We’ve all had them. Some people refer to them as an “a-ha moment,” or “something clicked,” or “a light came on.” What I’m referring to specifically has to do with a moment of clear connection between a human being and God. It is most easily recognized in others by their demeanor or perhaps the look in their eye. Sometimes it is accompanied with tears or a smile or both.
I love it when I experience such a moment myself and getting to see it in someone else is a joy. To be used by God as a means of participation in someone else’s experience is both humbling and exciting. It is by far the greatest payoff in partnering with God for His purposes.
A little over a week ago, I was privileged to observe and participate in several of these experiences. It was a Brothers in Blue weekend. There were approximately ninety new inmates taking part. Typically, my role at these events is to share parts of my testimony with the group and then be available to counsel and pray with the men. This particular weekend, I was assigned to be a table leader, which involved quite a bit more interaction with seven inmates for two and a half days.
The first day is usually the most challenging because it takes a little time to get acquainted and comfortable. Not only do I not know these men, but most of the time they don’t even know each other.
This time I started by asking each of them to state their name and why they signed up to be there. Troy said he knew he needed to be thinking more about God and figured this event couldn’t hurt. Stan said he had been raised in the church but had drifted away and wanted to reconnect with God. Steve and Ron wanted to encourage others and grow with God themselves. Sam was very quiet and said he didn’t know why he had signed up. Carl said he was really hoping this weekend could help him stop cussing (we all got a good laugh as he cussed three times explaining how he wanted to stop).
Over the course of the next couple of days, I had the privilege of seeing each of these men have an encounter with God. These moments were clear evidence that God is both real and personal. They all reacted in their own way at different times and without the knowledge that I was watching. Sam stood out the most to me because he did not want to talk at all and would give very short answers when we tried to draw him into conversations. Yet, I noticed him wiping tears from his eyes several times during the two days. God was working.
The highlight for me was Trevor. He had signed up to speak to me for a one-to-one counseling session, and during one of the breaks, we went into a side room to talk.
“I just wanted to meet you and thank you for writing that book Plain Vanilla Wrapper,” he said. “Three months ago, I was in the county jail and was put in a cell with nothing but a bed and mattress because I was on suicide watch. No pillow, no sheets, just me in my underwear because they didn’t want me to be able to hurt myself. I asked for a Bible, but they said I couldn’t have anything. After laying on that mattress for a while feeling pretty depressed and angry, it came to my mind to look under the mattress. When I did, there was your book. I immediately began to read it, and in fact, I read it straight through. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but it made me hopeful. I even tried praying. I told God I would really like to meet the guy who wrote this some day. Needless to say, when I saw you up on the stage, and you said you wrote a book called Plain Vanilla Wrapper, I was blown away. I immediately signed up to meet with you because I wanted to tell you this story and thank you personally.”
“I’m glad you found the book helpful,” I said. “Do you know the Lord?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied.
“Would you like to?” I said.
“I’m still processing it all.”
We talked about some other things going on in his life, and then I prayed with him before we went back into the main room. As we settled back at our separate tables, I asked God to reveal Himself to Trevor and to bless him.
Although this little talk was very encouraging to me, I did not observe any indication of a defining moment for Trevor. That would come later, on Sunday afternoon. At least twenty men were lined up to be baptized, and sure enough, there was Trevor, standing next to the baptismal and looking at me with a glow on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Trevor was having a defining moment with God.
For me, well, I was feeling rather pleased that God had allowed me to be a small part of it.
One of the reasons I like to share stories like the above in these newsletters is to give a glimpse of the personal attention God gives to each of us. So often we get caught up into numbers, statistics, and charts, looking for ways to quantify spiritual success. It has taken me a long time to let go of my own critical attitude regarding others and their seemingly slow progress. Thinking things like, “Sure they had an encounter with God, but when are the going to really change? When are they going to stop messing up their lives and those around them?”
Recently, during one of my rants with the Lord along this subject, He kindly spoke to my heart. “Gary, their spiritual success is none of your business. You are not powerful enough to make them succeed or cause them to fail. Just be thankful I let you observe and participate in the Kingdom work that I am accomplishing.”
I think I’m finally understanding what the Lord is telling me. The less I judge and criticize the more He makes known to me the power of His love.