Happily, the church I was pastoring was attracting young couples with little children, along with many other age groups.
Among these couples were Tom and Nancy. But after they had come to Sunday worship with their children for three weeks, Tom was absent on week four.
As Nancy gathered the children to depart that fourth week, I asked her if Tom was ill. Tears filled her eyes as she told me of a decision he had made. He didn’t need to go to church, he had said. He could manage his life without it.
I learned that Tom had a good job and was providing well for the children, and his Sunday golf game was with new friends whom he enjoyed. Sunday church was in the way and therefore taken off his schedule.
As I recall, perhaps it was the next Sunday I asked Nancy to be away from home the coming Thursday night. I told her I wanted to visit with Tom alone.
After getting the two children into bed she went to the mall for the rest of the evening. When I rang the doorbell, Tom, who was expecting my visit, met me at the door with his engaging smile. He was a cheerful and self-confident man.
We sat down together and our conversation was easy and mutually affirming. Toward the end of the visit I mentioned that I had noticed his absence from church recently and asked if he would share with me the reason. (My interest, of course, was his eternal destiny, support for his wife, and his influence on his children above all.)
Tom responded to my question but never lost his smile, and his decision seemed fixed. Before leaving his home I took an index card from my pocket and holding it in hand I asked if he would do me a favor.
Seeming mildly amused as he received it, he said he would try.
I asked if he would agree to read the card at least once a day for two weeks; and then I would come for a second visit. I offered a prayer, we exchanged respectful farewells, and I went to my car.
When I went to his home the second time, the man who met me at the door was different. He was warm again but there was no smile. He moved almost urgently to the subject of faith.
In a very short time we were kneeling together at his bidding. With tears, and before the Lord, he was confessing and asking forgiveness and resetting his values.
What could have stirred such a change? It was the simple but penetrating word of our our Lord Jesus Christ printed on the card I had left with him:
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 8:36,37)
It was not I but the Lord who had arrested his attention. The Spirit of God, working through scripture, had penetrated his consciousness.
This story illustrates what Christians everywhere believe about the power of God’s word: “… for the Word of God is living and active.” And also: “It divides even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow” (Hebrews 4:12,13).
Sometimes, even with Scripture, it takes repetition to let the light in and illuminate the soul.
That conversation and prayer took place more than 60 years ago. I heard recently that Tom’s wife had died. I phoned him across the country. He wept as we talked. He was still serving the Lord.
(Names and some details changed to maintain Tom’s privacy.)
Image info: Justin See (coming back) (via flickr.com)