February 18, 2018
How can the ways of a man be changed?
One of my grandsons was recently convicted of his fourth felony. Sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of 20 years to life. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Mercifully the judge reduced the sentence to 42 months and his time in jail will count against the sentence. Because he was classified as a type “C” offender, he could possibly be released in less than the time sentenced.
Since this young man was a teenager, his grandmother and I, and his parents, have been praying for him to change his ways and begin making wise rather than foolish decisions. So far he has not chosen to do that and he is now 37 years old. This begs the question: what can change a man’s behavior? Prison time does not do it. Repeated warnings of judges do not do it. The pleadings of family members do not do it. The prayers of loved ones do not do it. Since we all know of people who have changed their ways, we know it can happen, so what is the answer?
Repentance is surely the key. And not shallow repentance, but genuine remorse for one’s sins. Change can occur when a person turns in true repentance and faith to the living God and asks for help. The Bible helps me believe this for it is full of stories of people whose lives were radically changed by God. King David, guilty of murder and adultery, found forgiveness and became a useful servant of God when he was willing to pray, “Have mercy on me, O God.” The Apostle Paul, a persecutor of Christians, was changed and became the Church’s greatest advocate of the first century.
History is filled with accounts of changed lives. Augustine, now considered a saint by the Church, was 30 years into wayward living before he surrendered his life to God. And who is not familiar with the story of John Newton, who before he wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace” was the cruel captain of a slave ship?
When I think of changed people I have known, I think of my friend Grady Watson, now deceased but a farmer in Repton, Alabama when I knew him. I was mesmerized many times listening to Grady tell about the time he got off his tractor and fell on his knees in a field, begging God to change his life. Grady said he was a lost human being, as rotten as a man could be. Listen to him tell the story in his own words:
“The tractor was still running, going up and down the rows, as I began confessing my rottenness to the Lord. First thing I knew I was crying. I had been in the war (WW II), on bloody battlefields, and had not cried in years but tears started running down my face. I couldn’t see how to run the tractor but I kept telling the Lord all the rottenness inside me.
“I finally finished, and I lifted up my hands in surrender, and said, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, will you take me now just like I am? Jesus, I can’t clean myself up. Jesus I need you. I want to give myself to you, all of me, just like I am. Will you take me please, and clean me up?
“Then it seemed like heaven opened up to me. God came to me in a fresh way, in a fullness I had never experienced. He brought me a peace I had never dreamed possible. And, to my amazement, he brought me a love beyond any love I had ever known so that I understood He loved me – just like I was.
“God didn’t ask he how much I cursed or how much more was wrong with me. He just took me like I was, just exactly like I was. The next thing I knew, I began to reach my hands up as high as I could and said, ‘Thank you Jesus.’ And I said, ‘Lord Jesus, will you take this cursing away from me? I don’t want to curse anymore. I don’t want cursing to be a part of me anymore.’ And He did it – He set me free of it. He took it off my lips. He took it out of my heart for good. I have not uttered another word of profanity since that day.
“Then I put that old tractor in gear and started down the row praising the name of Jesus. God gave me the victory I needed – just like I was. And I could not help but praise Him, over and over and over and over.”
Lest you conclude that to be the momentary emotional testimony of a country farmer, let me tell you that after that encounter with the living God, Grady Watson went on influence hundreds of people with his powerful testimony of God’s love. Scores of people were moved to trust God because of the change they witnessed in Grady’s life. His influence touched my own life because Grady was as much in love with Jesus Christ as any man I have ever known.
Can the ways of a man be changed? Yes! God can do it. Only God can do it. So I will keep on praying that one day my grandson will turn to God in genuine repentance. Then God will unchain him from his past and set him free to become one of the changed people who exemplify God’s life-changing power. + + +