I first met Paul in the year 2000. I had been a Christian for about 6 years. He was the same age as my parents, and was an elder in the first church I became involved in after I became a Christian. (I didn't go to church for quite a while after I became a Christian because of my painful church past. More details in my testimony.) The first Sunday I attended this new church, I ran to the alter for prayer when the time came. As I remember, he was the one who prayed with me.
About two months later, my wife and I decided to start attending a church "small group." I didn't really know anything about what a "small group" was, but it seemed like something I should check out. It turned out that Paul was the leader of the small group we started going to.
There was something about Paul that drew me to him. He had a calming effect on me. He also seemed to take an interest in me. I was in the beginning of my walk with the Lord, and pretty immature, but I did have a fire for God. I wanted to grow, I wanted to learn. I think he sensed something in me. As time passed, Paul became my mentor.
Our original small group eventually ended, but Paul invited those who wanted to keep going to meet at his house. We went, along with a few others. Paul continually kept encouraging me and pushing me closer to the Lord. He wanted to know about my life. He encouraged me to share my insights, and what I had been learning. (I had started my online
ministry JesusAlive.cc around this time.) He brought me to a place where I could pray out loud in front of the group (very difficult for me).
I don't know why he did this, but Paul had a funny habit of keeping a prayer notebook. He would take prayer requests from everyone in the group, write them in the notebook, and then ask "who would like to pray for this?" When someone volunteered to pray, he would write their name next to the request in the notebook. No one ever really knew what was in that notebook, but it was kind of humorous.
Paul struggled with a ringing in his ears. One night he brought it up as a prayer request. He wrote it down in the notebook, and said, "I want Steve to pray for this." I don't know exactly why he did that, and I am not sure that the ringing ever stopped after I prayed, but I have never forgotten that he wanted "me" to lead the prayer for his healing.
There is a book called "The Five Love Languages" by Dr. Gary Chapman. In short, it is a book that shows what makes you feel loved the most, and how to best show love towards others. (I highly recommend it.) My "love language" is "words of affirmation." (Other "love languages" are physical touch, acts of service, gifts, and quality time.) In other words, when people "affirm" me by saying kind words or encouraging things to me, it shows me love. Paul was great at doing this.
For years, I have kept a notebook of encouraging words that people have spoken to me that I can look at when times get tough. Paul is in that book. On Jan 23, 2002 (yes, I also write dates), he said to me (paraphrasing), "You have a gift that very few people on this planet have, you have the gift of humility. It is so rare, and when you see it, you really recognize it, and it stands out, and you have it." Those words have meant more to me than perhaps any other words ever spoken to me. It is a continual prayer of mine that God would crush all pride in me, and that I would have a humble spirit. I am not at all sure I will ever be where I need to be in that, but those words from Paul encourage me to push on.
As time went on, our church planted a new church in a neighboring city. Paul and his wife left to help them. We started at a new small group. It was also a great blessing, and many new friendships came out of it, but Paul wasn't there. I didn't see Paul much anymore. I would still reach out to him from time to time. I started a new job, he showed up and prayed for me. I sent him a message on Facebook asking him to pray, and shortly after the phone rang, and he prayed for me. But, we slowly drifted apart...
In March of 2012, Paul died from cancer. Before he died, we had not spent quality time together in a long time. I truly regret that. I should have reached out more. I should have told him what he meant to me. Maybe it is odd, but as I write this 6 years after his passing, I find myself missing him more. I would love to tell him about how the ministry has grown, how God has opened doors for me, how God is using me and my family. I would love to share my studies in the Bible with Him. And, I would also like to tell him that I have no doubt I am where I am because of his prayers and encouragement.
Christian friends, if you do not have a mentor, I encourage you to find one. Find someone older and wiser in age, and in Jesus, and ask them to take you under their wing. It can change your life!
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