'I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.' (Ezekiel 36.26)
Once, in 1994, I was preaching in a prison in Siberia and the officer in charge challenged me, “Why are you here? You cannot change these men. I do not believe in your God. Do you understand who these men are?” In front of me were 1,400 criminals - 400 serial murderers, 200 rapists and sex offenders and 800 men even worse. I preached Christ, the Son of God that I know who loves the sinner, and a miracle happened. 1,400 men repented. How do I know? Because some of the greatest evangelists in Siberia today were converted on that day in that prison. There is one, Sasha, whom I call my son. On his release he began what has become the largest prison ministry in all Russia - he has 115 ministers working under him! But it was only ten years afterwards, in 2004, that Sasha told me the real results of that one meeting in the prison - twenty of those convicts are now full-time pastors! So today the Gospel is going all over Siberia because those criminals are the evangelists and the preachers.
God says to all of us, “I have heard your cry, I have a better life for you, I’ve a better way for you. Come follow Me.” ‘Having religion’ doesn’t make you a believer. There is only one way you can really believe, it’s if you know who God is! You can learn every word in the Bible, you can know everything about religion, but if you don’t know God, it means nothing. Faith is more than knowing the Bible, it is knowing the God of the Bible, having a personal relationship with Him.
If you could know Jesus like this, absolutely nothing is impossible! My Jesus heals the sick, mends broken bones and specialises in the things no human doctor can do. Those prisoners in Siberia - who else could forgive their sin and change their lives? What an exciting God! A God of miracles, a God of power and authority! A God who changes people’s lives!
If only we can fully understand the love that God has for the lost. Why? First, He wants to save them from the fire of hell; second, because He needs them to fulfil His purpose in bringing the glory of Christ to the world.
The lost sheep
Look how much of God’s time and energy is directed towards saving the sinner! The lost sheep take priority over the safe ones in God’s plan every time! In my crusades I do not see the people as others might - all the energy and power of God is being concentrated at that moment on reaching these people’s hearts, not merely their heads - I see individuals whom God desperately wants in the Kingdom because I know what God wants to do in their lives.
All of us once were sinners whom God loved, chose, fashioned and created. As an evangelist I know that when God looks at sinners, He doesn’t just see alcoholics, drug addicts, the hopeless broken lives. What He sees is the potential, what you can be when He touches you! God is always seeing the future. When you were still a sinner, God saw something in you He wanted. Sometimes it takes a long time - with Moses it took 80 years to form the real man that God could use to do the job! If only you knew what God sees in you, if you could see yourself as He sees you, not as you see yourself! What a difference it would make to your life if you would recognise your potential with God.
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15: 4-7, NIV)
‘O Holy Night’ used by kind permission of www.vinesong.com