I tell you that in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. – Luke 15:7-10 (NASB)
Within days of starting my new job I knew Claudia was the reason I was there. I didn't know specifics until a few months had passed and she started asking me questions. Not just questions - QUESTIONS. What do you do when your co-worker comes in Monday morning and says, “I read the book of Revelation over the weekend”??? She asked tough, theological questions, and many days I would hide in my office thinking, “Please don't let her ask me anything today!”
The amazing thing was, no matter what she asked, God gave me an answer. My mouth would open and words came out, and afterwards I thought, “Where did that come from?” I think the Lord taught me more through Claudia, than she ever learned from me.
Claudia didn't like Jesus. Her past had left a bitter taste in her mouth, and many of her questions were trying to reconcile Jesus and his place in the Bible. But God has promised that if you seek Him, you will find Him, and she was certainly seeking. After several months she went with me to a revival service and prayed to receive, Jesus. Satan attacked her with doubts almost immediately, and since she lived 35 miles from me and no longer worked at my office, it was difficult to encourage her. Her letters asked still more questions, but I could tell with each one that she was truly saved and the Holy Spirit was working in her life. When she was dying from cancer, she wrote me a letter in which she gushed about her love for Jesus. They were words I never expected to hear from her, and I was humbled to see what God had done in her life.
What God taught me through Claudia was to let Him work. I honestly had my doubts as to whether Claudia would ever get saved, but God taught me to get out of the way. Let Him do the talking, let His Holy Spirit do the work. Many years later I learned something else about how God works.
Since moving I've kept up with things back home by watching the online newspaper. A few weeks ago I saw an obituary that brought me up short. More than twenty years ago I worked with a man - we'll call him Brad – who obviously needed the Lord. I witnessed to him when I could, but it wasn't long before he moved on to another job. Still needing the Lord.
I hadn't heard anything about him in those twenty years, though often the Lord brought him to my mind, and I prayed for him. And then I read his obituary. The opening words led to an outburst of joy.
“. . . went home to be with his Lord.”
Seven simple, beautiful words. And I rejoiced.
Someone asked me how I knew it was true. After all, it could be just something the family put in. I told them, I knew it was true. The Spirit confirmed with my spirit that it was true, and there was no doubting the joy I felt. I had questions, though. Questions that will only be answered in eternity. How long had he been saved? For years? Or did he get saved during his fight with cancer that the obituary mentioned? How had the Lord changed his life?
I don't know the answers to those questions, but I learned something else about how God works: It's not on our timetable. I didn't get to see the results of my prayers, but that wasn't what was important. Brad's salvation and his eternal life in heaven were what mattered.
Then I started thinking about all the other people I have worked with over the years. I never hid the fact that I was a Christian and active in my church. To some I gave a testimony, but never saw the fruit. What about Norma or Marilyn? They were in their 50s at the time, and it's been 30-odd years, so they've probably already gone on. Did they come to know the Lord?
And what of the others? The ones I never gave a word of testimony to. They far outnumber the people I spoke to. They knew I was a Christian, but was my life an adequate representation of the Lord I served? In many cases – far more often than I would like to remember – I know that it was not. What of those people?
As much as my heart rejoices in Brad's salvation, it also breaks for the people I failed. What do I do about that? Paul – who hunted and jailed Christians and stood by while Stephen was martyred – wrote in Philippians 3:13 “. . . forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.”
Just as I continued to pray for Brad over the years, I need to continue to remember the other people who have been part of my life in prayer and just let God work. Paul went on to say in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Like the woman who looked for her lost coin, I need to also keep searching. For the next Brad or Norma or Marilyn or Claudia that God might bring into my life. The angels rejoice over the finding of these “coins.” Our hearts should break so much for their lostness that we do not rest until we have found them. And then we get to rejoice with the angels.