"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 58).
I have had the honor for several years now to partake in a ministry at the local Juvenile Detention Center here in Little Rock. What started as a once in awhile trip to share the Gospel with these youth has turned into a twice month ministry. Turnover is quick and we rarely get to see kids twice although there are some we get to see more frequently to which I am grateful. Our task is simple: Go be ambassadors for Christ so that he may be magnified through our testimony. This is Gospel ministry. Even though the turnover is quick we still get one opportunity to speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ to these kids. We want them to have the hope that is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only hope for sinners! We want them to hear the Good News that Jesus came to live the life none of us could live and that he died the death that we deserve. He paid the punishment for sin and took upon himself our wrath. For those who place their trust in Christ we are given his perfect righteousness. This is the hope they need and the hope I am so glad to be reminded of often.
After several years and only a couple of short term relationships once they are released at time this ministry can get discouraging. I had hopes of a row of them at church being faithful to come and be involved. I had hopes for phone calls, e-mails and dinner times to have relationships with these kids once they were released. This is what I desired and for the most part none of that stuff took place. The questions have always been lingering: "Is this worth it?", "Will you ever have a relationship with any of these kids?", "Are we wasting our time?", "Should we be investing elsewhere?" Some of the questions have been good but others have been my sinful tendency to want to see immediate success. But God's Word tells me truth: "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." The way I measure success is not the same as that described in Scripture. The call is to be faithful to proclaim the excellencies of the One who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). So after seeing these passages the aim has changed from what I want to doing what God want from me.
Last Friday we were back, same place and same time, with kids who were locked up. The Gospel we proclaimed is the same Gospel we have always proclaimed. We talked, we sang and I had the privilege to teach John 14:6 to which I simply wanted to communicate the truth about who Jesus is. When I was done we had more time to talk. I was speaking with a young man I have had conversation with the last couple of times. As we were talking I saw another young man leave his seat and walk to the back of the room. His head was down and he came back and sat right in front of me. He simply said, "I get it." Normally the conversation we have with those kids are good and some are more difficult. I did not prompt anything in this conversation. This young man looked broken and humbled by the Gospel. He proceeded to tell me that God had opened his eyes to the truth of the Gospel about a month ago. He spoke about going to church his entire life and going for himself rather than seeking to know God more and more. He spoke about repentance and faith. He spoke about Jesus rescuing his soul. My words: None. This was the first kid in all these years that I had seen broken. I kept hearing his first words ("I get it") over and over in my head. Then I realized: "I get it." I get that our God is so awesome that he saves souls in his perfect timing. "At the right time Christ died for the ungodly." This young man's time had come for God to rescue him from the pit of hell and he got it.
I was broken myself that evening. We went on to speak briefly before he had to go back to his cell. I was in awe of our great God. I saw right in front of me a living testimony of God's great grace and I was instantly reminded that right in front of him was also a living testimony of God's great grace. The labor of proclaiming the truth of the Gospel is never a work done in vain. Our great God will accomplish everything he has set out to do. If you are involved in kingdom work and it seems the fruit is lacking, be refreshed by the promises of God. That one conversation with this young man reminded me that God is working in his perfect timing. O what glorious timing he has to save sinners. Hallelujah.
Grace upon grace,