Busy shoppers tromped through the downtown slush and snow. The Christmas shopping season was underway, and I sprinted back and forth, trying to hand a tract to each shopper who passed my corner. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one man studying the tract I had handed him.
So, what do you think of it?” I asked him.
“Oh, I believe in Santa Claus.” He smiled, obviously pleased with himself at his witty answer.
I decided to play along. “You do? Do you think Santa Claus was the Messiah?” I asked.
“Oh yes! Santa Claus died for my sins.” He smiled again, even more satisfied with his creativity.
“But Santa Claus can’t change your life,” I countered, continuing his little game. “Isn’t that something you would want? You know, Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas. He came to change our lives, even our hearts. Is this something you would want?”
That caught Chuck’s serious side. He looked thoughtful and said, “Yeah, this I want. How could Jesus change my heart? I want to know.”
“Well, let’s not talk here,” I said. “Let me call you and we’ll talk. Okay?”
Chuck gave me his name and phone number and asked me to promise to call him that night.
After that first phone call, Chuck and I arranged to meet a week later at our Jews for Jesus office to talk about how Jesus could change Chuck’s life. Thirty-five years old, Chuck had grown up in a Conservative Jewish home. Unfortunately, his family did not have much to do with him anymore and he was living a lonely life.
As we talked, Chuck told me how he used to love the Jewish worship services with all the melodies and the Hebrew chanting. He said, “I haven’t prayed in a longtime. Could we pray?”
That caught me by surprise. Rarely does someone to whom I am witnessing ask me to pray during our first visit together.
“Okay, let’s pray,” I said. “What shall we pray about?”
Chuck said, “Do you have a prayer book? I want to pray from a prayer book, just like I used to in synagogue.”
“Okay…” I thought for a moment. Did we have a prayer book at the office? And even if we did, how could that become a lead-in to the gospel? Then God sparked an idea in my head. “Here is our prayer book!” I said, as I took a Bible from the shelf. “It was written many hundreds of years ago by a great Jewish king—a king of Israel.” I opened the Bible to the Book of Psalms. “Let’s read Psalm 51,” I said.
We read alternately, and Chuck read, “Be gracious to me, 0 God, according to Thy lovingkindness. According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”
“Chuck, do you understand what David was praying?” I asked.
“Yeah, he was saying he was evil,” Chuck responded.
“Did you know that all of us have done evil before God?” I asked.
“Against whom have we sinned? Against God, it says.”
Chuck read on: “Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Thy presence.”
“Chuck, do you understand what you are praying?” I asked.
“David was asking for God to take away his evil heart and replace it with a clean heart. He was asking God to change his life. Isn’t this something you want?”
“Yeah, I want God to change my life,” Chuck said.
“That is why God sent Jesus, our Messiah, to earth—to die in our place for the evil we have done—and if we believe in him and accept his sacrifice, God will forgive us, give us a new heart and change our lives,” I explained.
“But Jesus was killed on a cross a long time ago,” Chuck said.
“Yes, but three days later he rose from the dead!”
Chuck’s eyes opened wide. “Wow! Where is he now?”
“He’s in heaven, but he will return any day now,” I said. “Why don’t you pray with me now from your heart? Praying is more than reading from a prayer book. It’s just talking to God, who loves you and wants to hear from you. Here, just repeat this prayer with me.”
I led Chuck in a sinner’s prayer of repentance and commitment to Yeshua. He repeated it after me and gave his heart and life to Jesus.
Chuck was a simple person—a person with a childlike faith. After a year in seminary, God had challenged me by showing me that all my systematic theology classes and apologetics lessons didn’t win Chuck into paradise. It was the simple faith that God put in Chuck’s heart, and my willingness to be a witness to him that Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead, and through him our lives can change. God reminded me that evening of the simplicity of the gospel and the calling of all believers just to be witnesses of that good news.