golfer or I can be a Christian. To me it was a binary choice, one or the other. At 15 years old I told God, “If you’re there, I do not want you in my life, because I wanna play pro golf, and you just keep your distance. I do not want you.”
At 15 years old I told God, “If you’re there, I do not want you in my life, because I want to play pro golf, and you just keep your distance. I do not want you.”
JENN: You know what strikes me is that you thought serving God meant your Sundays had to be free. What that tells me is that lots of people throughout time have thought, “Well, you know, I’m not giving up my Sunday,” and that’s the dividing line for them.
KIRK: That or something else. We create rules in our minds that we think God is going to demand of us, and I’m not saying none of those exist, but He wants us more than He wants our Sundays.
JENN: Yeah, and once you really get to know God, it’s like, “Hey, I’d do anything for this God that I love so much, and that I know loves me.” But that’s a barrier for people.
KIRK: It is. And it was for me. It was, “I’m going this direction, and I know you’re going to make me do this so no thanks. In my case, it was not play golf on Sunday.
So I was rocking along. In my senior year of high school, I was 17 years old, I realized I was not going to get that college scholarship I wanted. I really felt, “Here are the steps, first you’re the best on your high school golf team.” Actually, I was not the best, I was the second best on my high school golf team. “Then, second, you get a college scholarship.”
Well, I didn’t have any college scholarships. One junior college offered me, and interestingly enough, it was after the number one player on my high school team said no to that junior college. The coach then called me the next night and said, “I’ve got a scholarship for you.” Well, I knew whose scholarship it was.
JENN: I’m sure you felt, like, “I don’t want to be second.”
KIRK: Yeah, it was my good friend, and he ended up taking the scholarship to Auburn, and I was not going to junior college. I either wanted to play in the SEC or not at all. Here I was, as a senior in high school and I realized I’m not anything yet. I began going out with the boys and doing things that I’m not really proud of.
A lot of people would have said, “Oh, he’s a good kid,” and I wasn’t a bad kid, but I knew I wasn’t living up to the standards that I expected of myself. I reached a point that senior year in high school and I just thought, “I’m not who I wanna be. There’s something not right here.”
Part of the stress was knowing that if I was going to reach my dream of playing college golf, I was going to have to be a walk-on and hope for the best. I just wasn’t who I wanted to be.
If You’re There God. . .
KIRK: And I reached the point, honestly I think it was my sister praying, and I’m sure others out there. But I reached a point where I was going to sleep one night and I just said, “God, I don’t know if you’re there . . .”
It’s funny, two years earlier I’d said, “I don’t know if you’re there, but I don’t want you in my life,” but this time I prayed and I said, “God if you’re there, you’ve gotta change me. You’ve gotta change me.” And that’s the point where things began to change.
JENN: Wow, I love that. So, okay, you say that prayer, you’re a senior in high school, then what happens?
KIRK: Well, a few weeks after that, my sister invites me on a beach trip with her college fellowship. Again, she’s a few years ahead of me. She’s been in college a couple of years, and here I am living in the college town and she says, “I want you to go on a beach retreat with us.” In fact, her boyfriend asked me too, they both asked me, and now they’ve been married 30-some years.
JENN: Oh, so Keith asked you too.
KIRK: Yeah, so they asked me if I want go on this beach trip, and I think about it. Of course I’ve just prayed this prayer, so you’d think, “Oh yeah, this is God speaking to me. It’s time to go, time to go to the beach trip. He’s gonna change me.”
I said, “I don’t know.” I wasn’t totally excited about it.
In fact, there was a golf tournament that same weekend in May of 1980, and I was going to choose between the golf tournament or the beach. So instead of just agreeing to go to the beach, I made a deal with God. I made a bet with God.
In fact, I was quite the gambler on the golf course. I probably lost more than I won. But I made a deal with God saying, “I tell you what, God, if you’re there . . .” Again, I’ve still got this if you’re there in my mind, “If you’re there and You want me to go on the beach retreat, make the beach retreat cost the same or less than the golf tournament (which had an entry fee of $15). You do that and You win and I’ll go.”
KIRK: Well, my sister takes me to this Sunday night gathering in this college ministry. While we’re there, the worship guy is playing a song on the guitar and he says, “Oh yeah, we’ve got the numbers in on the beach retreat and it’s gonna be two nights.”
