In my late teens, I was blessed to be mentored by two powerful women. They also discipled young inmates who came to know Christ while incarcerated. Most of these young men were first-time offenders. Their fledgling forays into the legal system terrified them. The calm, gentle, and no-nonsense discipleship method used by Opal and Myrtle wooed even the hardest of hearts into the kingdom. A revival spread through a minimum security jail on the outskirts of our city as the God of Second Chances transformed lives.
New believers were not bereft of fellowship when they finished their jail sentence. Every week, dozens of young Christians joined with the residents of the transition house that Opal and Mrytle oversaw. We all crammed into the old house’s living room for fellowship, worship, and bible study. There was no sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’; we were all brothers and sisters in Christ. We were all redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We all knew the God of Second Chances.
A crimson thread ran through the stories of the young men I met through the transition house ministry—most experienced profound rejection from their families. A few grew up in church but drifted away in their teen years. Others ran away to escape abusive environments. Regardless of how each young man arrived, they all found themselves at the Cross. They believed that with the power of God’s redeeming love and the support of a loving community, they could triumph over addiction, bitterness, unforgiveness, and self-hatred.
As they experienced unconditional love and acceptance, they found it easier to take on personal responsibility and accept the consequences of poor choices. To them, God was not just the God of Second Chances. He was Father God who relentlessly pursued them despite their many falls.
Former addicts became pastors and missionaries. Rebellious teens returned to school and became doctors and business leaders. Young women were healed and restored and became influential community role models. Young men grew in their faith and learned to mentor others.
Praise the God of Second Chances
Most weekends, we headed down to a Christian coffeehouse and fellowshipped into the small wee hours. I learned how to pray for others through observation and hands-on experience. I saw past bad manners and poor hygiene. I learned to work with Jesus as He walked through impenetrable walls that protected wounded hearts. Miracles took place before my eyes: deliverance, physical healings, and lives transformed. I counted drug addicts, alcoholics, college students, kids from the suburbs, members of the First Nations, and influential business people as my equals. We were all brothers and sisters in Christ.
Long after moving from my hometown, I stumbled upon an article in a national newspaper about one of the young men I met during my coffee-house days. I honestly can’t remember if Pat had been in trouble with the law before he came to know the Lord. But I know he lived on the streets as a panhandler for several years.
I remember Pat’s love for the One who gave him a second chance. At first, Pat quietly served behind the coffee bar, washing dishes and tidying up. His dish-washing ministry gradually evolved into a flourishing network of inner-city churches that continue to touch thousands of lives across Canada. In recognition of his service, Pat received the ‘Order of Canada’, one of the highest honours given to a civilian. He gave credit to all those who had not written him off as just a kid from the streets. And He gave glory to the God of second chances.
If you can’t wrap your head around the truth that God can redeem even the hardest of hearts and that God not only welcomes prodigals home but places them in roles of responsibility and service, do a character study of Biblical characters who took full advantage of their second chance. Study those who threw that chance away. What was their lasting legacy, good or bad? Here is a short list to study—Saul of the Old Testament. Saul/Paul of the New Testament. King David, Peter, Judas. Yes, Judas. Would Jesus have forgiven him if Judas had turned back to his Rabbi? I believe so, yes. But Judas never had a heart understanding of the unconditional love Jesus demonstrated.
Lamentations 3:22-23 – “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
God of second chances, when we think we have gone too far and that there is no possible way that You would ever take us back, Your forgiveness is there the moment we turn to You. May we carry Your heart to those society has labelled as beyond redemption. When we are tempted to write off those we think have gone too far, empower us with the grace You displayed toward Peter after his betrayal. Please give us the wisdom, patience, grace and long-suffering needed to be instruments of reconciliation and restoration as the prodigals come home.
Unless otherwise attributed, all Bible verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Until Next Week
©2023 Katherine Walden