Joe was a drunk who was miraculously converted at a Bowery mission. Prior to his conversion, he had gained the reputation of being a dirty wino for whom there was no hope. But following his conversion to a new life in Christ, everything changed.
Joe became the most caring person that anyone associated with the mission had ever known. Joe spent his days and nights hanging out at the mission, doing whatever needed to be done. There was never anything that he was asked to do that he considered beneath him. Whether it was cleaning up the vomit of a violently sick alcoholic or scrubbing toilets after careless men left the men’s room filthy, Joe did what was asked with a smile on his face and seeming gratitude for the chance to help.
He could be counted on to feed feeble men who wandered in from the street and into the mission, and to undress and tuck into bed men who were too drunk to take care of themselves. One evening, when the director of the mission was delivering his evening evangelistic message to the usual crowd of still and sullen men, one man looked up, came down the aisle to the altar, and knelt to pray, crying out to God to help him change. The repentant drunk kept shouting, “Oh, God, make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe!”
The director of the mission leaned over and said to the man, “Son, I think it would be better if you prayed, ‘Make me like Jesus.’”
The man looked up at the director with a quizzical expression on his face and asked, “Is He like Joe?”
A friend sent me this story with a note, “One of my favorite stories.” The story touched me. It became one of my favorite stories, too. I began to contemplate the story.
What made the man shout, “Lord, make me like Joe?” Would the man have prayed, “Lord, make me like Joe” if Joe were still a drunk? Never. It was Joe’s kind deeds, words of hope and encouragement, cheerful countenance, humility, being there when help was needed, and the positive influence he spread. What transformed Joe’s life? It was God’s unconditional love, the blood of Jesus Christ, and Someone who valued his worth as a child of God and a worthy citizen for His kingdom that gave him hope of a new life in Christ.
I thought about myself. Has anyone ever prayed, “Lord, make me like Hepzi”? My heavenly Father picked me up from the miry clay. He sent His only Son, my big Brother, to cleanse me with His blood. He tenderly, constantly, untiringly counsels me through His Word and through His messengers. Is my life transformed like Joe’s? I often give excuses when I do wrong. I justify my actions by saying, “I was conceived in sin. No one is perfect. It is human to err. So don’t look at me; look at Jesus.”
How does anyone who comes in contact with me know about Jesus? The apostle Paul says that people should learn of Jesus through me. Paul lived such an exemplary life that he could tell the Corinthians confidently, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Another version of the Bible says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, NRSV). To the Philippians he wrote, “Join with others in following my example” (Phil 3:17).
Why does Paul say that to the Corinthians and the Philippians? They had not seen Jesus Christ and did not know much about His life and ministry. Moreover, according to theologians, the gospels were not written yet. The only way the Corinthians and the Philippians could learn of Jesus Christ was from the lives of Christ’s followers, like Paul. Paul believed that the best way to point new Christians to Christ was to direct them to someone they trusted. While in Corinth almost two years, Paul built a lasting relationship with the believers and earned their trust.
Did he think he was sinless? No. He called himself “the chief of sinners” and “the worst of all sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). After Jesus touched Saul, his life was transformed, and he did all he could to live an exemplary life. He wrote to the Philippians, “Not that I have already obtained all this or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12, 13).
Ellen G. White wrote, “Moral perfection is required of all. Never should we lower the standard of righteousness in order to accommodate inherited or cultivated tendencies to wrongdoing. We need to understand that imperfection of character is sin. All righteous attributes of character dwell in God as a perfect, harmonious whole, and everyone who receives Christ as a personal Savior is privileged to possess these attributes. . . . Let no one say, I cannot remedy my defects of character. The impossibility lies in your own will. . . . Be ambitious for the Master’s glory, to cultivate every grace of character” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 330-332).
We limit God’s power when we say we cannot correct ourselves. The apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13, KJV). He admonishes that all God’s children ought to be without blemish (1 Cor. 9:25-27). The love and close relationship Paul maintained with God enabled him to live according to God’s will. The joy he experienced in this relationship gave him the strength to suffer for Him (2 Cor. 11:23 27).
In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote that the only letter I need is you yourselves. By looking at the good change in your hearts, everyone can see that we have done a good work among you. People can see that you are a letter from Christ written by us. It is not a letter written with pen and ink but by the spirit of the living God, not carved on stone but in human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:2, 3). We who work for Christ ought to live the truth, not merely speak the truth. People watch us and compare our teaching and preaching with our lifestyle, actions, and attitudes. Our preaching and teaching become more effective, bringing desired results in making us true disciples of Jesus Christ only when we live by the truth we preach.
Let me conclude with three verses from the apostle Paul’s epistles that inspire, encourage, and strengthen me to carry on with my responsibilities in spite of many challenges.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
“Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:9, 10).
Sisters in Christ, when we give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord without becoming weary or discouraged or disappointed, Jesus Christ who strengthens us will use us the way He wants to use us.
May our prayer always be, “Use me, Lord, the way you want to use me. Not my will. Let your will be done in my life. Amen.”