From lost to found:
How God fixed my doubt problem and gave me a bright new life
by Pastor John Greiner
Does the subject of God make you uncomfortable? I may be a pastor now, but for much of my life, I struggled with doubts and fears about God.
As a young father, I was filling out a routine application when a simple question on the form kicked off a fierce inner battle: it asked me to list my religion. I almost left the question blank, but somehow I feared offending God. Was there even a God? I had never expected to become an atheist, but there was no doubt I was disillusioned with the Catholic faith of my childhood. For weeks that form sat on my desk hounding me. Confused, I scrawled “Christian” into the blank and mailed it off. This resolution was cold comfort as doubts about religion continued to gnaw at me—until one night I settled it forever.
A bright start
My mother raised me in a very devout home, and I had certainly loved God as a child. She brought me to mass twice a week and sent me to Catholic school. One day, missionaries from South America shared their stories at my church—stories of their selfless work with tribal peoples. Though I was only 4 years old, my heart burned to serve God in ministry. I began serving as an altar boy, and later as President of the Knights of the Altar. Even my dad, who usually stayed away from church, joined in and began serving in the local Catholic charity. Were the nuns grooming me for the priesthood? My mother sure hoped so.
For all my devotion, I had a certain dread of the things of God. I remember my discomfort when asked to serve mass at funerals. What if I were the dead guy? What would happen to me? My idea was that somehow the sum of all my good deeds would be weighed against the sum of my sins, and if the good deeds won, I’d get into Heaven. All of this would be left up to God to reveal on judgment day, and that I shouldn’t bother trying to figure it out until then.
In the 7th grade, I began drifting away from my faith, and during the same period, I became a fan of the public high school football team in my hometown. During a game, I couldn’t help but notice the cute, blonde cheerleader sitting in the stands. That moment I knew the chaste life of the priesthood was not for me. In time, that cheerleader would become my wife, Gladys.
Throughout college life and my early career as a homebuilder, I followed my own desires and consulted God very little. I relied on alcohol to help me relax. As Gladys and I began to raise our children, I wanted so badly to give them some kind of spiritual context. Gladys saw the need, too, and agreed to convert from her Baptist faith to Catholicism. Even though I was getting exactly what I wanted, something still felt off. Was I leading my family down a dark road?
An aching feeling kept me up every night. I began drinking even more, often starting off in the morning so that by bedtime, I could dull that feeling of doom. I found I could get a much better effect with homemade beer, so I began a new hobby: brewing. The cursing and filth in my daily speech was embarrassing to myself and to my wife, and my young children were starting to emulate it. I tried so hard to stop cursing, but it seemed beyond my power.
In a push for truth, Gladys and I agreed to go to mass more regularly. Meanwhile, I heard that a Father Ralph DiOrio would be coming to the Houston Coliseum and that God had graced this Catholic priest with the gift of healing. I knew of someone who really needed a miracle: my sweet mother. She suffered debilitating pain from osteoporosis that had literally crumbled parts of her spine. My brother and his wife and daughter and I all took her to the Coliseum that night, hoping for a miracle. As it turned out, we did see a miracle that night, one that astounded us all.
A glimpse of God’s power
Sheila, the wife of one of my business associates brought her mother whose joints were gnarled with severe osteoarthritis. They sat in the row behind us. When Father DiOrio laid his hands on the top of her head, she fell like a plank onto the arena floor. When her head hit the concrete, it sounded like a watermelon. I thought, “This woman is dead!” But when she got up, her face seemed to glow with wonder. Instantly, she began to remove all the elastic braces from her arms and legs and move her joints. Her formerly twisted, knotty fingers had somehow torqued back into alignment – and all the swelling completely vanished.
Even though my own mother was not healed that night, I gained so much hope. God was still doing miracles today! This wasn’t Fatima or Assisi of centuries past. This wasn’t a wacky urban legend or faraway icon. A lady I knew had been healed by divine power right before my eyes. I didn’t see it then, but God was laying a foundation for a whirlwind encounter with him. Soon he would turn my whole life around in just one weekend.
Friday: Reborn at 33
Back to the grindstone of daily life, I tried to renew my faith by serving as a lector at my church. Each week I studied a Biblical passage to read aloud during mass. One week, my assignment was John 3, where a synagogue leader named Nicodemas asks Jesus what he must do to be saved. As I studied it one Friday morning, Jesus’s response filled me with wonder: “You must be born again,” Jesus had answered.
