When it comes to testimony, there are the Mary Magdalenes (those whose list of past sins could fill a ream of paper) and there are the John the Baptists (those whose past sins are so inconsequential they’re not even mentioned in the course of their story). I know some John the Baptists—people who made good choices even as children and who devoted their lives to the Lord before making the sorts of mistakes that throw one’s life completely off course. I wish I were a John the Baptist, but I’m not. I was Mary Magdalene, racking up sins (starting at the tender age of 15) that had lifelong consequences and leaving a path of debris and pain. I hurt others and myself, and, although I loved God, I wasted years that could have been spent for the Kingdom just trying to survive the fallout of my choices.
But then I remember that all are lost, all are hopeless apart from Jesus. It’s strange to think that Billy Graham was just as lost and hell-bound as the worst of sinners apart from the cross, but it’s true. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, needed a savior! No one deserves heaven. And those like me, who are ever-aware of the years they squandered and the wreckage they left in their wake—sometimes I think we’re even more mindful that we don’t deserve the mercy we’ve been granted. We don’t deserve those million second chances we’ve been given; we don’t deserve joy and love and beauty. For me, this awareness produces deep, deep gratitude and the determination to spend the rest of my years wisely. It propels me to give my time to the poor, to love the addicts and alcoholics who have (like me) made a mess of their lives. When you see yourself in “the worst of sinners,” there’s no room for smugness or complacency. I am a hair’s breadth away from the prostitute on the corner, and I pray I never forget it.
I’ve been known to throw myself into worship in an undignified way. I’ve danced until my feet were literally blistered. Why? Because, like Paul, I know that “Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all” (1 Tim.). He didn’t have to save me, but He did. He didn’t have to grant me mercy again and again and again as the years passed, but He did. So when it’s time to worship, how can I do anything less than unleash my love on the One who unleashed His grace on me? I don’t care what the person next to me thinks about me—that person didn’t pluck me out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock, Jesus did. My days are numbered, so each time I worship, I understand it could be the last opportunity to do so while here on earth, and I want to go out while giving Him what He deserves: ALL of me.
Are you a Mary Magdalene too? Don’t waste your energy, much less your time, on regrets. Regarding your past, let it go—but don’t forget it either because those who remember they’ve been forgiven much love much. Love your Rescuer without restraint or limits! Allow your scars to propel you into the heart of God until He turns those scars into gold and you begin to dispel light everywhere you go. Love and serve those who are still floundering and whose scars are still bleeding. Trust that God will redeem the years you wasted if you’ll simply do what He tells you to do from here on.
“But it is for this reason I was given mercy: by displaying His perfect patience in me, the very worst of all sinners, Jesus the Anointed could show that patience to all who would believe in Him and gain eternal life” (1 Tim.).