I am sitting there thinking, “Okay God, $15. You meet that goal, you win. But if it’s $16, I’m playing golf.” Well, the worship guy says, “It’s gonna be two nights, $7.50 a night, so 15 bucks.” And I just sat there, and I don’t know what I said, but it probably wasn’t good. I had lost. But I wanted to be a man of my word, and I said, “Okay, if there’s a God and He wins this bet, I’ve gotta pay up. I’ve gotta go to the beach retreat.” So that’s what I did. I decided I’d go, so paid my $15.
JENN: So no golf that weekend, you had to go to the beach retreat.
KIRK: Yeah, and that was a killer for me. I’m seven days a week on the golf course. That’s all I do.
JENN: Yeah, that was a big sacrifice.
KIRK: Yeah, I’m hitting 200 range balls a day. I’m chipping, I’m putting, I’m playing 18 holes, I’m doing the whole thing, and taking a couple of days off as crazy as it sounds is not good. I’m thinking you take three days off of golf, and that’s three days of missing practice to get ready to play golf next fall. I’m losing it and, I can’t lose a day.
JENN: Right. It’s hard for me to understand how that felt not being a golfer, but in your mind you could cost yourself your college golf opportunity.
KIRK: Yeah, in my mind I couldn’t miss the practice. Actually, it’s really good to take a couple days off from time to time, but in my mind I couldn’t.
JENN: Right, okay, I see.
Meeting Jesus at the Beach
KIRK: So we go on the beach retreat on a Friday night, and I take that red New American Standard Bible. I think, “Okay, these are a bunch of Christians. They’re probably going to be witnessing or whatever they do. They’re probably going to be handing out little tracts on the beach and all this stuff, so I better at least take my Bible and look like one of them, ’cause I can fake it for a couple of days and then it’ll be done.”
Well, I go to sleep on Friday night and when I wake up Saturday morning, it is pouring outside at the beach. It’s not a hurricane but it feels like it, it’s terrible. And I’m thinking, “There’s nothing to do here. We’ve got no TV and they’re gonna do Bible study all day long or something. I’m gonna be in the book of whatever in the Old Testament, and I don’t even know where stuff is. I can’t find anything.”
In fact I knew so little about the Bible, our band director, when I played in the band early on in my high school days . . .would say, “Okay, let’s go back to Genesis,” which meant the beginning of the song. And for the life of me, I didn’t know what that meant the first few times he said it. Then I finally figured it out, but I didn’t know Genesis was in the Bible. Well, I’m looking around on this Saturday morning, and there’s some guys over there in their cots, opening up their Bibles. I guess I better look like I’m doing something, so I open up my Bible.
JENN: Yeah. You wanted to fit in.
KIRK: Yeah. And there was really nothing. I mean, I could just sit and stare at my shoes or I could read my Bible. So I open up that Bible, and I do open up to Genesis, because I don’t know to go to the New Testament.” I know there are two Testaments, but I didn’t really keep up with that stuff. So you start talking about Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, and I don’t know. I guess I could have named the Gospels. But anyway, open up to page one, Genesis and that’s where I started reading.
I read a few chapters and it kind of leapt off the page at me. It was interesting. The stories kind of gripped me, “Wow, there’s a lot going on here,” and I keep reading.
Then the head of the college ministry, comes in and he says, “You know, I really think it’s gonna clear up.” I think we’re going to be out on the beach in couple of hours.”
And I’m like, “Yeah, whatever.”
Well, sure enough, two hours later, the sun comes out and it’s great. And there’s no weather channel, we got nothing here. And I’m thinking, “This guy is a prophet. This is amazing. What did he do, pray the clouds away or what?” Now, that was my perception.
JENN: You know what’s kind of fun to me about this too, is that you started out thinking, “If you’re there God, I don’t want any of this. Then, if you’re there God change me”. Then shifting to Him showing up in $15, Him showing up in, “The weather’s gonna clear,” you know? Very simple things that spoke to your heart.
KIRK: That’s right. And look, I’m 17 and, I should have figured it out by now. But in Florida, in May, they don’t have long fronts. There’s thunderstorms that move on . . . But anyway, it meant something to me.
And sure enough, it cleared up. We go out there, and as I get around these people, I realized they’re not crazy. They weren’t running up and down the beach telling people they’re sinners or anything like that, we just talked. There weren’t day-long Bible studies, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But they were just regular normal people, but they had a faith. And I laugh at it now, these guys that I’m looking up to were barely older than me. I’m a senior in high school and they are these mature college men.
We were sitting by the pool, and this guy says, “You know, if you stand up for the Lord, He’s gonna stand up for you.” And I thought, “Man, this wise sage has shared one of the great truths of life with me.”