Later that afternoon, I visited with some neighbors, a couple whose names were Frank and Linda. I had heard they could help me find peace with God. While they prayed for me, I closed my eyes and saw a vision of Jesus. In the vision, I was walking along a beach, and Jesus came toward me walking on the water. He held out his hand to me and said, “My beloved brother, come walk with me where you think you cannot walk….” When Jesus called me his “beloved brother,” I sensed no sarcasm. Didn’t he know that I was a sinner? I felt so unworthy—yet awestruck at his invitation.
Alone in my living room later that night, I prayed words like what I now know to be the “prayer of salvation.” I accepted his call and committed to serve him with my life. I was truly born again that day. Now completely relieved of my burden of sin, I slept peacefully all night. Soon I would notice that the cursing and alcohol abuse that marked my life before had completely vanished with no effort.
I shared my experience with Gladys who immediately rekindled her relationship with the Lord from her childhood.
Saturday: Answered prayers
The next night, we convinced my mother to come to a prayer meeting along with Frank and Linda, hoping she would get relief from her pain. Afterward, Frank and Linda laid hands on her according to Mark 16:18. Mother said she felt heat travel through her spine and throughout her body. She began to bend over at the waist to touch her toes—something she had not been able to do for years. The more she moved, the more apparent it became that she had been healed. An x-ray would later confirm there was no longer any trace of osteoporosis. All pain was gone, and it would never return.
Sunday: A new family
The next day, Frank and Linda invited us to their church with them: Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Pastor John Osteen and his wife, Dodie, were loud and commanding, and the zeal of the people at this huge, Word of Faith church made me stop and stare. During the song service, some would lift their hands or gaze up to heaven with expressions of deep worship. Between songs, some would speak in another language that didn’t sound familiar to me. These people seemed completely oblivious to anyone around them, enraptured with the presence of God. While our family Bible, bound in white leather, sat as an heirloom on a shelf, these people all carried their own well-worn bibles with personal notes scribbled all over the pages. It amazed me.
During the service that morning, Pastor Osteen made a special point to welcome Catholics to the service, and he asked for all Catholics to please stand. Among the 5000 people there, and I thought Gladys and I would be among the only ones. Tentatively, I stood. But when I looked up, it seemed like half the congregation was standing with me. I could now see the huge magnitude of fellow believers. How had this entire world of faith grown up right under my nose, yet I had never known it existed? Well, maybe I was late to the party, but at least I was here now. I determined to catch up on all the years I had lost. I could not wait.
Breaking with the past
Gladys and I continued to split our church attendance between Lakewood Church and our Catholic parish. We both received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues as part of our daily devotions. This seemed to catapult our spiritual hunger and growth.
A few months after my born-again experience, I had some questions for my parish priest, Father John. By this time, I had a sense that he, too, was a born-again Christian, but I didn’t understand why he never spoke of his experience during mass. And to the Roman Catholic Church: why in 33 years had I never been taught about the true path to salvation? Father John explained it away, saying that the “born again” terminology identified too closely with Baptist doctrine.
Gladys and I began to make other friends who were born again and spirit-filled. Some were leading lay ministries or hosting Bible studies to help their fellow Catholics come to the same truth. This seemed like an obvious path for us, but one morning I was surprised by the Holy Spirit’s leading to me. While reading my Bible, two verses seemed to jump off the page at me. One was from Mark 7:13 where Jesus accuses the Jews of “making the word of God to none effect through your tradition.” The other was from Mark 6: “And he could there do no mighty work…. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” I knew he meant Gladys and I needed to stop identifying as Catholic and attend Lakewood Church wholeheartedly. In the years ahead, Pastor John Osteen would become a spiritual father to me and continue to be a treasured mentor in ministry until his death in 1999.
Soon after we planted ourselves in the right church, God burned like a wildfire through my Catholic family. Within 7 months, my mother and nearly all of my siblings and their spouses and children were saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Since that time, Gladys and I have faced many challenges and triumphs in business, in raising our children and in 20 years of pastoring our church. What a joy it is during those times to receive daily guidance from a rich and personal relationship with the Lord. No longer is Jesus just a symbol to me, just a figure hanging on a cross. He is a Risen Lord who has conquered every trial, even death. No longer must I depend on a book of prayers to give me exact words to say to God. The Holy Spirit helps me give thanks well and pray the perfect will of God in any situation. No longer do I direct my prayers through Mary or another saint. I go directly to God according to Hebrews 4:16, confident in who I am and what God wants because I read it in his Word.
In John 8:32, Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” If you are unsure about your relationship with God, I pray that you will know the truth and experience the freedom of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.