Isaiah 55:6-7 “Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.”
I saw an old friend recently, it was a spontaneous decision to meet after not seeing him for a couple of years. It was good to see him rejoicing in the Lord, the years of substance abuse had worn him down and ravaged his body but the light was once again shining.
Life hasn’t been easy on my friend, I first met him living on the streets, homeless, destitute, and alone. A seemingly chance encounter during an outreach flourished into a friendship that I have long since cherished.
When I meet someone who has come out of a lifestyle that is so destructive and then I witness the Lord doing a new work, I gain so much joy. My faith grows as I watch the Lord remove walls that for years seemed unmoveable. My hope is that a quick progression from darkness to light would result in complete freedom from the past, but I’ve learned the weakness of the flesh is ever present, the enemy isn’t reluctant to let go of someone who’s been bound for years, and when fear and anxiety take over, faith can once again be placed on the shelf.
Faith in Christ is never completely gone, it just ceases to be a priority. The ravages of this world can overcome someone who has never experienced sustained success. The fear of entering into a pattern of victory is more of a fear of the unknown. There is a twisted comfort in knowing how to dwell in defeat, it may be miserable, hopeless, and continually fraught with despair, but people can be so used to this reality, anything else just seems foreign.
Psalm 40:2 “He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps.”
A New Friend
I was given the opportunity to establish a new friendship yesterday. My friend came off the streets of Olympia but his accent earned him the title of ‘Tex’. As he told me his history of hatred and anger that permeated his life, I was struck by a similarity I’ve heard from others in his shoes. Angelic encounters were apparent in his life, moments that stood out to him when even in the midst of his chaos, God reached down and reminded Tex of His love. Moments when all he could think of was murder, God intervened and showed Him a perspective that shook his world. There was more though, there was a progression of softening that the Lord had done over time to bring Tex to where he is today.
Psalm 69:14 “Rescue me from the mire and do not let me sink; deliver me from my foes and out of the deep waters.”
It wasn’t long ago that Tex would have never sat down with me and allowed me to share the gospel with him. After two weeks of detoxing from heroin, and a different change of environment, Tex is ready to receive God’s truth.
What is it about men like my old friend or new friend who go through so much trouble, who walk at times in the deepest darkness, find that God reaches down and grabs them and pulls them out?
What sets one man or woman apart from another?
Does God play favorites?
I know God doesn’t play favorites, I’ve seen His grace given to every tongue, nation, and tribe on earth. What I have noticed from talking with hundreds of people brought out of the depths of hell on earth is their hearts have all something in common….they were softened.
Ezekiel 36:26 “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”
A Change of Heart
The effects of God on a man cause a change to occur. You cannot interact with God without being affected. Look at the ways men have been affected through the years as God intervened in their lives.
2 Kings 17:14 “But they would not listen, and they stiffened their necks like their fathers, who did not believe the LORD their God.”
Isaiah 14:13 “You said in your heart: “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God. I will sit on the mount of assembly, in the far reaches of the north.”
Those who have experienced God and turned their backs on Him descend into a spiral of anger, hatred, and outright themselves as an enemy of God. What may begin as only a decision to go the other way turns into a divide that becomes caustic toward anyone who professes the name of Christ.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter and the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in the tongues of those gathered in Jerusalem. As Peter stood to preach, the people listened intently as to all that was occurring.
Acts 2:36-39 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
That day, 3000 people gave their lives to Christ. Devout, practicing Jews throughout the country turned, softened their hearts , and accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah.
The evidence for a change of heart is made clear by the believers actions. The people at that time became apart of a community of believers that loved and supported one another.
Acts 2:42-45 “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.”
The difference in my old friend from where he was before Christ and where he is today can be demonstrated in how he responds to stumbling.
When a true believer stumbles and sins, the Holy Spirit who dwells within doesn’t allow for a continuance of sin. Like trying to swim against the tide, the rush of the Spirit pushes against the flesh’s desire toward rebellion. Conviction of sin is a constant reminder that a relationship with Christ has been broken, and the call to restore that relationship through repentance is the only recourse.
When a person who is not filled with the Spirit falls, they don’t fall from grace, they were never there in the first place. They don’t walk in the Spirit, so a relationship with the Spirit of God is not severed. They may know the difference between right and wrong and feel guilty, but the guilt isn’t such that they feel compelled to return to the Lord.
As people of God, we are called to share the gospel with those who lack a real knowledge of Jesus and help them understand what following Him really means.
To those who are of the household of faith, we are called to lift one another up, encourage and strengthen them through the difficult times, knowing one day we will probably need the same support.
Old friends that share the same Spirit, relate to life in much the same way. It’s good to have friends, but having friends who are of the same faith in Christ makes all the difference in the world.
Find a christian brother or sister and invest into one another’s lives, the reward will be far more than you gave.