I have not been a part of anything like this before. And I tell the story only because God gave it to me to tell. The risk in telling it is that one could read it and believe it is something I did, but I can assure you that this is God's story, not mine. If you, or someone you know, have wondered if God still works, still intervenes in the lives of people living today, and still searches desperately for those far from him, or, if you wonder if God could use you to draw others to him, this is a story meant for you.
I got word Tuesday that a woman was angry because of the service she received in a ministry in which I serve and she wanted to talk to someone. So, I met with her in a private room. She walked in, anger seared across her face and even in the posture of her body. I introduced myself and said I'd heard she had had a bad experience and if she would share it with me, I would love to see if I could help. I asked her to tell me the issue in a nutshell. She began, and to say it was complicated is an extreme understatement. As I listened, I became overcome with a deep and truly inexplicable love for her. But she was far from me and had a very hard shell.
After nearly an hour, she said she had no options; she didn't know how to solve the problem she was facing. We talked this through and she began crying, overwhelmed by the bigness of the problem. At this point, the Holy Spirit took over in a way only one who has experienced it could understand. What I mean is that I no longer felt in control of the things I was saying and everything going on around me and inside my head was turned to this woman. There were no distractions, no desires to be elsewhere, there was total singlemindedness. I asked if she had a relationship with Christ. She immediately burst with tears and began to shake, her head down, eyes closed. She lifted her face to me and slowly opened her eyes, shook her head, and with a sense of embarrassment, said "I'm Jewish." Without hesitation, I practically shouted: "I love that! I think that might be one of the things Jesus loves most about you. What a rich history you share with him." She looked at me with shock. And, I must say, I shared the feeling.
From there she told me every reason under the sun as to why she could not believe: her family, fear, loss of control, apathy. I confronted her on each point, asking what she feared, what control she had, what her apathy did to her heart. At one point I asked her if she felt loved. She said no. Not by anyone. I asked if she felt loved by me. She said: "No, to me, you might as well be that chair. I feel nothing from you or for you." I said: "Really? I feel such love for you. And there is something about your tears that tells me that even though we've just met, you feel love stirring in your heart. Maybe for the first time in years. Feel it. It's real and it's safe."
She then told me that she thinks God was with her once -- when things were good. She thanked him then, but now he had abandoned her. We talked more about that and then I asked if she had invited Christ into her pain and abandonment, to walk with her and comfort her. (At this point, I knew where we were headed and I asked God to give me the words and I said to myself: I will stay here forever if that is what it takes). She said she hadn't. I told her that a relationship with Christ did not mean that all her problems would disappear and that her external circumstances would suddenly different. I told her a relationship with Christ meant that a peace would come into her heart, a love she could not understand would envelope her, a transformation of her entire being and identity would occur. The Holy Spirit would strengthen her and give her courage and confidence and hope. These are things I have come to know in my own life.
I asked if I could help her invite Christ into her heart. After an interminable pause, in which she undoubtedly struggled with all that held her back, she said yes. I scooted my chair close to her and held out my hands. She said: my hands are covered in tears. I said: it's ok, mine are sweating. We laughed and locked eyes, locked souls. I had no idea what to say, having never experienced this before, so I opened a conversation with God and thanked him for Christ and the fact that we have a bridge, a way back into relationship with God because of Christ. I then asked her if she wanted to invite Christ into her heart to reign and guide her life. She said quietly: I do. We went from there.
Then came a moment in which there was nothing left to say, but the presence of God was more palpable than I have ever felt. I told her God was present with us, and said to her she could say anything to God or me if she wanted, that she was totally safe. After a few moments, and as we continued to hold hands, she whispered through tears: thank you.
I gave her some things to read in the Bible and then read Psalm 139 aloud to her based on a clear prompting from God to do so. This Psalm describes God's love for her. We hugged, and she left. I have never loved someone so quickly, so deeply, so actively. It is only because God has loved me first and loves her that I am even capable.
This story would be quite enough to last a lifetime. But, when I got home, my Bible was still open to what I had read that morning before going to the legal aid ministry: Luke 15:1-32. You can read it for yourself, it is the three parables Jesus tells of the desperate searching a shepherd does for one lost sheep, a woman does for one lost coin, and a father does for a lost son, and the party that results when the lost is found. In the Bible I had read that morning, these words were typed in bold: "In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away!" (You can look in the Tyndale "The One Year Bible" and see this on April 12th.)
There was a party in heaven on April 12, 2011 for a lonely, brokenhearted woman who repented and turned to God, a God who had been searching and longing for her return since the day she was made.