The Dayspring Discipler
There are two predominant characteristics (or attitudes) that have marked my relationship with God from day one of my conversion. The first is joy, and the second is gratitude.
The moment I was born again (literally “born from above”)—on that glorious night nearly forty years ago—my heart was filled with a joy from above, a kind of “joy unspeakable.” At the same time my heart experienced a deep sense of gratitude to God for the love and forgiveness He had given me. It must be noted that these newly realized gifts were as foreign to my soul as I now am to the man I had been just moments before my conversion. They were akin to the differences between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. Even as I write about those miraculous changes and the creation of my new nature, my mind goes back to the earliest days and remembers how radically different (and kind of strange) my new life—with all its soon-to-come ups and downs—really was (and in some ways still is). There was, though, no doubting it: the new life I received that night was absolutely and completely from God above. The change that took place, although not complete, was without a doubt a total work of the Spirit.
I say this because what happened to me wasn’t based on a change in my circumstances—outwardly, things were still the same. When I left the church that night, a new creation, I still went home to the same place and the same people that I had left just hours before. Physically, I was still addicted to heroin and methadone and the next day, as always, I was off to the methadone center to get my “life-changing” dose of “the juice.” I was still on parole and I was still out of work—a lifestyle in which I was all too set. For all intents and purposes, my life, according to my circumstances, was no different. All that had happened to me could have just been a dream—a good one, but none-the less a dream. Yet what was undeniable that very next morning was a witness within my soul that assured me that God had truly changed me forever. In my innermost being something so different, and yet recognizable, had taken place which remains to this very day. What God had done within me was undeniably true. And because of it there was, for the first time in my life, an unmistakable kind of JOY, and an over-whelming sense of GRATITUDE, like nothing I had ever experienced.
The next day, it didn’t matter that I was standing in the middle of a bunch of drug-addicted, back-stabbing dope dealers—some of my best friends. It didn’t matter that I needed to see my parole officer—from whom I had been running for months. It didn’t even matter that one of my friends (who had been dealing heroin for me) had probably given my name to the grand jury and most likely I was going to be under indictment for trafficking in heroin. What mattered to me most, even though it was embryonic, was the fact that I was now a Christian, and that was something I wanted to share with anyone who would listen. What had consumed me the day before—the hopeless and endless addiction to drugs, the fear of going back to jail, the ever-driving need to do anything required to get a fix—was almost a non-issue compared to the joy of my new life and the sense of gratitude to God, about which I couldn’t stop thinking or speaking. All things were new and my life had changed forever. No matter what circumstances I now had to face because of my despicable and destitute lifestyle, I was not alone—now God was with me!
As the years have gone by my Lord has NEVER failed me. The circumstances of my life have been, as you’d expect, up and down, good and bad. But never again have circumstances ultimately determined for me the state of my soul or the long-term attitude of my heart. The abiding reality for me, in spite of my fluctuating likes and dislikes, or the good or bad feelings to which I fall prey through it all, has been God’s faith-fullness. In light of His faithfulness there is also, as it was on the night of my conversion, the truest kind of JOY and GRATITUDE which has stayed with me to this very day. And it is this joy and gratitude from God that causes me to move forward, even if it’s ever-so-slightly, and use the gifts He has given me to share His glory and goodness with those individuals that come into my life.
It is also true that, as a result of receiving the joy of the Lord and a grateful heart, through it all I continue to be a blessed man. You see, I’ve been given the opportunity to see and experience the changes (both big and small) in the lives of the people to whom God has allowed me to minister. It was Jesus Who reminded us that when we are given much in our lives by our Father in heaven, we will be inspired and energized to turn around and give to others of all that is ours. The natural extension of the grace God gives us is not only the joy we experience, but the joy we see in others. And when we realize this truth we will again not only be grateful to Him for everything He has done for us, but we will also rejoice in the joy and gratitude we see in the lives of our brothers and sisters as well.
Years ago I shared a story of a woman and her family who lost everything—their home, business, and the treasures of their lives that can never be replaced—to the October 2003 fires in San Diego County. She and her daughter had been in counseling with me several years before and the whole family was doing quite well when the fires hit. As soon as I heard how badly they were affected I gave them some financial assistance to ease the burden. (By the way, it is because of your continued generosity to Dayspring that we are able to help in these and other difficult situations.)
When I met her (at a safe distance from the fires!), this dear woman was more concerned about the well-being of others to whom she and her husband had been ministering than about the dire situation she was now facing. They had a ministry to the homeless in East County, providing meals through the donations of food they collected throughout the week. At first she wanted to use the money I was giving her to help those homeless folks she knew were still in need. I made her promise that she would use the money for herself, and I trusted that she actually would. About six months afterwards I heard from her and I hope that by sharing with you all she had to say, you will be as blessed as I was. This is a situation where the great joy and gratitude that I’ve experienced through giving this sister a little of what has come from you can now be a blessing to you as well. The following letter, although short, will, I pray, encourage you and lift up your hearts in personal joy and outward thanksgiving to the Lord:
There is no way I can put into words the help you have been to us when we felt like everything that was happening was just too much to take. The day I saw you and I got that money from you was a day I won’t forget. Jim [not his real name] and I, and the kids, have received more from God because of the fires than we ever believed could be. I don’t mean that He gave us more earthly belongings because we are still kind of
hurting you know, but we got blessed in other ways. We are doing real great, PTL, and the way God has helped us has made us believe in Him all the more. I kept the money you gave me like you asked and we used it to get some new tools for the tree business. There have been a lot of folks affected by the fires that need Jim to come over and cut down trees and just clean up their property a bit. He has been extra busy so the Lord has been real helpful to get us what we need and we can help others, too. The government has given us some loans to rebuild our house. We didn’t have any real insurance to speak of but things are getting done. We got the animals out, you might remember, and the older lady who lives alone next door. Her son is helping to get things sorted out for her and our animals and hers are in some not-so-permanent shelters out back of the lot. We are back out giving food to the homeless people because there are so many more since the fires. Everybody that was giving us food before is giving even more now. And there are more churches helping us now than we had before, PTL.
We hope that when we get things a little bit more back to normal you will come up and have some dinner. You have been the best kind of friend when we needed it. Thank you from all of us and PTL.
God bless you, from
A Grateful Family
It’s so true: you can’t out give God! This family’s true joy and gratitude is what makes a lot out of the little that we do with what God has given us. “What fills our souls most,” someone wrote, “is most abundant when what goes out is humbly given from what God first puts in.” It was Corrie Ten Boom who said, “In order for God to fill up my heart I must not be holding anything too tightly in my hands.” Our inner joy is magnified when we give continual thanks to God. And as we thank Him for His gifts—gladly offering them to others in the name of Christ—we will come full circle. His joy is made complete, because our joy is a matter of gratitude. “. . . make my joy complete. Don’t only look to your needs, but in-stead look first to the needs of others.” [Philippians 2]
In His Service,