And I don’t know whether he was struggling. I don’t know what was going on in his life, and whether he was some great spiritual leader or what, but that hit me. I’m like, “Wow, that’s really cool.”
And I think the big thing to me was this was a college student, because I thought that once you get to college you don’t need to do any church stuff anymore, you can be done with that. In my mind real grown up college students, were done with that stuff. That’s Sunday school stuff. And yet this college student still believed and he had made it his own. I think that’s kind of what hit me. This is not necessarily what his mommy and daddy taught him.
I just saw a group that, though I’m sure they were flawed with the typical drama going on with girls and guys and all that, seemed to care for each other and they were pretty cool. I didn’t realize Christians could be cool.
Because prior to this from what I could see, being a Christian was just kind of the nerdy thing to do. I saw it as a crutch, “Okay, these kids can’t be popular, so they might as well be Christians.”
JENN: Yeah. It was like that they gotta have something to identify them.
KIRK: So this experience grabbed me. I leave that beach retreat on Sunday afternoon. We drove back to Auburn in four hours back, and I was different.
I got home that night and kept reading. Monday, I’m ready to read.
I went to the golf course that afternoon, I didn’t quit golf. I didn’t know what God was gonna make me do on Sundays, but I played golf on Monday afternoon. I guess that was still okay.
And one of my buddies said, “We’re going out Friday night.” We were going to do what we normally do on Friday night, go hangout and drink. And I said, “No, I’m not going to do that anymore.” And he looked at me and he goes, “Well yeah, we’ll figure that out on Friday night.” And I said, “No, I’m just not interested in that anymore.”
I wasn’t against anything, it was just that wasn’t my interest anymore. I went home on Monday night, and I got to reading again. Tuesday night, reading again. I’d play golf after school, go back home and read for several hours.
In fact, I got done with the Book of Revelation, read all the way through, and I thought, “I wonder what day I started?” I went back it was May 17th when I started, and we were in June and I thought, “Goodness, how long has it been?” It had been exactly 40 days.
And I thought, “Well, that’s fascinating,” I knew 40 days was in the Bible a couple of times. I’d only read it through once so I didn’t really make too much of it, but I thought, “It’s pretty cool.”
There had been no Bible reading plan or anything like that. I didn’t know about any of those things, I just read and things began to change.
Just Start Following
JENN: So things are changing for you. One of the things you’ve talked to me about that I find really interesting is that in your mind you just started following. You didn’t say a prayer at the beach, nothing like that, you literally just thought, “I’m very interested in this Jesus guy.”
KIRK: Yeah. It was simple, I just think I need to start following. Whatever that looks like, I need to do that. And you’re right, there was no prayer. Nobody sat down with me and told me that I was separated from God by sin or anything like that. And we’ve had this conversation before, you and me.
I’m not belittling that idea. I’m saying though, if there’s a takeaway today that I want to share, it’s that people come to faith in different ways. There’s not a set way to do it. I think a lot of times in the evangelical community, we’ve decided that people first have to understand that they’re sinners. They have to understand the bad news first. Well, I’ve never heard the bad news. I didn’t know there was bad news. I began to believe there was a God, I’d figured that out by all these things that had happened. There must be a God, he’s winning all the bets.
So if there’s a God, I want to know Him. And I didn’t even ever say, “I think I’ll start following Jesus now.” But as I read the New Testament and I saw Jesus in there, I figured that’s the direction I need to go. And he said, “I’m the way,” so I figure that’s the ticket.
So, I just started following. No, I didn’t pray, say that I’m a sinner, I need your forgiveness, and Jesus died for my sins.” I figured all that out down the line, but in the beginning, it was just, “I guess I’ll go. That’s the direction I need to go.”
JENN: Right, and I think if somebody had told you at that point, “You need to do this,” you probably would have done it because that was your heart.
KIRK: Yeah, I probably would have, but I’d also say that sometimes we think that’s necessary. You need to nail it down, is what I’ve heard before. You need to nail it down by praying this prayer, and if you mean it, then you’re safe. You’re in great shape and you’re a Christian now. And I go, “Well, that wasn’t the way it was for me.”
Examples of Simply Following
KIRK: And if I look at the New Testament, again, not to be negative, but if I look at the New Testament, that really never happened. You look at even Paul, and you see that he gets confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus, and he’s confronted and Jesus says, “Why are you persecuting me?” And Paul says, “Well, who are you, Lord?” “I’m Jesus.” “Oh, okay.” So Paul recognizes there’s an issue here, since he’s trying to go kill Christians, and he just switches directions.
