One little letter

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.



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Chris Short

God bless you Jes. That was just what I needed to hear today and I completely miss being in an environment (like the Deep End or Blue House) where these conversations are life changing on a daily basis. Keep up the wonderful writing and theological digging. Since you ask, I am in the middle of a little change. On New Year’s Day, I went to church with a bit of a headache after too many drinks the night before. I was supposed to meet my Associate Pastor for some strange introduction to someone after church. Whatever. I almost called off the meeting. But I got cornered and God said, “Listen… five minutes.”
I went to the meeting and met two gentlemen at an abandoned commercial property. They start talking about veterans affairs, grant development, wanting to buy the property and opening an advisory ‘clinic’ where professionals can serve veterans and the disabled by teaching them how to apply for grants to gain independence through ADA approved home improvements. Since I am the uber-fundraising guru (or so I was introduced), I was asked to think about it.
Six weeks later. Last night. I was voted in as the CEO and GM of this newly birthed Foundation. We are seeking 501(c)3 status and incorporation with the State of Washington. Grant development is soon to follow. We are writing bylaws, mission and vision statements. God willing, we will be up and running by the end of summer.
God said to listen for five minutes. He had me open my big mouth to say how dissatisfied I am with academic fundraising and how I have been running from my calling. Twelve people believe that God is using me and guiding me to something fruitful. Second Life Foundation is now dependent upon my ability to lead and fund it. Twelve years of fundraising and non-profit experience and I think it finally has a goal: serve God and His children. Who would have known….


My father recently passed away, and through the mess of emotions, there was the blessing of being around many of his close friends and family over a several weeks during his illness and the loss of this important man.

I heard a testimony from a woman who is the wife of my dad’s best friend from childhood. I had spent a lot of time around her during my childhood, and she was a little bit of a wild card. I didn’t understand it all as a child, but she had very harsh language and quite a temper. I remember that much. From the view of a child, she was to be feared. She never struck me to be religeous, so I was surprised when we spent a full day in a hospital waiting room together and she talked a lot about a bible study she has been leading. After a while, she shared her testimony. She told me that she had been a drunk during most of my childhood. (a- ha! I thought) She told me she would load up with taco bell on her way home from work, so that she could have something in her tummy to allow her to tolerate the stiff drinks. Her husband was also a drinker, but didn’t realize how much she was drinking. She liked it when he was busy with work or other things that gave her the chance to get loaded without him noticing. During the Clinton years, her husband was so worried about the economy and other factors that he didn’t watch television, and would come home and go to bed early, allowing her to drink more without him discovering her problem. She was catholic, but rarely attended church with her husband and daughter. She was very respected in the community as was her husband, but this secret was not shared with anyone.

One day, a neighbor who she really liked invited her to a bible study. Though she didn’t want to go, she was polite to this person in her response. The woman didn’t get that she wasn’t interested, and persisted. On the morning she was to go, she realized that her “out” was that she did not even own a bible, and since it was last minute, there would be no time to buy a bible. The friend did not flinch… and just responded that they would just go by Mardel’s on the way to the meeting, leaving her no “out”, unless she retreated to her harsh blunt personality. Reluctantly, because she really liked this friend, she saw no way out, and she agreed to go. They picked up a bible on the way, but her heart still wasn’t in it.

She said that as she walked into that bible study, it was like some kind of knee jerk reaction # she started flooding with tears, crying uncontrollably. She didn’t understand what was happening to her. She really didn’t feel like she had emotion causing the tears but she couldn’t stop crying. She sat through the bible study, and didn’t really digest much of what was said because she was blubbering so much for no apparent reason. She felt people were staring at her and she didn’t understand what was happening.

After that day, she never had the urge to drink, and all of those terrible words that used to flow out of her mouth were just not there. She didn’t make a decision not to drink, she just didn’t have the urge, and didn’t drink. It wasn’t a concious decision because she really never wanted to give up alcohol. It just happened. She never wanted the drinks, and the language just wasn’t there. After a month.. 2 months.. 6 months… she realized that she hadn’t had anything to drink. Her daughter realized that she was nicer. Her husband offered her a drink after about 6 months of not drinking, and she asked him when the last time he saw her drink was, and he was stunned to think about it… come to think of it, he hadn’t seen her drink for a while. There had never been a decision to stop, and never a conversation with her family before, during, or after this change… it just happened, seemingly on its own. And those terrible words that had previously spewed out of her mouth nonstop just were not in her vocabulary.

She continued with the bible study that she had been reluctantly dragged into, and years later is now leading a group with her husband. She is obsessed with the study of the bible and the history. They were the most unlikely leaders of a bible study. She is a wonderful grandmother and doting mother to her married daughter.

As a child, I didn’t really know about the drinking, but I do remember her scarey temper and language, and I remember feeling sorry for her daughter who was several years younger than I was. I remember her getting very angry with my mom one time because she thought her husband was interested in my mom (which was never the case). She did not hold back, even in front of children!

God took control and made these changes in her life, which has had a impact on many lives. It was a beautiful testimony, and a nice story illustrating how powerful God can be. It was nice to know this about this woman I have known as a unofficial aunt all of my life. It really comforted me during such a difficult time, just confirmation that God does have a plan.