The December edition of the Pure Life Ministries eNews featured a testimony from my dear friend and brother Nate Danser, entitled “The Christmas that God Saved My Life.” Nate is a member of the Senior Leadership team at Pure Life Ministries, and in the article, he shared his testimony, describing how the Lord had taken him from a life of overwhelming darkness and sin into a life blessed with God’s presence. I was on staff at Pure Life Ministries when Nate arrived in the Residential Program, as well as when he entered the Pure Life Ministries Intern program. I can attest: Nate Danser’s transformation is nothing short of a modern-day miracle.
A few days after Nate’s article was published, I saw him on the Pure Life Ministries campus. I commended him for a great article, then added, “But Nate, you left out the best part!” A bit puzzled by my comment, Nate asked me to write an article about “the best part.” I was happy to do it.
First, some background. Men come into our residential program having spent years or even decades “filling their stomachs with the pods that the swine ate.” (Luke 15:16) Their souls have been so contaminated by prodigal living that they have lost all hope of ever again leading a “normal” Christian life. I know this well, because I was one of them.
For many sexual addicts, the Lord has no choice but to allow them to have the sin of their choosing for a season. Just like the Jews who cried out for meat in the wilderness, the Lord had to give them quail “…until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you.” (Numbers 11:20) When the Lord makes the painful decision to give someone over to his sins, He has one goal in mind: that they would repent, return to Him and finally surrender their life to His control.
Without full surrender, our lives as Christians cannot truly begin. Because of this, our merciful God sovereignly engineers trials and circumstances to get us to that place where He draws a line in the sand and beckons us to cross, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
Although surrender is no small order, it is only the beginning. It’s a mystery, but the Lord God, the Creator of the Universe, requires our permission before He will begin the work of restoring us into the image that He created us to be. The biblical term for that process is sanctification, but I have a different word for it: Preparation. I will explain why in a minute.
Sanctification is an intense process, and it is hard work. At times, it seems as if it will never end, and at times, it feels as if there has been no effect. I vividly remember one day years ago, when I marched into Pastor Steve Gallagher’s office intensely frustrated with the process. “Will this ever stop??” I complained. I likened it to having a tooth extracted, painful as that may be, only to find the tooth growing back a few days later, and repeating the process over and over again.
I wasn’t having any fun. Was this all there is to Christianity, I wondered…constantly facing my imperfections and limitations, battling discouragement and moving in and out of despair? Truthfully, there were times when I feared I wasn’t even saved.
But the Holy Spirit is as faithful as He is relentless. When we obey the Bible’s command to “put off the old man that grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” and “put on the new man which was created according to God in true righteousness,” the Holy Spirit faithfully “renews us in the spirit of our minds.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Despite the pain, I battled on, thanks only to the Holy Spirit who dwells inside of me. If it weren’t for Him, I would never have made it, and would never have discovered “the Best Part of Christianity.”
Somewhere along the line, after we are battle-tested and have proven faithful in small things, the Lord decides, in His perfect wisdom, that we are ready. Ready for what you may ask?
Ready to begin to be used for the purpose for which He created us.
What a happy day it is when we are ready for kingdom assignments, ready to receive and pass through power from on high. When I was first called into prison ministry, I was thrilled to be able to serve Pure Life Ministries in that capacity, and looked forward to a season of training. As it turned out, sovereignly orchestrated circumstances required that I would have to teach my very first class all alone. My initial response was nothing short of panic, and I prayed like I had never prayed before.
When that awful day came, I drove by myself to a state prison in Indiana, a prison with a sex offender population of over 2,000 inmates. Despite my fear and anxiety, the Lord said things and did things through me that blew me away. After it was over, I was amazed, overcome with joy and humbled that the Lord would and could use me this way.
My life in Him was forever changed that day. Suddenly, it all became crystal clear. Everything that I had endured up to that point was preparation! All the trials and dryness, the confusion, the despair, the acts of denying myself things I never thought I could be rid of; it was all simply preparation for that moment and beyond.
It’s not that sanctification has stopped. Hardly. In many ways, it has become more intense. But when I realize that He is preparing me for my next assignment I can truly “count it as all joy when I fall into various trials…” (James 1:2) Well, at least most of the time.
My first experience in prison ministry was many years ago. Since then, the journey has only gotten richer. I am more and more filled with sheer awe at the God we serve. The joy of my salvation is now real and alive.
Over the last couple of years, when I spend time with Nate Danser and consider all that the Lord is doing through his surrendered life, it amazes and inspires me. There’s a bounce in his step and a supernatural joy in his heart. On the other side of many deep struggles and trials, Nate is walking in God’s divine purpose and calling for his life. Nate is living in the “Best Part of Christianity.”
Reader, are you struggling through a joyless Christianity? If you are, perhaps you are avoiding full surrender and are clinging to “idols of the heart” or some besetting sin. Or maybe you are resisting the Lord’s heavy hand of love, as He tries to conform you and prepare you for the “good works prepared beforehand that you should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Be sure of this, the Lord will not send us out to work miracles “in His Name” before we are ready. I am not talking about just being busy with church activity. I am talking about responding to the Lord’s call to go out, and then watching Him work miracles through your life
The “Best Part of Christianity” is being used by God to do things we could never do on our own. The best part of Christianity is being an image-bearer and mercy-doer in the name of Christ. The best and most joy-filled part of Christianity is bearing kingdom fruit for His glory and hearing in the end, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Tom Blangiardo is a former business executive and successful entrepreneur. He has held various positions with Pure Life Ministries since 2003 including Business Manager and Outreach Director. He currently serves as Director of Prison Ministries.
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