If you were to present me with a city centre street map of Inverness, I could mark on the map all of the various charity shops, and, which of those shops had second hand walking sticks. I know this very specialised information because I went looking for a walking stick yesterday.
It took just under a week for a dearly beloved husband to leave the new one I bought him in the back of a taxi. I had a slight faith/doubt tussle when it came to buying the stick. The man has done some injury to his knee. A visit to the doctor provided very little information on what was specifically wrong, but he prescribed medication to help with the pain. He also made a hospital appointment to explore the nature of the injury involving a small incision and a camera. In the meantime, the doctor said, “Buy a walking stick!”
It seemed to me that buying the stick was like giving approval to the knee injury. When you read in the Bible of various healing miracles, the ones that feature the lame people, Jesus doesn’t offer to buy them a walking stick. It’s not that I hadn’t prayed, or laid hands on the injured joint, because I had.
The doctor also made the very gentle suggestion that the injury could be weight related. He warned my husband that doctor at the hospital would probably make the same suggestion, but less gently. A history of many and wondrous things deep fried is not the healthiest of diets. Let’s face it, neither of us could pass for slim and sylph-like by any measure.
But anyway, that’s all to explain why I was in town and doing the round of the charity shops. It’s all scene setting.
One of the town centre churches was hosting a low key evangelistic event – free tea and coffee, a place to sit down and rest your feet, and…well, there is no getting away from it…a certain conversation. I wasn’t needing or wanting tea or coffee, but I did want to sit down and rest my feet. I don’t possess a pair of walking sandals and I had done a lot of walking. I didn’t really get the certain conversation either because once I had confessed to being a church going Christian my presence was…how do I put it? – ignored. I didn’t need witnessed to. It would have been nice to have just talked, but that wasn’t the object of the exercise!
Another lady sat down at the other side of the table. She was also a church goer – in fact she attended the very church we were sitting in. I was surprised that our hosts had even asked her the question, “Do you go to church?” You don’t know that she comes every week to your church? They dug a little deeper asking the lady if she “knew the Lord”. I am naïve enough to think it’s a given. The lady replied, “I’d like to think so, but we can never be sure, can we?” I was itching to jump in. I had been on a gospel outreach team for a year many years ago. I knew how to take it from here. I stayed quiet reminding myself that I was only here to rest my feet and this was someone else’s outreach program, not mine. I would like to say that God muzzled me, but I think I muzzled myself.
I wanted to say that we can know for sure. Just the afternoon before, a friend and I had been discussing the importance of confidence in faith. We read from Ephesians 3, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” And Hebrews 10 assures us “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” There is nothing “think so” about it. If we lack confidence we will hesitate to take steps of faith, never being convinced that God is with us.
The lady was handed a tract. There was no conversation to throw light on the issue, and I mourned the lost opportunity that they had, that I had, to make a difference.
So much of that encounter really bothered me. To have a woman coming to church every week and for her not to be recognised bothered me. For her to be coming every week and not ever being sure of her salvation bothered me. To have someone say that they are not sure of their salvation and be given a tract bothered me. To have an outreach activity that draws people in, but appears not to know how to talk to people about spiritual things bothered me.
But what really bothered me was my own silence. It wasn’t a case of being out or practice – the outreach team was many years ago, but it’s like riding a bike, isn’t it? It’s not as if I haven’t spoken to anyone since. It wasn’t a case of not knowing what to say – I had been equipped the previous afternoon for that very issue.
I didn’t feel free to say what I would have said had it been my church giving out the tea and coffee. I didn’t want to step into someone else’s territory – except it wasn’t someone else’s territory at all – it was God’s territory.