Then Paul takes direction from Jesus, “Go to Ananias’s house. These guys are gonna take you there. You’re blind right now. That’s not a good thing. So you go to his house.” And he just did the next thing. And I really think, not to compare myself to Paul for goodness sake, but I really think my life is about doing the next thing.
JENN: Right. Well, I think about even Jesus calling his first followers, what did he say to them? Literally, it’s like, “Follow me”.
KIRK: He launched the entire enterprise of Christianity with some guys that he said, “Follow me”. And I think sometimes we over-complicate what it means to come to faith. “Well, you need to do these things, and if you do these, you’ve covered all your bases and you’re good.” Sometimes the bases aren’t easy to spot. Sometimes we just have to do the next thing and start following. Sometimes we’re that woman at the well who just starts telling people who Jesus is.
Sometimes we’re Cornelius. Cornelius is trying to find God, trying to do the right things, and then Peter comes and starts saying some things. Then all of a sudden all these things start happening in his home. Peter wasn’t able to stop and say, “Now, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. We need to pray a prayer and get you through this.”
JENN: Cornelius was just consumed by God, and what strikes me is that faith and following are personal. Your journey was a very personal journey in a strange way between you and God. And just like Cornelius, it’s almost like God says, “Get out of the way Peter. Let me take care of this. I got this.”
I think we sometimes lack faith for one another in what it looks like for another person to start following.
Following Begins with a Step
KIRK: Yeah, and I’ve had people ask me, “Tell me your testimony.” Which means, “tell me about your conversion.” “When was it?” I can’t actually tell you. Was it on Saturday of that week? Was it Sunday afternoon? I don’t know. Was it Monday? But at some point, things shifted. And I can’t tell you exactly when.
JENN: Or was it way back when you said the prayer in your bedroom that night?
KIRK: It could have been. I said, “God, you gotta change me”, and God responded back to me “Okay, I’ll start working.”
People want to know. People need to know the day or the hour, so that when they look back, they’ll know that they know that they are a Christian. I understand the thinking there, but you know what, I know that I know because my life changed, my desires changed. I can’t tell you the when, whether it was that time when I said “God, you’ve gotta change me,” or whether it was so many weeks later when I went on the beach trip, or whether it was somewhere afterwards, I don’t know. I’m sorry, I can’t help you there.
JENN: Right. One of the things I think in time I wish you could talk about, or we could talk about together, is that so often somebody does decide, “Okay, I’m gonna accept Jesus into my life,” but then they don’t feel like they’ve changed. As a result they start questioning, and I think that brings up a whole new topic for us to cover. I would love for that to be considered some time as well.
KIRK: Yeah, I’d like to do that. But I think I want to leave our listeners with this today. Your story is your story, and that’s okay. If you are following, you’re good. That’s the goal. The goal is not whether I’ve said these words or whether I’ve nailed it down. The goal is to be following.
At the same time, if there’s somebody listening, and you say “I haven’t done the following thing. What do I have to do?” Just start. Wherever you are, just decide you’re going to start.
Hey, if it starts by saying, “God, you’ve gotta change me,” that’s probably enough. If it starts by faking it and you open a Bible or whatever, and just say, “Hey God, what’s the next step here? What does following Jesus look like? What does it really mean for me?” Then go for it.
There are some things that are going to be the same about our experiences, but there are some things that are going to be different for each of us. And to me, that’s our takeaway today. Everybody’s story is different, but at the same time, everybody’s story matters.
I can tell people about the woman at the well. I can tell you about Paul. I can talk about all these people who were converted and those are great stories. You can tell people about those same things, but you know what, if you want to expand faith in this world, sometimes it’s telling our story and being real about our story. I hope I’ve been real today.
JENN: Well I of course think you have, and I really appreciate your heart. The decisions you made all those years ago certainly affected my life.
KIRK: Thank you, and thanks for joining us today. We look forward to being with you again on a podcast in the near future. Please join our family of subscribers to get updates on the next episode of the Faith Revolution.
Kirk Walden is a Christian speaker and author. He works with ministries across the world as a consultant and advancement specialist.
The Faith Revolution Podcast was born out of a desire to see faith become more accessible and culture changing -anyone at anytime can have faith.
Accessibility is found in peeling off layers of religious complexity and embracing the deep roots of simplicity found in Jesus.
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