A remarkable call from prison

I got a remarkable phone call from a man in prison in Maine. He called me to tell me how much a book I had written had changed his life. The book was actually the first book I ever wrote. It was called Experiencing God’s Forgiveness and the Journey from Guilt to Gladness. He was telling me how this book changed his life and how he was leading a study of the book with a group of prisoners up in Maine. I was so struck by this phone call, I asked him how, first of all, he even found my number. He told me that he had been so struck by the book and what it had taught him that he went to the chaplain of the prison and asked for the chaplain to contact the publisher which eventually led them to track me down and arrange for this phone call.

That phone call happened over 20 years ago and still I can remember it and the encouragement it gives to me. I think my point is that whenever you receive feedback on how you have made a difference in another person’s life, it tends to stick with you for a long time because, after all, there are a lot of things to be discouraged about and we all wonder about the level of our impact. What I wanted to say today is that my example is really worth remembering if you want to encourage the Christian leaders in your life, particularly the pastors and the elders of your church.

This is Pastor Appreciation Month. My insight on this is it is okay to do it in October, but it’s even more important if you were to do it, let’s say, on a quarterly basis. Let the pastor know or the leaders in your life know what you have learned from them, what was challenging, what was insightful, what was inspirational to you and what changed your life. They don’t really need flattery. They don’t need a lot of praise. That actually embarrasses leaders a lot. We don’t know what to do with that. But how your life has been improved is very powerful if you will express that to your leaders.

In 1 Timothy 5, we get encouragement to do this very thing. Elders who rule are considered worthy of double honor, especially those whose labor is preaching and teaching. Now the context there is actually talking about supporting them financially so they can continue to study and prepare to bring to you the Word of Life. But the broader context is showing honor. My point is that the best honor that we can provide someone is simply a testimony to how their life has impacted ours, not flattery, because of their good efforts.

If you do that regularly, their hearts will open up to you more and more in the days ahead. There are very few leaders that people bother to develop that kind of a personal feedback loop with but when it happens, it makes a big difference. If you want to encourage your pastor to participate in the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, which comes up in January, if you want to encourage your pastors and leaders to do something around world missions and to encourage them in missions, anything that you would like to encourage your pastors to consider will be well received if it’s based on a relationship of honor and respect.

I would like to help you do that. If this book would help you or change your life, then you can tell them, “Hey, this book changed my life. I wanted to pass it on to you.” This little story is about Jeannie Purnia and how she used to be involved in the abortion business and how she’s now involved in setting up pregnancy centers all over the world. This is a story that’s impacted

me. It inspires many people. You can give this to your leaders in your church and just say, “Hey, this story. impacted me. I think that you would enjoy reading it, and you may find that it’s useful in impacting other people.” That’s the format that I suggest.

I think if I was a leader and I wanted to speak more to life issues, it would be helpful to me if people gave me things that had made an impact on their life. Which is a little bit different than just going to a leader and saying, “Why don’t you talk about this and why don’t you talk about that?” Don’t go there. Rather say, “These are the four questions that have impacted my life and made a difference in my life and I think that they will make a difference in other people’s lives and I wanted to share them with you as an encouragement to you.” This is my approach to the sanctity of human life, to missions, Sunday emphasis, and it is to let people know what changed your life and share that with the people who live to try to have impact on everybody else. That’s the role of a pastor: to bring the gospel of life to the people of God in a way that changes their life and brings glory to God. That is my suggested approach to you.

I’m at the point in my life where I want to have the greatest impact that I can possibly have with whatever years remain. Whether that is through writing, teaching, preaching, through our books and resources or anything else, we want to share them with you. Even if that means coming to your church, I would come. If I’m not in the country, I would come. I just want to have the same kind of impact that other leaders want to have around the world. Feel free to reach out to us and we’ll work together so that together we can have the greatest impact on the culture of life.