One of the blessings of retirement is being of the age and having the time for reflection. One of the curses of retirement is being of the age and having the time for reflection. This morning's reading took me to Isaiah 54 where Isaiah breaks into song:
"Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD.
When I look back over my years of pastoral ministry, I always have a tad of wistfulness about it. I am a firm believer in evangelism. I even received our conference Denman Evangelism award some years back. But however much I believe in it, I'm not very good at it. I've taken courses, attended seminars, even gritted my teeth and gone door to door like a Mormon. I've listened to megachurch pastors speak about how they wouldn't go to bed at night if they hadn't won someone to Jesus. If that were the standard, I'd have missed a lot of sleep.
There have been a few happy exceptions over the years. Awhile back, I was introduced to a man who asked me if I had ever been a camp counselor. When I told him I had, he asked if I counseled at Miracle Mountain Ranch. I told him I had, back in '68 and '69. He asked if I liked peanut butter on my pancakes. I do. He grabbed me, gave me a big hug and said, "I've been looking for you all my life. You are my spiritual father. You led me to Christ when I was a ten year old camper!" I was stunned.
Another time, I had boarded a plane bound for Florida to spend some time with my folks who wintered there. A guy comes swaggering down the aisle, shirt open to his navel, gold chains dangling from his neck and wrists, and loudly cursing, upset because he had lost his cell phone in the airport bar. He plops down next to me, tells me his tale of woe, finally asking me what I did for a living. It was fun to watch the expression on his face. Fact was, his life was a mess, and he needed help. I shared the Gospel with him, and he prayed to receive Christ right there on the plane. I've never had that happen before or since. I was able to stay in contact with him until he died unexpectedly a few years later. God turned his life around.
Those are the exceptions. My evangelistic effectiveness is pretty negligible. If effectiveness is hitting the bullseye, usually I completely missed the target. Which is why I am thankful for Isaiah's song today. Evangelistically, I am that barren woman. Others are far more fruitful. But I have God's promise that in his time I will be more fruitful than some of those who seem to have success upon success. Reading this and believing it this morning transforms my reflections on life and ministry from curses to blessings.