If Chapter 6 ended on a note that seemed to suggest that the spoken evangelical word is not always important, this chapter may seem to reinforce that message. If so, both impressions are unfortunate because that was not the intent of either chapter.
I had expected to post something else for Chapter 7, but in a moment you will see why I believe that the Holy Spirit is leading me to publish this at this time:
Earlier this week, at Dorian’s request, I spent the entire day going through the four bookcases in my office, discarding (or giving away to others) about 100 books that I knew I would never read again or need to consult in the future. This effort was necessary in order to provide her some space in which to store her photos and written impressions of our many trips. In the process, I came across two surprises.
The first was an old Bible printed in 1961, on the first page of which was a handwritten inscription. This handwriting, together with the printed date, proved that the book’s donor had been profoundly influenced by Dorian and me and, as a result of our influence, had become a strong Christian at the time of its writing. This was important to us because the writer of the inscription has subsequently fallen away from the faith…a condition that we are fervently praying we will live to see reversed. We felt as though the Lord was telling us to keep on praying, because there is still hope. If I hadn’t cleaned out that bookcase, I might never again have seen that inscription.
The second surprise was finding three copies of the July/August, 1982 issue of “Good News, a Forum for Scriptural Christianity within the United Methodist Church”. They were enclosed with a covering letter from Ann Coker, Managing Editor, which thanked me for my “important contribution to our magazine” found on page 77 (the inside back cover).
What struck my eye was the date of the letter: August 19, 1982. We had just sold our house in Sayville, after I had taken an early retirement, and were preparing to move to Florida on September 1, 1982. I am surprised that these copies made it to Florida along with four floor-to-ceiling bookcases full of books and that they didn’t surface for another 21 years.
However, also surprising is the fact that my “important contribution” took 15 years to get published (as indicated by the 1967 copyright date). I had sent the article in so long ago that I had completely forgotten about it. What kind of an Editorial Office keeps stuff around for 15 years before publishing? (As the Founding Editor ofNuclear Applications, I used to reject anything that I couldn’t publish immediately, and I always sent a personal letter explaining why the particular material was unsuitable for the next issue.)
Anyway, the Lord’s timing never ceases to amaze me. So here is the newly re-discovered article followed by a short comment following the final quotation marks:
“In the seventh chapter of John, Jesus’ brothers urge him to go to Judea and to do openly what he was doing secretly in Galilee. Jesus’ reply was ‘My time has not yet come’.
“Many times throughout the gospels Jesus cautioned people to keep quiet about him and about the miracles that he was performing. Here in this story in John he refuses to go to Jerusalem and uses the reason that the time was not yet ripe for him to do so. Even so, he delayed only a day or two before making the trip secretly, and he began preaching in the temple before the Feast of the Tabernacles was half over. That is to say, he was conscious that a delay of only a few days in this instance was very important.
“We should be guided by this kind of thinking. We usually feel that it is wrong to think that we should refrain from telling others of Christ at every possible opportunity, and yet on many occasions Jesus, himself, told others to keep quiet about him. In other words, not just any time or every time is the proper time for evangelism, and not every situation is one in which we should seek to spread the gospel. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes: ‘For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to keep silence and a time to speak’.
“We should pray for guidance as to the right time for evangelism…the effective time…the time when the words that we speak will be heard and, if not understood, at least remembered, to be recalled and comprehended later.
“If we are not led by the Holy Spirit, we may antagonize rather than win people to Christ. If the Holy Spirit leads us, we can be sure that our witness will be effective, even though the effects may not always be immediate or apparent to us. …Louis G. Stang, Jr., Methodist Layman, Sayville, New York © 1967”
As a postscript, I can’t overemphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit’s leading in everything we do or say. With it, we cannot fail, even if the success is not immediately apparent. Without it, our efforts might be ineffective or even counterproductive. Earnest prayer is the only way I know of by which we can decide if the Holy Spirit is the one doing the leading.
Louis G. Stang, Jr.