“Papa” Jack was a wonderful old man, a loving father and a doting grandfather. He lived for 91 years and yet did not profess faith in Christ until 3 months before he died. I had the privilege of attending his memorial service this past weekend that truly was a time of celebration. So many of his friends and his family told of the times that they had spoken to him about their own faith and urged him to consider the need for a personal relationship with Jesus. His own daughter, Linda, had been burdened by this issue for over thirty years and had tried at numerous times and in numerous ways to help him see the urgency of his situation. She called it her “one regret” in a lifetime of love between the two of them. Amazingly, his faith crisis took place in the middle of the night when Linda and her two boys were in Florida. All alone, he finally began to sense what it might be like to be eternally separated from the ones he loved most. His simple decision to begin talking with His heavenly father was the best present that an earthly father could ever give a daughter and his beloved grandsons. As many said at the service, it is never too late and God’s timing is perfect even if it is a mystery to us.
This event led me to wonder how often we are paralyzed by the past or so fearful of the future so that we do not act in the present. “Papa” Jack was blessed by God to be given some extra time here on earth to make that all important decision. As those who love our friends, neighbors and family who are not yet in a saving relationship with Jesus, we often resort to extremes on this issue. Either we are constantly “in people’s faces” about their eternal fate or we decide that we have said enough and decide not to pursue it further to avoid the pain and awkwardness that might be involved. If we are not careful this can lead to our being perceived as either obnoxious and overbearing or callous and uncaring. Certainly this is not how any of us desire to be viewed. It seems that the only Biblical alternative we are given is to have a forbearing patience and loving boldness at the very same time. God calls us to love and wait, to speak and be silent. He promises to give us wisdom on this very matter if we simply ask.
Years ago, my family attended a dinner party with my grandparents at the home of some friends. The elder son of the family that we were visiting clearly did not appreciate our presence and avoided all the small talk and initial greetings that were customarily exchanged when we arrived. I am not sure if this was because he had already been alerted that we were missionaries or if he simply didn’t want guests in his home that evening. In any case, he soon disappeared out of sight and I hardly noticed that he was gone. Sometime later, I did notice that my grandmother had disappeared too. When it came time for the meal, we all began looking for her and noticed a hazy cloud of cigarette smoke on the front porch of the house. Though she had probably not smoked a cigarette in her life and often commented on “those nasty things”, there she was sitting next to that elder son on the swing chatting away as if nothing unusual was going on. She sought him out on his own terms and loved him enough to speak but in a place and time that he was willing to listen. What a powerful lesson this was to me as a young teenager. Jesus comes to us where we are and in whatever condition we may be in. May we be willing to be used as his hands and feet and not simply as his mouthpieces. It seems to me that our holy boldness will only be as effective as our radical love surrendered to God’s timing.