When we need a new beginning God offers second chance

Voices of Religion

Posted: Friday, August 20, 2004

Picking up the ringing phone, I heard the voice of a man who hadn't called in several years. At our first meeting, he had been only 19.

I had just finished a sermon at his church and, though I didn't know it at that time, he had recently dropped out of college where he had been preparing for the ministry.

My next contact with this discouraged dropout came about 10 years after our original encounter.

He said he thought it was time to update me on the good things that had happened in his life.

"When you came to our church, I had just dropped out of college," he said.

"Your sermon was titled, 'The Second Time,' and was about Jonah being given another chance to serve God after he had blown his first opportunity, Jonah 3."

He explained then that after hearing the sermon he had returned to college, graduated and was now the pastor of a South Carolina church. In addition to his work as a pastor, he and his talented family were active in gospel music.

"Every time I hear from you, I'm reminded of Jonah," I said, prompting a pleasant chuckle from him, as I momentarily relived hearing about the wonderful changes in his life that he had shared in his first call.

Given Jonah's reputation, most wouldn't have considered my comment a compliment, but he knew I was simply expressing my joy over the positive direction his life had followed after his new beginning.

Jonah, somewhat deservedly, has been given a bad rap by preachers, commentators and the general public. After all, he had rebelled against his call from God to become a missionary to Nineveh, described in the Bible as a wicked city, and as a result, found himself in deep trouble, but that's not the end of the story.

Later, discouraged and exhausted on a lonely beach, drowning in self pity, Jonah was offered a new beginning.

This time, he accepted the challenge, headed for Nineveh and became one of the most successful evangelists of all time.

The entire city responded to his one sentence sermon: "Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown."

Repentance and faith spread through Nineveh like wildfire. Lives were changed and the king was so moved by what was happening among his people that he joined them in their confessions and prayers.

The city that had been ripe for judgment was spared from destruction, and all these good things happened because a man who had given up on himself was granted a new beginning.

During the mid-nineteenth century, A.C. Lanphier was employed by the Dutch Reformed Church to serve as a missionary in some of the crowded and needy areas of New York City.

The work was difficult and Lanphier often became discouraged. Sometimes he felt like giving up, but found strength to go on through prayer.

Thinking others who were feeling down might be helped by prayer, he let it be known that he was starting a series of weekly noon-hour prayer meetings that would be open to all who wished to come. The first of these was held on Sept. 23, 1857.

During the first half hour of that prayer meeting, Lanphier prayed alone. Then, one by one, others came until six were praying.

The next week 20 appeared and the third week brought 40. By spring, Lanphier's prayer meetings were being held throughout the city, finally birthing a spiritual awakening across the land.

When we feel like giving up, it's time to look up.

New beginnings await the tired and discouraged in answer to their prayers.

Roger Campbell is an author, radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist from Waterford, Mich. He has written more than 20 books and has had articles published in most major Christian magazines. He was a pastor for 22 years and has been a guest speaker in Alaska churches from Anchorage to Homer.

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