"God Gave Me the Gift of Desperation"

Dr. Ray Pritchard
Dr. Ray Pritchard
2011 31 May

“Then God gave me the gift of desperation."

That’s what the man said on Friday night during the first service at America’s Keswick.

I noted three facts about him: 1) He is a bit older than some of the men in the Colony of Mercy, the outreach to men with various addictions (alcohol, drugs, gambling, porn, etc) that has formed the backbone of this ministry since William Raws founded the Colony in 1897. Over the years thousands of men have come through the program. 

2) He spoke without notes. Most men find public speaking difficult. He said that he had held elective office so speaking in front of an audience comes naturally to him. 

3) He talked in a matter-of-fact voice, as do nearly all the men in the Colony of Mercy. When the time comes to share their testimony, they are at pains not to glorify their past. These men have seen firsthand the destructive power of sin. When Jesus said that the thief comes to steal and to kill and to destroy (John 10:10), the men of the Colony would all say Amen. So he told his story without any emotion.

For a long time he was on top of the world. He had a good job, money in the bank, a good marriage, a loving family, and all the other accoutrements of what we call the “good life.” Somewhere along the way he turned to drugs (he didn’t specify how or when or which ones) to ease the pressure. It worked, for a while. Little by little the drugs that helped him through his day began to take over. Soon he lost his livelihood, his money, his savings, and eventually everything he had worked for was gone. 

All of it. Gone.

There was not a trace of self-pity in his voice as he spoke. He came to the Colony because it was his last chance. At first he chafed at the rule of accountability that says, “If your buddy breaks a rule, everyone suffers.” Men lose privileges when any of the 30-40 men in the program break the rules. But then the Lord spoke to him and said, “I gave my life for you so that you could be set free.” Then he realized that Jesus’ death showed him that he must be “my brother’s keeper.”

The Colony of Mercy program lasts for four months and costs each man $240. That’s $2 per day. It’s a token amount, a way of investing in a discipleship ministry that changes hearts in a profound way. America’s Keswick raises the remainder of the funds, in part through the families of those who have seen loved ones changed by Jesus at the Colony. 

That’s what happens after 114 years of ministry in the same place. You end up with a strong track record.

Not every story is a success story. Some men don’t stay for four months. (You can leave any time you like.) Some men relapse into their old ways. Sometimes they come back to the Colony for a second go-round. Some men fall and are picked up by their friends and put back on the right road. 

It’s amazing to see God’s power in action. 

During his testimony the man used one phrase that caught my attention.

“God gave me the gift of desperation.”

All the men nodded in agreement. Desperation doesn’t seem like much of gift when you are face down in the muck and mire of defeat, beaten by a pattern of sin you have no power to break. 

Some men never seem to receive that gift. They keep going back to the muck and mire of self-destruction, knowing that it is killing them, and knowing that it is hurting the ones they love.

The gift can’t be ginned up or faked. It’s not about crying loudly or about making promises to God. 

The gift of desperation means that God has so emptied you that you have nothing left but God. In that terrifying moment you either turn to God or you die.

The man on Friday night spoke of how that gift of desperation brought him at last to the Colony of Mercy where he discovered that he had no power to get off drugs. 

Only Jesus could deliver him. 

That’s exactly what happened. Not without a total reorientation of his life. Not without pain.

Nothing good comes without a cost.

But he was smiling at the end of his testimony. The men cheered when he finished. They gathered round and slapped him on the back and hugged him. He’s not their leader necessarily. He’s just one of the guys, one in a long line of men who have been coming here since 1897, one of many who have discovered that desperation is not a bad thing if it leads you to Jesus who sets men free.

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