Have you ever been 100% certain that someone was not going to heaven? If you knew without a doubt a loved one or even a stranger was going to spend an eternity without love, hope or grace. How would your heart feel?
The setting is Verde Park, an inner-city park in the heart of Phoenix. It is Tuesday evening and that means an hour of joy loving on the neighborhood kids from Garfield Elementary. Arriving late from work I hurry past two women sitting on a park bench and proceed to the community center where the kids are waiting. Nate, a co-worker and friend of the ministry I work with is waiting in front of the center with a look that I know all to well. He does not need to say anything. I know he noticed the two women on the park bench and God was ready to do something big. We spoke, prayed briefly and then walked over to the picnic table to most certainly interrupt these ladies conversation.
Now normally in these situations I am nervous but quickly reminded of the boldness I have in Him. This boldness often leads to passion and the Spirit of God flowing through my veins. However, this day was different. Nate strikes up a conversation that ultimately leads to one of the women sharing their testimony and him praying over her body and life. It is yet another occurrence of a man of God like Nate carrying out the Great Commission. The issue is, I had zero desire to engage these women. These women had visible marks on their bodies of both physical and drug abuse, had a paper bag with a 40 of beer, and noticeable ticks that would lead me to believe they were on a current high. Normally this is where I feel the most comfortable and frankly excitement to see what God is going to do and... I... feel... nothing. After about 15 minutes sitting with these women and 30 glances at my watch, something happens. A familiar voice. You know, the still, small voice in 1st Kings when God is speaking to Elijah? That voice. "She is going to die before yielding to Me." Immediately, I rise up from the table and walk over to a table 50 yards away. Doing the only thing I know to do in that moment, I pray! You know that passage in John, "My sheep know My voice?" I knew it was Him, I had heard it several times in the past, but it didn't sound like something He would say. My heart literally ached as I again desperately pleaded with God to explain. And then again His voice, "Stephen... you will never fully understand the depths of my love." First of all, the Creator of all Mankind the Lover of my Soul said my name. That was a first. Secondly, He spoke the very thing I pray for on a daily basis. "Lord, that I would understand the depths of your love, that my heart would align with your heart." My prayer. And then The Holy Spirit says, "I have sent her a hundred people before you and I will gladly send a hundred more."
I thank Him, but quickly my heart again sinks at the very thought of knowing this woman I never met(s) fate. I get up, send a goodbye wave back to Nate and quickly leave the park. In the car ride home I replay the event and the words spoken over and over again. A hundred people, before Nate and I, proclaimed Christ to this one woman and God is planning to send a hundred more. Seriously? I think I can count the number of times I have been approached by someone wanting to share Christ with me on a single hand. And this woman, most certainly living on the streets who looks like a woman in a meth advertisement on a freeway billboard, has opportunity after opportunity and still will not choose the only One who can give her freedom. To say I was perplexed was an understatement. A fools errand, that is what Nate and I were on.
Further down the road, I apologize to God. You see, This is me in the raw. This is how I think. One moment I am blown away that I have just heard and felt the Holy Spirit and the next I am questioning a perfectly faithful and loving Father. Ugh!
Over the course of the next several minutes God's love is laid out to me like a magician's book of secrets. I instantly recall the love for His Bride, how Jesus talked about leaving the 99 sheep for the 1 lost sheep, the Prodigal son, fill in the blank with a biblical example of His love for the lost and I most likely thought it. This was not a fool's errand for Jesus. He never gives up! He knows the beginning from the end, those that will give their hearts to Him and those that won't. It doesn't deter His unconditional, relentless love. His eyes are affixed on her and He is in pursuit. He will use bent and crude objects like me daily if need be to tell her that He is in love with her. While she has been swept to the side by the world and most likely used by men drunk with lust, He has taken every opportunity to show her, her true value in His eyes.
My prayer is still that somehow, someway what I heard was wrong. That a seed was planted that day and God would send yet another that would be used by Jesus to bring her to the Father. I can tell you one thing though, the way I look at those living on the street or those that are suffering as she was, will never be the same. Now seven months later, the dirtier the better. So you smell like a garbage can? Give me a big hug. Jesus did that. He took my puffed up, I am better than others heart and transformed it. We are ALL precious in His sight. He didn't just send anyone to save us, He sent His only son. While I feel that I was able to see just a glimpse of His love for us, I know that I truly will never be able to see the depth of His love.