There I sat in my usual seat,second row, piano side. Greg was in his place on the front pew. Since he rarely missed a service, I had gotten used to looking at the back of his head. He walked to church, several miles along a busy highway, in overcoat and boots, big Bible under his arm, always arriving early for Sunday school, prayer meeting. At choir practice, he held the music close to his face, because even with thick lenses, seeing was difficult. But he loved to sing, and he loved the church.

Especially church fellowships. He loaded his plate with food and went through the line several times. He loved talking to children and giving them gifts. He once gave our toddler a candy-filled Easter basket bigger than she was. Evangelists who set up tape tables during revival meetings were happy to see him coming, because he would buy one of everything. He had a simple but well-paying job, and he enjoyed spending his money.

But occasionally the church folks weren’t thrilled that he was there. He could be embarrassing, laughing too loud and eating too much. He monopolized visitors after services. He lacked social grace. But what he had no lack of was love for the Lord. He had accepted Jesus as his Savior and been baptized. He continually asked for prayer for his mother, father, and brothers to be saved. He gave out tracts and invited people to church. He may not have known much theology, but he knew all he needed to know to be saved and to serve the Lord.

During one Sunday morning service, he sat in his usual place right in front of me, bent over a fat spiral notebook, scribbling madly during the sermon as I had seen him do many times before. As soon as the service was over, I leaned toward him and asked, ‘What are you writing in your notebook?’

He gazed at me, his eyes tiny on the other side of those thick lenses. ‘Sermon notes,’ he replied. ‘I can’t understand it at first, but if I write it down and go home and read it, sometimes I can figure it out. That’s what I’m doing.’

I had been listening to the message, too. Well, I think I had. Maybe I had also been thinking about another thing or two, even when I wore my listening look. I tried to convince myself that they were important thoughts, but I knew that I had allowed (maybe even welcomed) them as a distraction from the Word of God being taught from the pulpit. My own sermon notes suddenly looked awfully skimpy.

I’m not so vain that I think I already know it all and don’t have to listen, but sometimes I act like it.  Not Greg. He labored to comprehend every word and used much more of the ability God gave him than I was. If we’re all just stewards of our gifts, who was a more faithful steward? I wasn’t happy with the obvious answer to that question, and I have never forgotten the Lord’s humbling application to my heart of 1 Corinthians 4:7: ‘For who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?’

Decades later, my friend is still walking to that same church. He’s still faithful. And some of his family members have been saved.  I’m not surprised. Are you?

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries

Numbering My Days

The skeleton of a new year is sitting on the pages of my day planner. Its bare bones are the birthdays, anniversaries, appointments and deadlines I already know about. As the days go by, I’ll fatten its skeleton with the minutiae of daily life.

None of my plans for next year are certain. Some will be scribbled in one day and erased the next. I’ll often have to alter my own agenda (sweetly, I hope) to accommodate others’ needs. Surprises both blissful and dreadful will arrive. I may be with the Lord in glory (glory!) by spring or celebrate my autumn birthday (happy!) with Him. I will not make any big noises about any of my tomorrows, since I can’t even know what today will bring.

Here’s another certainty about next year: I am going to give account for every second of it. Even a quick flip through last year’s calendar makes me miserably aware that many of its days did not count for eternity. I carried living water right past thirsty souls and withheld living bread from hungry hearts. Though I wore the label ‘full-time ministry’ all year, I am dismayed at how little I accomplished that will endure. I squandered the wealth of many hours I could have invested. This year, I intend to walk more circumspectly, redeeming the time, reminding myself every day of ‘how short my time is’ (Psalm 89:47).

So I’ve decided on a January project, to record on each day of next year’s calendar the number of days I’ve already lived. Of course it would be more motivating to record how many days I have left, but only the Lord knows that number. This I do know–there is a God-determined limit to my days, and since I’ve already used up way more than half of them, I can’t afford to fritter away even one more. By His grace, this year I will actively seek out the thirsty and hungry. I will work to ripen ordinary contacts into redeeming relationships. I will see each trip as a mission trip. I will be more concerned with keeping divine appointments than keeping to my schedule. I won’t allow either the routine or the urgent to divert me from the essential and eternal.

Maybe you’d like to join me in calculating and recording your days. Noticing those ever-growing numbers on the calendar every day may be the sort of numbering of days that will bring us wisdom (Psalm 90:12). I hope so, because looking ahead at next year, I can tell we’re going to need it.

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries