I had the extreme pleasure of attending Joni and Friends’ first ever Global Access Conference recently. I am still struggling to put into words what I learned and to describe who I had the joy of breaking bread with while learning about their ministries around the world.
One thing that I can say with all certainty though, is that God is moving mightily among these people whom the world considers worthless.
I’ll be talking about it for some time, I am sure. I’d love for you to enter into the conversation with me, and perhaps it might get you thinking about your own church as well as your own interactions with those who are disabled.
The first topic we will look at can be found in the panel session I attended called “Learning to Speak Their Language,” which was about how to interact with children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness.
One of the attendees asked a question that is a common query in churches: “What if they can’t understand the Gospel?”
The panelist, who was a mother of a child who is non-verbal due to autism, said something that really struck me: “The Holy Spirit knows his (her son’s) language.”
What a beautiful response! It totally wiped away any scientific, theological, or medical argumentation regarding what is human knowledge (in my mind). It brings it down to the most basic of beliefs–God knows my heart.
Theologically, we have decided that there has to be a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ where we verbally recognize that we are sinners and are in need of God’s forgiveness. In many instances, when someone says they want to believe, we tell them that they need to repeat after me, an example of such a pray can be found on The Blessing House website: Lord Jesus, I come before you and confess that I am a sinner. Jesus, I believe that you died on the cross, and that Almighty God raised you from the dead. I pray that you forgive me of my sin, and be my Lord and Savior. In the name of Christ Jesus I pray this request. Amen
This is based off of verses such as Romans 10:9 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
We must first acknowledge that while having a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ is not wrong, it is not Scripture based. The only prayer that we are told to pray is the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. There is no description of the prayer that we are supposed to say in repentance and acceptance of God’s forgiveness. There are no motions that we are supposed to do, no assigned person we are to do it in front of, nothing we are told to do but: Confess and believe.
Now, it does say to confess with your mouth. This can be a hang up for those who are non-verbal due to illness, or some form of disability. But, it doesn’t have to be! Because, as God tells Moses, who is attempting to get out of the duty that God has set before him, in Exodus 4: The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”
To echo the mother at the panel session: God made you and he knows your language. He knows your language even if you have never spoken before. No matter the language your heart speaks, God created it: Sign Language, Hiri Motu, Korean, Inuktitut, and English or the roughly 6,500 other languages in the world. The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is proof of that: There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
Why do we put human limitations on what God can do? Why do we make rituals take the place of the beauty of God’s encompassing love and forgiveness?
God knows your heart.
No matter your ability, God knows you. If you in your heart of hearts ask for God’s love and forgiveness, I cannot deny your salvation because you didn’t come to him the way I did. It is not my place to deny your salvation. It is my job to love you as a beloved child of God, and teach you the Gospel so you can know him.
Even if I believe that you might not understand, I am still tasked with the duty to tell you of God’s love and sacrifice to save YOU. Because when you stand before God’s throne, you will be judged just as I will, no matter the limitations that humans have placed on you. God will judge your heart to see if you have been made clean by his Son’s blood.
The Holy Spirit speaks your language and it is love.
So, to all the Christian believers out there, I urge you: Do not hesitate to reach out and speak God’s love to all you meet. No matter if you think they might or might not understand, God knows their heart. Do your duty with love and tell of God’s sacrificial love.