Mark became a follower of Jesus while taking smoke breaks just outside the windows of our little church.
Being in the building made him nervous. And when Mark got nervous, he needed a cigarette. So when he got nervous enough, he’d step outside and calm his nerves while I preached inside. When the windows were open, he could hear me.
And somewhere along the way, those smoke breaks were used by the Holy Spirit to gently bring Mark to place his faith in Jesus. Mark became a man on fire, like he’d been on the receiving end of a blowtorch.
Christians around Mark caught the flame, too. Even those who’d been brothers and sisters in the Lord for decades began to respond to the spark that was Mark. Their faith was energized. They saw God’s work firsthand in Mark’s life—substance abuse gradually came to an end, a marriage was fortified, finances began to stabilize. It was exhilarating. The joy in Mark bubbled over all around the congregation; anyone who came within reach of the power of the Spirit in Mark was influenced for the better.
I’ll never forget Mark’s first public prayer. No, I don’t remember the exact prayer word-for-word, although I wish I’d had a tape recorder running. I do recall a few choice terms—words that Christians are usually loathe to utter. I’m sure a few good saints cringed when the words came out of his mouth. I know I did.
Mark used those words because they were part of his familiar, less-than-Christian vocabulary. He also used them because of the one thing that made his prayer so memorable: passion.
Mark prayed like he was actually talking to God—like God was in the room, sitting next to him. His prayer was unabashedly honest. He held back nothing. He knew there was no reason to be shy, or to hide, or to use some sacred, spiritualized words that didn’t mean anything to him anyway. Mark didn’t even consider that it was possible or necessary to wear a mask while he talked to God. He opened up and let it fly.
Mark’s prayer changed everyone in the room. His sincerity made it feel like someone had cracked a door so that a fresh breeze from heaven filled the place. All our musty, old communication with God was revealed for what it was. Because Mark spoke to God as if He was real, the Lord’s presence became tangible to all of us. There were tears of joy.
This is what God can do with new Christians. They reacquaint us with unvarnished truth and fresh faith. They are vital to our vigor, cold water to our dry, weary faith. God’s power comes through them and into us, and we are enlivened in the process. Almost like being born again, again.