When I was a young boy, all that I believed of God was that he was a God of wrath.

I was told that if you do wrong, God will punish you. My mother died when I was 10 years old, and at that time I couldn’t figure out what I had done that was so wrong that God would decide to take her away. It was a question that was never asked in my home.

In response, I chose to hate God for taking her away. By age 12, I was smoking and huffing cooking spray. By age 14, I was into drugs and alcohol. I learned to hate myself because I truly believed it was my fault that my mother had passed away. I just wanted to go away.

I found myself in prison by age 19. After leaving prison, I continued to be involved with drugs and alcohol — until I became sober at age 40. My third wife had left me to raise our two daughters all by myself. I also had four other children whom I never saw.

I just knew that God could not possibly want Bruce Sweet because of my life of sin. I would drive into church parking lots, wanting to go inside, but most times I was unable to. When I finally did muster the courage to attend a church service, I would bawl my eyes out, thinking, “See, Bruce? God doesn’t want you here!”

Little did I know at that time, our God was saying, “welcome home.”

As time went by, I kept feeling the need to fill the God-shaped void inside me. I had tried so many different things in life, but nothing filled that void. I just felt empty inside. I even attempted suicide twice.

I got married a fourth time and decided to try church again. But I couldn’t give myself to Jesus Christ. One day, in April 2006, my son was killed in an automobile accident. That tragedy left me hollow inside, but something drove me to stay in church. In July of that year, I felt that I was losing my mind. I knew that I needed Jesus, but I didn’t know how to reach out to him.

I called my friend, Dale, who was a pastor, and asked him what I needed to do. I had assumed there would be some ritual involved and some type of run-around, but Dale calmly walked me through the sinner’s prayer. I became a believer at age 51, and my fourth wife left me. Afterwards, God then gave me the love of my life, my sweet, sweet Marie.

God then went to work on me, as the void became filled with his love. I wanted more and more of Jesus and his love, and I joined my local church’s praise team. Then, tragedy surfaced again in 2008, when my son Caleb passed away after a 10-year battle with cancer. In contrast to other life tragedies, my response this time was wanting more of God — because I knew he had my best interests at heart. God has filled me with joy and has taken me on the ride of my life, calling me to serve as a worship leader. I joined a ministry called Bikers For Christ and rode with them for some time, until the condition of my legs wouldn’t permit me to ride any longer.

After moving from South Carolina to West Virginia, God directed me to Three Mile Wesleyan Church (Elkview, West Virginia). I spoke to Pastor Ronnie Foreman months before our first visit, and that church has become our home church. The Lord confirmed that this is where he wants me, and I became the “worship dude” and even started my own music ministry. God has allowed me to grow even further, and he has allowed me to form a strong bond with Pastor Ronnie and Youth Pastor Matthew Gose.

Today, I’m 65 years old, I lead the praise team, I preach on occasion and I can’t keep my excitement in check! I jump when I praise him, I run when I preach, and I love with all my heart. It took the Lord a long time to reach me, but I now know that he was at my side the whole time. I have learned that God wants us to come as we are — with all our baggage. We may turn our backs on God, but our God is faithful and will never forsake us. Remember that he will never leave us.

Bruce Sweet serves as worship pastor at Three Mile Wesleyan Church in Elkview, West Virginia.