Months ago, our long time neighbor (we’ve been in this house for 18 years!) was in the last stages of cancer. We’ve been “talk over the fence” neighbors for many years, but his hearing was poor and our relationship wasn’t ever more than a few sentences and friendly smiles and waves.
For 18 years we’ve been “nice” neighbors… in the early years we were the nice enough neighbors with loud boys. Every summer we were the neighbors to share the garden produce with (so many zucchini). And one time we were the neighbors with the boy that shot an arrow from a compound bow through the fence and into the eave of their house (I still don’t know the physics of how that one happened).
But late last year, in the last few months of Mr. Larry’s life, it got hard for his wife, Karen, to get him out of his chair and into bed. She called us to see if one of us would be willing to help her in the evenings (she had help in the mornings from hospice care). I was comfortable with it, so I volunteered to head over every evening after supper.
It was a physically demanding, sadly emotional (to see how fast he was going downhill), long hour or so to get him tucked into bed. At first, he talked quite a bit, and he still had his quick sense of humor which I loved.
But the one thing he didn’t have was Christ.
And the time was short.
One night, somewhere in that blur of evenings, I felt the nudge that I should just be brave and take my big, noticeable Bible over there and ask him if I could read a few verses before he went to sleep.
At this point in the story I should let you know, I have never before done this and I’ve only really shared my faith with someone else just a handful (if that) of times. I want the introvert friendly style of sharing your faith. The one where you can just be nice and do nice things and everyone will know automatically that it’s Christ in you that makes the difference… without ever having to say anything.
But for 18 years that left me and my neighbor exactly the same.
And the Holy Spirit was calling me to more.
(Which was terrifying!)
But that first night, months and months ago, when I took my Bible and asked Mr. Larry if I could read to him from it, he agreed. (Last night, when delivering mail to Karen, I found out just how vehemently opposed he was to anything to do with “religion” in any form!) But each evening I’d ask if I could read to him, and most nights he agreed. Together with his wife nearby we read through Psalms 23 and 139. I read short chunks of Isaiah 40. And the whole time, he sat stock still, eyes straight ahead, listening intently to the words. My friend suggested one night that I read John 11:25-26:
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
That night, one of the few remaining nights when he was coherent and listening, when I looked over to him after reading, he had tears streaming down his face and was nodding his head whispering “I do, I do, I do.”
I pray that was the moment God saved him.
There were some rough nights after that when he was in pain, frustrated, or just too tired to get up. Eventually he was moved to a hospital bed in the living room, and there he slowly moved into eternity.
The reason I’m sharing this story is that for 18 years, I hoped (honestly, I wasn’t even praying for them, just vaguely hoping) that they would find Jesus on their own. Or more honestly, it was that I was excusing myself because I was “too busy” but reality is, I didn’t even really care that much. I had lots of excuses: he couldn’t hear, she couldn’t get around that well, they were snowbirds, so they weren’t even here half the year… Oh, so many excuses!
And even during those evenings of helping him into bed, it took a lot of –too many– Holy Spirit nudges (that are oh so easy to ignore–the biblical term I should use here is quench) to get me to even bring my Bible over. And still when I finally did that, every step over to their house, I was thinking of all the places I could leave my too big Bible before I rang the bell, because THIS WAS SO HARD.
Why am I sharing this story?
Because I firmly believe that sometime in the near future, maybe months, years, or possibly decades from now (here on the west coast time seems especially short), we in America are headed into persecution. I read a quote a year or so ago that said “if you think you will definitely stand for Christ when the pressure is on, yet you are not doing small brave things now, you won’t.” When the pressure is on is not the time to start building strength, but rather when seasons are relatively calm. We need to practice how to be brave.
But the good thing is, we don’t have to force opportunities and try hard to be brave.
All we have to do is listen to the Holy Spirit.
If you are praying for opportunities, He will bring them. He will help you reach out. We just need to get better at listening to Him, and stop quenching the Holy Spirit when we feel Him urge us to do or say something. I often find myself censoring what I say around non-Christians. If it were a Christian friend sharing something, I’d immediately say “Praise God!” But if it’s a non-Christian neighbor? I usually give a more world-acceptable answer, like “That’s so great!” The better I get at following Jesus Christ and listening to His Spirit, I hope I will get better at stopping the constant desire to be entertained and informed, and instead make room for the Spirit to speak then move in obedience.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be scary though. But nowhere in the Bible do I see promises of safety, comfort, and ease. That’s saved for heaven.
So for all you introverts (and even my extrovert friends), how will you make room to listen to the Spirit this week? What will you shut off or stop so you can make room for Him to speak? What are you doing that is actively quenching Him?
My next challenge? Reaching out to Karen, Mr. Larry’s widow. It was one thing to be brave for Mr. Larry, when eternity was at the doorstep, now it’s another to reach out to her. There’s no urgency, and its too easy for me to lull myself back into complacency or thinking that God’s got this, I don’t have to do anything but continue to be helpful and nice. But the truth is that she needs to hear the story of Jesus Christ and what He did for her, and hear the words of the Gospel of salvation.
Will you pray for me to be brave and not quench the Holy Spirit but listen and act in obedience?
I doubt it’ll ever get easy. But I want to be completely used up for Christ before I meet Him face-to-face, so it’s going to start here, in little brave acts of obedience to His Spirit.
Use us up Lord!