Jeff was one of our favorite speakers to invite to speak to our youth groups. He always had a powerful presentation, always held the attention of even the most A.D.D. teenagers, and (cardinal rule of youth ministry) he always had them crying by the end. Jeff’s testimony centered around his own teenage years, when he had been rebellious and wild, rejecting his parents’ Christian views and filling his life with parties, alcohol and sex. At the pinnacle of his story, Jeff left a party under the influence of alcohol and tried to drive his car home. When his best friend stood in his way, intending to stop him from driving drunk, Jeff didn’t see him in his rear-view mirror, and unintentionally backed over his friend, killing him instantly. The wake-up call was immediate. In the midst of grief, confession and repentance, Jeff gave his life to Jesus and pledged to go into ministry telling his story to prevent other teens from going down the wrong path.
Teenagers loved the drama of Jeff’s story and the transformation they saw in him. Each time he told it, a handful of them realized they were on the same path of rebellion and made a dramatic turn with their own lives.
But then there were the rest. Good, church-going kids, many of them had already given their lives to Christ. Most could not identify with the dramatic circumstances of Jeff’s life. Many of them lamented: “I don’t really have a testimony. God hasn’t done much in my life compared to Jeff.” They didn’t realize they were being daily transformed in little ways, or that it was important to expect God’s help with the smallest things. Turning their temptations towards greed, lust, selfishness and materialism over to God bit by bit was forming a dramatically different future for them. They were becoming new and different people, but sometimes the alterations were almost too small to see.
When God changed Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah, the transformation might have seemed small. In Hebrew it was just one tiny letter a piece. But when God makes changes, the tiniest adjustment can communicate big things, to us, our futures, and to those whose lives we impact.
Abram and Sarai each receive the same letter as an addition to their names. In Hebrew the letter is called “Hey” and is written like this: ה
אַבְרָם(Abram) becomes אַבְרָהָם (Abraham) and שָׂרַי(Sarai) was renamed שָׂרָה (Sarah).
In Hebrew, letters have significance beyond just a pronounced sound. Each character of the Hebrew alphabet is infused with meaning. The letter Hey, for example, also signifies the number five, since it’s the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Hey sometimes represents the divine breath, revelation, and light. In some Jewish teachings, Hey is a picture of the presence of God within the human heart. Adding Hey at the very end of a Hebrew noun gives the word a feminine character, which can metaphorically mean the word has become “fruitful” or reproductive.
What might that little letter have meant to Abraham and Sarah? Hearing their new names spoken by God they might have seen clear picture painted of their future. Not just a picture of becoming the Father of Many Nations, or A True Princess (the meanings of their new names), but a picture of a God who wanted to dwell in their hearts, making his presence as accessible as their next breath. A picture of a new life that was fruitful and reproductive, infused with hope of a family that they had dreamed of for years and a God who would surround and bless them.
Too often we underestimate the value of small changes God makes in our lives. What looks like one little letter to us meant the whole world to Abraham and Sarah. Dramatic testimonies are inspiring, but if we miss the small changes God is making, we will miss the big picture He’s painting for a big future.
“God works powerfully, but for the most part gently and gradually.”
-John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace
(Note: To learn more about the Hebrew alphabet, follow this link and click on individual letters to learn their character and meaning.)
Can you think of someone whose life was changed in a small way by God? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.