The Seven Transformations of Peter DeHaan
A Personal Story of Growing in Faith and Action
[This personal essay first appeared in The Transformation Project: A West Michigan Word Weavers Anthology.]
A caterpillar turns into a butterfly; a tadpole becomes a frog. People can change too. Here’s my story.
One: The Bible Matters
We moved between fourth and fifth grade. I didn’t learn much at my new school. I was far ahead in most subjects, especially Math. However, I lagged in English, especially grammar, sending me on a lifelong quest to grasp it. Given that I ended up an author, and not a mathematician as planned, this ironic twist amuses me. How I managed to earn A’s in English remains a mystery.
Teachers give more attention to students on the fringe, both those who struggle and those who shine. Since I stood out in most areas, my teacher gave me more attention. Although I didn’t learn much academically that year, she gave me something more important, something life changing: an enhanced self-image.
Succinctly, I began fifth grade as an above average student who believed he was average. I ended the year as an above average student, convinced he was exceptional. This single readjustment of my self-perception forever altered my life. No longer did I seek to merely get by in school, to take the easy way out. Learning changed from drudgery to delight. I desired to excel.
My newfound interest in education spilled over into religion, as I devoured faith-friendly books—both fiction and nonfiction. Later, I became intentional about reading Scripture. I loved my pursuit of biblical knowledge. Soon I read the New Testament, and a couple of years later I covered the entire Bible over summer vacation. This sparked a life-long passion of digging for truth in God’s word.
As strange as it sounds, a secular schoolteacher provided the catalyst for my first transformation: an overall desire to learn, which spilled over to an intellectual pursuit of God.
Two: The Vast Diversity of Jesus’s Church
I grew up attending two small, mainline denominational churches, where church was a traditional experience: stoic, reserved—and boring. I had trouble connecting faith with church. What I read in the Bible didn’t much match what I experienced on Sunday. Perhaps changing churches would solve my dilemma.
After high school, I veered evangelical.
At this new church, aside from seeing young adults my age excited about faith and happy to go to church, two other things astounded me: the music and the sermon. Both were fresh and inviting. This sparked a spiritual rejuvenation in me.
My old church had effectively put God in a box. As I migrated to a different doctrine, I had to escape my old theology. This resulted in a newfound freedom to comprehend God afresh. My faith leapt forward when I came to this church, completing a shift in my focus from an intellectual pursuit of God to a personal relationship with Jesus.
My new church, however, also put God in a box, even smaller and more confining. Their box, fundamental in construction, lacked love and excelled at judgment. Their idea of godly living existed as rules. Theirs was a heavy load and not freeing. Jesus proclaimed the opposite: a light burden and gentle yoke. He offered rest from the religious regulations of the day—not bondage to them.
This church’s doctrine was narrow, dogmatic to an extreme. Pastoral opinion, uttered as fact, allowed for no disagreement. They isolated themselves from most of Christianity, turning up their religious nose at the unity Jesus prayed for. At first, I didn’t see their error, but when I did, it became an oppressive weight. A spiritual angst welled up inside. I craved escape.
My second transformation occurred not when I joined this church or when I left it, but in the realization that Jesus’s church is more than one gathering, one denomination, or even one faith perspective (be it mainline, evangelical, or charismatic; Protestant or Catholic). The church of Jesus, with its many branches, is diverse and wonderful. He prayed we would be one (John 17:20-21)—and I began to embrace that too.
Jesus’s church is huge—and I’m glad I’m part of it.
Three: Learning to Feed Myself
I wasn’t being fed spiritually, so I switched churches. My reason sounded so spiritual, but my claim revealed immaturity. Unable to feed myself, I expected my pastor to do it for me. I was a baby Christian, only able to drink milk and not eat solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Though I read the Bible daily, prayed most days, and had a relationship with Jesus, I expected my pastor to shovel enough spiritual sustenance into me each Sunday to sustain me for the week. I didn’t know how to do this myself. Even worse, I didn’t realize I was supposed to. Isn’t that what we pay our ministers to do?
The pastor at this church had a different view. He explained I needed to feed myself—and then showed me how. Soon I learned what to do, no longer relying on him to nourish me. I discovered how to listen to God, hearing his words and direction. I grew as a person of prayer and faith. My intimacy with God deepened, overwhelming me with peace and joy.
Learning to feed myself spiritually marked my third transformation, establishing the basis for the next one.
Four: Holy Spirit
I joined with a group of believers who were diligently seeking more from their faith. We immersed ourselves in learning about the Holy Spirit. I was ecstatic about the new truths we learned. After a time, with my friends gathered, I asked the Holy Spirit to indwell me, to take over my life, and envelop me. They stretched out their hands and prayed for me—and nothing happened.
