LUKE 23:39-43: “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” NKJV
OBSERVATION: It is never too late! These are the words that rushed to my heart as I read this familiar passage of Scripture. And, it reminded me of a story from my early days as a young pastor.
I was merely 23 years of age. Fresh out of college and filled with hopes and dreams of serving the Lord. A small community church in Mt. Baldy, California gave me the wonderful opportunity of serving as their pastor. When we started, there was only a small handful of faithful people who attended. Yet, the Lord began to do some wonderful things in this small church.
I will never forget one Sunday when I met a dear saint named Betty. She was a sweet spirit-filled woman, later in years, and she fell in love with our little church. She would drive from the valley each Sunday with a friend up the mountain to join us for worship. She would also join us for our weekly Bible study down the hill in Upland, California.
One evening Betty shared with our small study her deepest heart’s cry. For years she had been married to a man who she termed mean spirited and vehemently opposed to her Christian faith. She would constantly pray for her husband Bill, yet year after year it seemed her prayers were not answered. She asked us all to pray for Bill. As we did we encouraged her to ask him to come with her one Sunday.
I will never forget the Sunday I met Bill. For some reason he accepted Betty’s invitation. He really liked the mountains, so he thought – “Why not?”. As we worshipped, as we prayed, and as I shared God’s Word I could see something taking place in Bill’s life. We spoke briefly after the service and he said he enjoyed it and would be back. Then Bill began to come, Sunday after Sunday. He gave his heart to the Lord and I never met the old Bill that Betty had prayed for. My only privilege was to know the new Bill.
Bill lived a few years after that and then went home to be with the Lord. When I think of Bill and Betty I think of the thief on the cross. No matter what the circumstances look like in life it is never too late! However, I am also reminded that Betty had a great part in the end of this story. What if Betty would have given up? What if she would have stopped praying? What if she never crossed the doorway of our small mountain church?
Betty kept seeking, knocking, and praying. She grew discouraged over the years – but she never gave up. She knew in her heart that with the Lord – it is never too late.
I know that I am about to move into an area of speculation here, yet I am willing to take the chance. The great John Wesley once said – “God does nothing but through believing prayer.” In the story of the thief on the cross there is one person we never hear about. It is the person who kept praying for this thief. The person who would not give up. The person who knew that with the Lord it was never too late. The person who’s prayers ushered this man into the arms of Jesus and into Paradise!
We are like the disciples in the garden. We grow weary and tired. Yet, Jesus calls us to watch and pray. He calls us to persevere in prayer. He calls us to a heart filled with faith. There are many thieves and many Bills still destined for the Kingdom of God. Faith does not respond by what we see. Faith responds in obedience to God’s calling and promises. And, his calling is to watch and pray! Nothing is impossible, nothing is beyond the Grace of God – to those who believe!
Lord, grant me the grace to persevere in prayer for those you have placed in my life. May I never give up praying for those who have strayed, those who are struggling, and those who desperately need a healing touch from You! May I look at the mountain of circumstances that say it is impossible and cry out –
“With my Lord Jesus Christ – IT IS NEVER TOO LATE!”
In Jesus Name!