For many years I made regular visits to Palm Springs to spend time with the small groups, we initiated there. I often stayed in one of the exclusive gated golfing communities with a man I had met with for a number of years in the San Francisco Bay Area. He had been a non-religious Jew and could even be characterized as an agnostic. As often happens, the Holy Spirit began to work in his life, and he eventually surrendered his life to Jesus. At age seventy-four, he decided to sell his car dealerships and retire in Palm Springs. He joined one of our small groups, and I visited him twice a year.
On one of those visits, he and his wife invited friends to their home for a catered dinner and to listen to their houseguest give a talk about God. With the invitation-only being word of mouth around the club, and an unknown speaker, their friends, must have a high regard for them because eighty of them showed up.
The introduction Bernie gave me ended with him insisting that I tell them the story about my meeting with the Chief Rabbi of Israel. I did share that story but then amplified its content as a lead into my talk about Jesus. It was well received and led to about twenty minutes of discussion. The head golf professional at their club stayed until nearly everyone left and then approached me and said he would really like to have a private meeting if I had time, so I invited him over the next afternoon.
When I asked what he wanted to talk about, he said for some time he had been thinking that even though he believed in God, something was missing in his life. He said; “For the last six months I have been thinking about God nearly every day, and something happened to me last night when you were speaking about Jesus.” After a couple of hours of explaining the gospel and answering questions, he said, “I want to know Jesus like you’re talking about, but I don’t know how to do it.”
I told him that many years ago I thought there was a specific “sinners prayer” that was necessary for salvation. However, the Bible doesn’t support that; God just wants to hear your prayer. To me, that is indisputable by the examples of how people had their sins forgiven by Jesus.
There are many examples, but I will just mention four: 1. One man who was a corrupt tax collector could not even look up towards God. With head down he simply said, God, please have mercy on me for I am a sinner, and Jesus said, that man went home, “right with God.” (Lk 18:13-14) 2. You will remember that two thieves were crucified on either side of Jesus. The one who recognized Him as the Son of God said; “Lord, would you remember me when you come into your kingdom?” Jesus answered him and said; “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Heaven; Lk 23:39-43) 3. It’s important to know also about the man whose four friends carried him to Jesus. They made a hole in the roof, (Likely removed tiles) and let him down right in front of Jesus while He was teaching. The man didn’t say anything but Jesus understood his heart and said, “Young man your sins are forgiven, get up and walk.” (Lk 5:17-26) 4. A woman who was deeply moved by being in the presence of Jesus began to cry, and her tears dripped on his feet. She said nothing as she wiped them with her hair, but Jesus saw this and understood her heart. So He said to the woman, “your sins are forgiven because your faith has saved you, go in peace.” (Lk 7: 36-50)
Do you get the point, the prayer that God accepts is the one that comes from the depths of your heart? You saw that in some cases, no words were spoken, and in others, there was a heartfelt verbal recognition of their need to be accepted by God. However, there is one thing they had in common; it was that they opened their heart to Jesus and He knew that and gave them eternal life.
What each of them felt, but likely didn’t understand at the time, was that the Holy Spirit was giving them faith in Jesus. It appears this is what has been happening to you these past months. Now it is your turn to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. In light of the examples I gave, you know that Jesus understands your heart right now, so what do you think He is seeing. He said; “I think he saw that I opened my heart to Him while we were talking.” Then he said, “But I don’t want to be a person who remains silent.” So I encouraged him to tell God what is in his mind right now. We bowed our heads and here are the words that he prayed with earnestness and sincerity.
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Then he looked up at me and said, “Can we go tell the Kaplan’s that I’m saved.” I said sure let’s go tell them so they can rejoice with us. When he told them what had just happened to him, they did rejoice and told him they had been praying for us all the time we were in my suite.
This salvation story may sound a bit unusual, and it was a first for me also, but He had attended Catholic schools, and that is the prayer that sprang out of his heart at that moment. You might think he didn’t follow the formula of the so-called, “Four Spiritual Laws” or the “Romans Road.” However, I learned a long time ago that in the Scriptures, every person’s interaction with Jesus was unique. In fact not only did He forgive sins in a uniquely personal way, but it was also the same when he healed someone. Think about this, every encounter with Jesus, was one of a kind.
That was several years ago, and by every indication, Doug genuinely met Jesus that day. I don’t go to the desert anymore, but I pray that the small group that he joined is helping him grow spiritually.
Post Script: In the months that followed, Doug and I had several wonderful rounds of golf. Since he was a great teacher, he was able to give me a few pointers that helped improve my game. When I thanked him for his help, he insisted that this was not an equal exchange. I said, I understand what you mean because of the smile on your face and the joy in your heart.