What went wrong?
Discouraged over this non-event, only later did I realize I’d already done this.
Decades prior, while still in high school, one of the things I read was a little blue booklet called The Four Spiritual Laws. I studied it carefully and eagerly said the prayer they suggested. A few years later came a follow-up booklet that taught about living the spirit-filled life. I raced through it to reach the end, seeking what I needed to do. With excitement, I invited the Holy Spirit into my life and to fill me. A powerful wave of God’s love engulfed me, a warm supernatural whoosh. Life made sense. Everything came into focus. God emerged for me as a vibrant, real presence.
After a few days, however, my supernatural bliss evaporated. My spirit-filled euphoria was gone. Dejected, I returned to my tiny booklet to reclaim that feeling but without success. I tossed it aside and soon forgot it.
Though I failed then to comprehend it, the Holy Spirit had been quietly active in my life ever since but without my awareness. I thought supernatural insights and promptings were normal for all Christians. Now that I understood the scope of his influence, I became intentional about listening to and following the Holy Spirit’s lead. Nowadays we work together as a team—at least most of the time.
My fourth transformation embraced the person of the oft-forgotten member of the Trinity: The Holy Spirit.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Five: Jesus’s Healing Power
The opportunity for another change came when a group of like-minded Jesus followers launched a healing room. This required a bold step forward, both for our group and for us as individuals. We went to training and we practiced what we learned, initially on each other and eventually applying it to others, timidly at first and then with greater confidence—not in ourselves but in God’s amazing power. Our faith in action moved forward. This stretched me spiritually, and I savored my new insights into God and the grandeur of who he is.
Jesus, we learned, came to heal and to save. Two thousand years ago, the masses clamored for his healing power, but most missed his saving power. Today, Christians in the Western world see Jesus as savior but dismiss him as healer. I embrace both—and with unapologetic passion.
Each week our team would gather to worship God and listen for his instructions. Then we’d open our doors to offer prayer and healing. There I experienced firsthand what I’d only read about. God used us to heal people: emotionally, spiritually, and physically—sometimes gradually and sometimes immediately.
As we worked together, we taught and encouraged one another, learning to rely on the Holy Spirit for direction and power. My fifth transformation had begun, never complete but always moving forward.
Six: A Mission to Spread the Word
I started college when I was sixteen. Twenty-seven years later, I finally finished—or so I thought—with a PhD in Business Administration. I never went full time but always fit my classes and homework around a full-time job, usually while working forty-five to fifty-five hours a week.
Along the way, I made many sacrifices. To my dismay, this included giving up time with family. When my last diploma arrived, my wife asked, “Are you finally finished?” I assured her I was.
But God had other plans.
A few years later, he whispered to me, “Go back to school.” He didn’t say when, where, or why. He simply said, “Go.” The rest was up to me. Since God was doing the telling, I figured my studies should have a spiritual focus. Both dismayed and elated at the prospect of more formal education, I moved forward, but my quest was a long one. It took five years, but I graduated with a second PhD, this one in Pastoral Ministry, of all things. My dissertation explored church unity. The topic drew me in, with increasing fervor. I could not let go of its persistent grasp. The unity of Jesus’s church became my passion.
Writing my dissertation also sparked something else deep inside my soul. Although I’d been writing most of my life, for the first time my writing intersected with my faith. Until then, I’d spent decades writing about business and for business. But now, being a wordsmith had a greater purpose. I ceased trying to write quickly for work and began striving to write with quality for God. My words had a higher calling.
My passion to write about godly things exploded into a calling I could not shake. Soon I wondered if my next career would be as a writer. As I studied and practiced and improved, I knew verbalizing my intention was the next step.
At a mere whisper, my words, “I am a writer,” released an inner desire to write for God. Then I spoke, again, this time a little louder, “I am a writer.” Self-doubt retreated. But I needed to make a firm declaration. “I am a writer!” I bellowed with confidence. And so I was. My sixth transformation, as a writer on a mission for God, was set in motion.When I die, my spirit, the essential me, will transform into something wonderful, amazing, and everlasting. Click To Tweet
Seven: The Final Transformation
I don’t know what the future holds or if an additional transformation awaits me. There is one, however, I can be sure of: death.
I will one day die, and my ultimate transformation will take place. My body—where my soul and spirit reside—will cease to function. My essence will find release, no longer imprisoned in the physical realm, no longer bound by time. My spirit, the essential me, will transform into something wonderful, amazing, and everlasting—not for personal glory or self-aggrandizement, but for eternal communion with my Creator, worshiping and experiencing true spiritual intimacy with the King of Transformation.
Then my transformation will be complete. I will finally be home.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.