“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” -James 1:5
This week, my wife and I were picking up leaves and planting flowers in our yard. Our neighbor approached us and asked how we were doing. “Good,” we said. “Looking forward to the baby being born in a couple of weeks.” Then I asked, “How are you?” She said, “Fine, but my husband isn’t doing too well. He’s quite sick.” I said, “Sorry to hear that. We will be praying for you.”
My wife and I have been praying for this elderly couple for at least 6 months. We invited them to church on several occasions, but they weren’t able to go. I was eager to share the good news of Jesus Christ, but kept making excuses and waiting for the right moment.
This was the right moment. He’s sick, needs prayer, and I can open up the Bible and comfort him with Scripture. I called my neighbor, asked for permission to come over, and then my wife baked cookies for me to bring over as a gift. At first, I was reluctant to go, but I asked God to give me wisdom and open up the door to a spiritual conversation.
I rang the doorbell, went inside to the living room, and sat on a nice black leather recliner. He was sitting on a chair, working on a puzzle with his wife. All of us starting talking about family, friends, the weather, and his diminishing health. As we were talking, I prayed that God would open up an opportunity in the conversation to lead naturally into a spiritual conversation.
When I prayed that in my head, literally five seconds later she said, “We went to church for the first time in a long time.” The pastor preached a great sermon and we were both impressed. I said, “Great.” “What did he preach on?” The husband, who is now 90, said to me, “He preached about Jesus and how He died for our sins.” He continued. “I felt so good about what the minister said and it brought peace to my heart. I never had that before.”
I asked him, “Why not?” “Well” he said. “When I was middle-aged I got a divorce. I went one Sunday to church and told the minister. He told me I was never welcomed back to their church again. I told the minister that I will come anyways, even if you don’t accept me.”
At that moment, I realized why he declined many of our invitations to attend church. He was burned and hurt by a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. I explained to him that the Bible makes it clear, no one is righteous. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Therefore, the church is not a place for the righteous. It is a hospital for sick people who desperately need the love, forgiveness, and grace of Almighty God.
After I reassured him of this truth, I told him the parable in Luke 18 about the Pharisee and the tax collector: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying to himself. God, I thank you that I am not like other people; swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
I asked the husband, “Which prayer do you think God heard?” He said, “The one who was honest about his own shortcomings.” I said, “You are exactly right.” God calls us to turn from our sins, to do what is right, but not to trust in our own good works to save us. Only God is righteous to save us, and that’s why He sent Jesus to be our substitute. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that we would have the righteousness of God. When we put our full trust in Jesus, recognize that salvation is a free gift and can’t be earned, and ask His Holy Spirit to give us the power to overcome sin, then we can live a life of victory. We don’t have to fear the future because our hope is found in the unchanging power of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
In the end, I was glad that God gave me wisdom to guide the conversation. I believe that night my neighbors heard the gospel clearly. It is my hope and prayer that they do in fact put their hope and trust in Jesus Christ. As believers, we can’t save anyone, but we are responsible to shed the truth of what we know to the world. From that point forward, God will take care of the rest. Trust in Him.