Several years ago I received a hand-written letter that started like this:
I am 83 years old and a retired Baptist Minister. I heard about the new hymnal — can you help me get one?
The letter went on to express his genuine excitement about a new hymnal coming out for Southern Baptists.
When I finished the letter, I noticed the gentleman lived in Franklin—just a short distance from my house. I thought how silly it would be to send him a hymnal when I could just as easily take him one.
My assistant set it all up and I left that afternoon with a bag full of goodies from LifeWay Worship, including an SBC commemorative edition of the new hymnal.
Entering the assisted living facility, I was immediately greeted by the receptionist who said, “Oh, you’re here to bring him the hymnal.” I thought, He’s been talking about this.
Arriving at his apartment, I knocked; his invitation to enter was loud and clear. He was ready for me, equipped with articles, Bibles, and story after story. I listened intently as this faithful servant of the Lord recounted his salvation experience and call to ministry, often pausing to let his eyes clear and emotion calm. Seated quietly nearby was the “little girl” (as he called her) to whom he had been married for over 60 years. Despite age stealing much of her memory, especially her short-term memory, her sweet smile and gentle spirit illuminated a special kind of radiance.
As he continued, he said, “God has been so good to us” repeatedly. Later — particularly when I read the account of his World War II experience in the Battle of the Bulge and the wounds that nearly cost him his life — I was keenly aware that I had been in the presence of a great man. His testimony was sure: “I knew God had a plan for my life when I survived that injury.” It was amazing how many mutual friends we had and that I had been in several of his former churches throughout the years.
Just then, another knock came on the door. “Come in,” he said in a loud, preacher-type voice. I thought to myself, I bet he could really pour it on when he was preaching back in the day.
The knock was from the social director at the facility and she entered with camera in hand. He had asked her to come by and take a picture of me presenting the hymnal to him. I took the hymnal out of the bag and started to give it to him when he stopped me. “I want you to write in it first!” I was humbly glad to do so.
Then I presented him the signed hymnal and pointed out a couple of songs in it. He was delighted. We both were.
More time and stories passed; before I knew it, it was already time to go. I said, “Brother, before I go would you give me the privilege of praying for you and your wife?” He said, “I wasn’t going to let you leave before you did!” I grinned in appreciation of that old pastoral authority rising up, and felt the emotion stirring in me as I asked God to watch over this new friend and his wife.
Then I asked him to pray for me. He replied, “I would love to.” And then, this time-tested man of God asked the Lord to pour out His power on my life. I was overwhelmed. “I’m going to keep on praying for you,” he said after the amen. I was so glad!
I think back on it now and several lessons are ringing in my heart. First, I saw that opportunities to show kindness and love are not in rare supply but that way too often in my life I substitute the urgent for the important. Second, that God really cares about people — not just the stuff people do. I’m convinced our Father orchestrated that whole experience to encourage and strengthen one of His children (him) and to teach the other one a fresh lesson on priorities (me). And finally, I was reminded that it won’t just be the things that happen on a stage or in front of a large audience that command the attention of heaven. I felt and knew for sure that God was right in the middle of that appointment.
You know what the most important thing I did that day was? Write a song? No. Make a budget decision about next year’s Christmas musicals? No. Plan a worship service? No.
The most important thing I did that day was spending the afternoon with a mighty warrior for the Lord who is also in the winter season of his life — and we took turns bragging to each other how good our God really is.
Director, LifeWay Worship