A warm welcome to readers of the Encouragement for Today devotions, and to my regular blog readers. On Tuesday, Proverbs 31 ran a devotion I wrote about not giving up in prayer. I based it on many seasons hearing coaches tell their players to not stop blocking until the whistles blows. If you haven't read it, please click here. (It will be posted Tuesday morning if you read this earlier)
Sadly, it's easy to be discouraged. It's an effective tool of Satan that undermines many victories. The truth is we will never slip into dedication. We won't wake up one day to discover we have suddenly become a person who perseveres till the end. Just like those boys on the football field, it takes practice to be diligent in whatever task is set before us. Praying for our loved ones to come to know Jesus is one of those tasks that is worth whatever it takes to overcome discouragement. I know, because my father is in heaven because of decades of prayer, even when it seemed hopeless.
In my blog today, I'm going to share with you the story of how my dad came to accept Jesus before he died. I pray it encourages you to never give up praying for someone you love. By the way, come back to tomorrow and I'll tell you what Dylan said at my dad's graveside service, and why teaching your kids to pray is important.
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:42-43, (NIV)
My dad’s health was failing fast. He’d been admitted to ICU with severe dehydration and aspirated pneumonia after a short stay in a care center. When the ICU nurse started asking us hard questions about my dad’s last wishes, we knew the outlook was grim.
A scientist and biology teacher all his life, my father was practical about matters of life and death. The downside of his pragmatic mind was a resistance to anything spiritual. For years he watched my mother faithfully take my sister and me to church, yet any attempt at a discussion of faith was met with an annoyed change of subject.
Now critically ill, able to respond only in nods, my Dad’s need for Jesus was never more obvious. Our prayers over him grew bolder with each passing hour.
One night my mother and I stood talking with the nurse in charge, while my 12-year-old son Dylan was in with his grandpa. After 10 minutes, Dylan came out, we said our goodbyes to my dad and left the hospital.
On the ride home Dylan was unusually quiet. He finally spoke and said, “Mom, I think Grandpa accepted Jesus tonight.” He went on to explain, “I told him he needed Jesus and I told him why, then I waited a few minutes and asked if he wanted to accept Jesus into his heart, and Grandpa nodded yes.”
There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that at the invitation of a child, and with a nod, my father was immediately adopted into the family of God. Even though Dad couldn’t speak, I believe that nod was enough.
In Jesus’ final hours, He displayed the grace of God towards a broken sinner. Without saying the sinner’s prayer, the thief dying next to Jesus rasped out these words: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). With an answer that rings hope into the hearts of everyone who loves a hardened sinner, Jesus said “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
The grace of God reached out to that thief on the cross. And the grace of God met my father at his point of greatest need. The incredible news is that God’s amazing grace is there for anyone who admits their need for Jesus and invites Him into their lives, no matter what point in their living … or dying.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to have a conversation with my father, because he got progressively worse and died a week later. Some might say my dad doesn’t deserve to be in heaven after rejecting God for so many years. I would definitely agree. However, I don’t deserve to be in heaven either and I’ve walked with Jesus for most of my life.
I’m eternally grateful that I won’t make it into heaven based on my character, how long I’ve been a Christian or how good a job I’ve done at being one. I’d never make it. The only way any of us receives eternal life is through Jesus. Romans 3:23-24, “… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
As I reflect on goodness of God, I’m in awe that His grace extends to a gentle old scientist, unable to feed himself or speak. I imagine God looked down from heaven that night in the hospital and said encouragingly, “Just nod, Richard, I know that’s all you can do right now, and that’s all it will take.”