The beloved Keith Miller died this past January, but I don’t think his impact will cease. He authored some books that powerfully impacted me during my twenties. In fact, his book A Taste Of New Wine was considered one of one-hundred Christian books that changed the century. But the book that most impacted me was Habitation of Dragons. The part of the book I still treasure is a short story of an ordinary man, entangled in a sin, who changed, and how people reacted. This story has stirred me repeatedly though my life. It prods me when I think I have no influence or that I need to do something big to make a difference.
I’m copying it here, in my blog, as a tribute to Keith. I’m also saving it as an MS Word document in the blue “FILES box” in the left side-bar of this blog. Please take a moment to read it now. If you want, download the file and read it frequently. I think you’ll be inspired every time.
THE POWER OF A CHANGED LIFE
“How can a church leader motivate people to hear the gospel, much less to become a Christian?” This question seems to be implicit in every leadership meeting I attend. I have found a single recurring answer echoing down the years. For many people there is only one universally effective way to interest people in Christianity—and that is to expose them to a person with whom they can identify, a person who is finding hope and meaning in Christ in his own life. For years I was a little hesitant about the idea of new Christians trying to influence other people before they really understood some of the implications of the gospel. However, not long ago something happened that make me rethink this whole matter.
While on a speaking trip in another state, I was restless and tired. Feeling phony and miserable, I did not want to speak to this particular group. How could I possibly project hope and purpose concerning the Christian life?
Waiting my turn to speak, I looked out over those hundreds of strange faces. I wondered if anyone else had come to this meeting unwilling…and could not shake loose from the slough of self-pity and the frustration of not being able to control his circumstances. But after I had finished speaking, I found myself still standing before the lectern, sort of hesitating. Finally, I heard myself saying something I had never said before—and I was a little embarrassed because it sounded like some kind of gimmick: “You know, I have the strangest feeling that I came all this way to talk to one of you who may be going through some of the same feelings of frustration and self-pity I am. And if you are the person, I would like to meet you after the session.”
As I sat down, I mentally kicked myself in the backside. “Why did you say a stupid thing like that? These people will think you are some kind of a kook.”
After the program a large number of men came to extend the courtesy of greeting the speakers. As a line came by, I forgot all about my closing remarks until a short, heavy-set man with glasses and black wavy hair walked up to me. When he shook my hand, he gripped it with great intensity. I looked into his eyes and saw a couple of tears start down his cheeks. Leaning forward, I said quietly, “Say, if you have a minute I’d like to talk to you.” He nodded. I pointed over to the corner and said I would by there in a few minutes.
As soon as I could break loose, I went to him. “What are you doing here?” I asked him.
“This is the damnedest thing that ever happened to me. I am an attorney and travel a lot. Although we belong to this denomination,” and nodded toward a group still clustered around the speaker’s platform, “it hasn’t really meant anything to me in years. I certainly never planned to come to this meeting. As a matter of fact…” and here he stopped and looked at me a little uneasily. But then he went on, “As a matter of fact, I have a mistress in this town and was coming to see her—though I was supposedly on a business trip. For weeks I have been feeling very guilty. I wanted out of this relationship, but couldn’t seem to break it off. Well, anyway, when I got out of my car a block from this church in front of her apartment, who should come charging up to clap me on the back but three guys from my home church. I almost fainted as one of them asked, ‘What are you doing here, Joe?’ ‘I, uh…I’m just passing through,’ I lied, scared to death they were going to see the guilt written all over me.
‘“Hey, great. We’re just going down to hear some Christian businessmen speak. You’ve gotta come with us.”’ ‘And I was afraid to say no for fear I’d somehow give myself away.
“But as I sat there in the meeting and heard you speak about a new start in life—a life with purpose and meaning that had been filled with self-pity. I had no idea what to do. Then you stood up there and looked squarely at me and said what you did, and I knew that I was the one.” He stopped and looked at me.
“Listen,” I said, not really knowing what to do since I had to catch a plane. “We haven’t much time. Would you like to commit your whole future to God, including the relationship with this woman?”
He just stood there biting his lips, and finally said, “Boy, I sure would!”
“All right. There are a couple of things involved in beginning, as I understand it. One is to confess that you really want your own way more than God’s; and if you can do that, then ask God, as He is revealed in Christ, to come into your own inner life and show you how to live for Him…and give Him permission to make you want to.”
In a prayer, standing in the corner of that huge church, Joe made a new beginning. I pointed out that Christianity was not a “ticket to heaven” but a way of life that starts now and transcends death, and that all he had done with me was to make a bare beginning – now he had to begin to learn to live again.
I heard my name called and noticed that the people who were to drive me to the airport were looking at their watches. Hating to leave this man, I said “Hey, listen Joe, I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll pray for you every morning for a month if you will pray for me. If you want to go on after that, write me a card and say, ‘You’re on for another month,’ and I’ll stay with you a month at a time from now on.”
Joe was in tears as he shook my hand. I hated to leave but had to. Glancing at my watch, I saw that the whole interview had lasted about twelve minutes.
When I got home form that trip at the end of the month, there was a letter from Joe. He had begun to live for God. Things looked great. He had started by breaking off the relationship with his mistress. Already it was hard, but he was going to try for another month if I would stick with him.
Well, I knew old Joe was in for some real adjustments. And as the months went by, I was amazed at the way God was getting hold of this man. He began reading Scriptures and all the books he could get his hands on about living the Christian life, and he began going to his church and having long talks with his minister. Joe began to see his self-centeredness and changed his behavior toward his family and friends in the little southwestern town of a few thousand in which he lived. During all this time I had not seen Joe or talked to him. All he knew was that someone he had met one day was praying for him at 6:30 every morning.
About a year later Joe wrote and said he had told a few people about what was happening to him, but he did not feel they understood him. If I would come to his church he said he would get these people together for a discussion about living for Christ as a businessman.
This was a very busy time in my life. But I had gotten Joe into this, and the circumstances were so unusual that I thought the least I could do would be to go and visit with the little group to which he was trying to witness. So I went.
I got in just in time for the meeting. Joe met my plane and was very excited as we drove to his church. He said he was sure glad that I was there, because several people in town had come right out and asked him what had happened in his life. Since I had never written any books or articles, his friends would know me only as a “friend of Joe’s.” As we arrived at the church, the minister said that he was glad I’d come and that Joe had really helped him personally. By this time we were a few minutes late. We went through a door at one end of the church to meet the friends who were curious about Joe’s life. I stopped for several seconds…looking into the faces of over 800 people crowded into every corner and aisle of that church and adjoining rooms.
I realized in that moment that all of the promoted programs and Christian education plans in the world will be virtually worthless to motivate people to become Christians-unless they see some ordinary person like Joe who is finding hope and a new way to live in Christ. And then they will listen.