Rev Jim Rea: Amazing Grace and the day I drove preacher in my eight-year-old Ford Prefect
As a 19-year-old in 1964 I owned a very unreliable eight-year-old Ford Prefect car. It was in the day when fewer people owned cars, and sometimes I was called on in an emergency to offer a lift to someone.
One Sunday morning, the pastor of a local church asked if I could drive a preacher to a meeting in Lisburn that afternoon. I agreed but hesitated slightly, only because of my worry about the state of my car. But I picked up the preacher, a warm-hearted Yorkshireman called Leonard.
As I sat in that small congregation listening, Leonard concluded his riveting sermon with a story about a time when he preached in the Brooklyn Tabernacle church in New York where renowned author David Wilkerson often preached. Wilkerson authored the 1970 book ‘The Cross and The Switchblade’, which tells of his work with the drug addicts and crime gangs on the streets of New York.
Leonard explained that on that day in Brooklyn when the congregation sang Amazing Grace, his eyes became fixed on a young woman. Under her blonde hair and make-up, her face appeared to be scarred, and he was concerned to see her uncontrolled crying.
After the service, Leonard inquired of Wilkerson about this woman, expressing a little concern about what he perceived was her distress. To his amazement, David Wilkerson explained how this woman had been a drug addict on the streets of New York, but her life was now completely transformed because she had met with Jesus.
Wilkerson went on to say that she was weeping at the wonder of what it was to experience God’s amazing grace. I would later discover that the man in my car that afternoon was Leonard Ravenhill, who died in 1994 after a worldwide ministry emphasising the need for the spiritual revival of apathetic western Christianity.
Amazing Grace is now a very popular hymn, perhaps often sung without too much thought for the words. I still have a sense of wonder when I hear it, as I recall Leonard Ravenhill’s story of the young woman in that Brooklyn church weeping in wonder as they sang, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”