When my husband and I first started to attend the church we now call “home,” we couldn’t help but notice Jack. A man in his fifties at the time, he was clearly someone who had suffered. It was evident in his labored walk, his slow speech, his slightly bent posture. The striking thing about Jack, though, was not the stamp of suffering he bore, but the sheer joy he exuded.

Our church is a congregation of believers who are in many ways typically Canadian. We are pleasant, polite, and quietly reserved through our Sunday services—except for Jack. Always sitting near the front of the congregation due to issues with his hearing, Jack worships with abandon. Hands outstretched, eyes uplifted, he sings out hymns and songs of worship, personally moved by every word. During a sermon, Jack will proclaim “Amen!” in an otherwise silent sanctuary. Sometimes after the service, Jack will share a Bible verse in response to the message.

Entirely present, filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit, and utterly joyful, Jack embodies the words in Hebrews 13:15: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (NIV).

In time, we learned Jack’s story.

In the early hours of December 25, 1979, 20-year-old Jack was walking home from a party. He had decided it was safer to walk considering the alcohol he had consumed. A friend of his, who had been at the same party and who had also consumed a lot of alcohol, chose to drive home. In a tragic coincidence on that journey home, his friend came off the highway and rushed through a yellow light to turn left, and maintaining his high speed after he’d made the turn, he hit Jack, who was crossing the road.

“And then, BANG!” Jack describes it. “I’m thrown 60 feet into the air.” Jack landed headfirst on the pavement and was in a coma for four months. The first doctor who treated him said that he would likely never come out of the coma, and that if he did, he would never walk or talk again. “But you know what?” Jack says, “Because we have a miracle-working God, you can’t slow me down, and you cannot shut me up!” When Jack came out of his coma April 8, 1980, he was moved out of the hospital to a rehabilitation center where, for another four months, he learned how to walk, talk, dress himself, and feed himself.

When he finally went back home, Jack says, “I resumed the same way of life: Party! Party! Party!” His near-death experience gave him plenty of stories to share in bars and other settings where alcohol flowed freely. In December of 1992, he was in a bar, sharing his story with an attractive female bartender who happened to be a Christian. After hearing about Jack’s harrowing accident and incredible survival, she invited him to a youth group meeting. Taken aback, the now-33-year-old Jack accepted her invitation.

At the meeting, the young people sang “Jesus Loves Me,” and Jack was surprised to find that he could sing it with them. “I hadn’t heard that song since I was eight years old,” he says, “but I knew the words.” Jack asked the youth pastor when the Sunday service would be held. And for the first time in decades, Jack went to church that Sunday.

The pastor was preaching a message on salvation, based on 1 John chapter 5. Verse 12 changed Jack’s life.

“When the pastor spoke the words, ‘He who has the Son has life,’ it was like a bolt of lightning hit my heart.” Jack hits his chest to illustrate the impact he experienced. “And I knew that I was changed. I knew that I was born again, that He touched me!” He pauses and then again pounds his chest, trying to express what his words cannot. His eyes sparkle, and his smile lights up—outshining all evidence of pain, injury, and loss—as he quotes the words to the song, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone … and life is worth living just because He lives.”

Despite his struggles, I catch myself coveting what Jack has. “But covet earnestly the best gifts …” said the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:31 (KJV), just before he penned the famous lines about the nature of love in 1 Corinthians 13. In accordance with the words of the Apostle, Jack’s heart “rejoices with the truth” (13:6) of God’s love extended to him. It rejoices with the gift of salvation that he received, and the abundant life that he has found in knowing Jesus. Surely, Jack’s joy is among “the best gifts.”

I’m not the only one who is inspired by Jack. He says that many people tell him that they appreciate his openness. I suspect that Jack’s example gives them a certain freedom, as it does for me. It encourages each of us to give ourselves permission to shake off the restraints of polite reserve, to allow our own longing for God to break through the surface, and to worship with abandon.