Paul to Timothy: “Be instant, in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
(I was in revival in the St. Louis area. This was eight years ago. Here is what I wrote….)
I met Sarah three mornings ago when she and three co-workers were having breakfast in the hotel where I was staying while in the St. Louis area for a revival. The four of them were sharing a small table, obviously enjoying one another’s company. As they got up to leave, I called over to them. “Hey, do you guys have a minute?”
“I’m a cartoonist and I would love to draw you. It takes one minute and it’s free. Would you let me draw you?”
They mildly protested that they might be late for work, but they lingered and I sketched them, two guys and two girls. All in their early 20’s. All young and cool and looking good.
“We work at Buckle,” one said. I had no idea what that was.
“It’s a denim store in the mall. Right next to the food court. You ought to come by.”
I had been in the food court the previous afternoon sketching people, trying to connect with them for whatever purposes the Lord might have. I promised to run by the next time I was there. Buckle? Interesting name.
That afternoon, after a brief nap, I grabbed my drawing pad and walked over to the mall, just across the parking lot from my hotel. I found “Buckle” and stepped inside.
“Joe, you came.” That was Sarah, one of the four from that morning. I was impressed she remembered my name when I’d not remembered hers. Some of the others heard and came over.
One by one, their co-workers, maybe a dozen in all, crowded around and I drew them. Perhaps a customer or two, it’s hard to know.
At one point, Sarah said, “Joe, look at this.” She had pulled a slipover sweater and a pair of denims off a rack and brought over for my inspection. “These would look so good on you.”
I laughed. “I’m drawing everyone in the store and you’re trying to sell me clothing?” This was a first. I have sketched people in stores from one end of this country to the other, but no one had ever tried to sell me something while I was doing it. Sarah was the first.
I told her it was a little too youthful for my taste. “They’d look good on a 25-year-old. I’m 72.”
“No problem,” she said, and she was gone. I kept sketching.
In a few minutes, she was back with a black cotton sweater. Now, that was more like it. I pulled it over my shirt, checked the result in a mirror, and told Sarah to cut off the tags, that I’ll buy it.
That night at church, I told the congregation of Oakridge Baptist Church, “I want someone to go into Buckle tomorrow in the Mid-River Mall. It’s next to the food court. Ask for Sarah. And invite her to church. Tell her to bring the entire crew. They are super people, and you will enjoy the visit.”
The next night, Sharon, a member of the church, caught me as I entered. “I met Sarah today,” she smiled. I said, “You went to the mall?” She had.
“And she was everything you said–very nice and receptive to what I shared. And look!”
She was wearing a new pair of jeans Sarah had sold her.
We both laughed. Sarah is something else. You go to invite her to church and she sells you clothing.
Sharon said, “She’s a managerial trainee and won’t be here long.”
We both agreed she’s going to be one super manager. She is so good at what she does, and she never loses track of what she’s there for.
The pastor told me a few minutes later that he had dropped by the store also, and had met Sarah. He didn’t say if she sold him anything.
This is the way you and I who follow the Lord Jesus Christ should be: always on the job, ever watchful and alert for opportunities, never distracted.
I used to be in awe of Dr. Billy Graham when he would appear on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. This was a program devoted to finding humor in everything, but once in a while Carson would bring on a serious guest, someone he truly respected. The results were almost always fascinating. I would sit in my living room taking it all in, impressed by the fact that Mr. Graham did not seem overly in awe of his surroundings, the celebrities in his midst, or the umpteen million citizens watching his exchange with Johnny Carson. He was natural and funny and always–always!–strong and clear in his witness for Christ.
Knowing myself, I would have been something of a chameleon, I’m afraid–taking on the coloration of my surroundings. Billy Graham was the same on that stage as he would be later in my office when we made plans for the funeral of his colleague, Dr. Grady Wilson. He was utterly consistent in his love for Christ and the vision for evangelism the Lord had given him.
A football team is lining up to kick a field goal. It the kicker puts the ball through the uprights, 3 points are added to the score. In some cases, that is the winning margin. In order to try to distract the kicker, fans in that end of the stadium do all in their power to distract him.
The basketball game has come down to the wire. A player on the opposing team has a free throw at “the line,” one that could make the winning difference. The fans in that end of the arena are going wild, waving banners, flags, pompoms, anything, to distract the shooter.
The kicker and the shooter train hard and discipline themselves to keep their focus and not be distracted by anything going on in the stands.
Eyes on the prize.
Our friend Sarah has a goal in mind. She wants to manage her own store. And once that happens, don’t be surprised if she sets higher goals, such as running the entire company. The little we have seen of her has left us with that kind of impression.
Paul said runners compete in races hoping to win the prize. In his case, the prize was “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
Later, as he was nearing his own personal finish line, Paul said, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.” Such an award is not reserved for him alone, he stressed, but “for all those who have loved His appearing.” (II Timothy 4:8)
I keep hearing people say the journey is the whole point of the Christian life–or any life, for that matter–and not the destination. I hear that and scratch my head, wondering what in the sam hill that means. A few hours from now I will check out of the hotel where I’ve been the last five nights and drive home to suburban New Orleans, over 700 miles south of here. The journey will be good, I trust, but it’s a means to an end–a destination–and not the end in itself.
Life is a journey but the destination is the whole point. I fully intend that when I take my final breath here, I will take my first breath of celestial air in the next instant. And so shall we ever be with the Lord. It’s the promise of Scripture and the hope of my life.
God help me to be on the job for Him every day He leaves me here, witnessing and blessing and encouraging and helping, all in His name and for His glory.
Never losing track for a moment of who we are, whose we are, and what we were sent to do.
I know Christians who seem to have lost their way. They go to church irregularly, read the Bible seldom, and leave no indication that they have received a commission from Jesus Christ to represent Him in their world. As a result, the people around them come to some erroneous conclusions: that to live for Jesus is an optional, non-life-changing thing, that the Christian life is modeled by this member of the frozen chosen, and that therefore there is no need for them to do anything.
No wonder the Lord told the church at Laodicea that their lukewarmness was such an insult to Him He could wish they were either hot or cold, but the tepid temperature of their devotion made Him sick to His stomach (Revelation 3:15-16).
In the same way Sarah is for her company, I want to be always on. Always on focus, always on duty, always on course. Always bearing in mind the ultimate goal of hearing the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
That is the ultimate prize.