Let My Words Be Few

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Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Ephesians 5:2

I recently received an email from my friend, Steve Morrow, who lives in Minnesota.  He has been a big encouragement to me in my efforts to write posts which are interesting and provocative.  This email, however, took a different tack.

He wrote: “Also, it might be encouraging for you to convey in a blog or part of a blog how you came to Christ.  Being at age 38 and being a lawyer aren’t a combination we typically consider when we think about someone coming to Christ.”

I will overlook his lawyer “joke” innuendo.  Basically, a law degree is a post-graduate degree in skepticism, where nothing is accepted on its face and everything is challenged.  That’s how we are trained.  Taking anything by faith would be totally outside the box.

The rationale for Steve’s request?  He thought It might be an encouragement to people reading my posts “not to give up on people who don’t know Him, even those well into their career and those they may not expect would be open to the Gospel.”

It hadn’t occurred to me to detail how I came to faith until Steve sent me his email.  When I first went to Africa and was asked to speak in a church in Nairobi, I asked my friend, Stacy Rinehart, for suggestions on what to say.  His immediate response was similar: “Tell them your testimony!”  Africans love stories, and are used to an oral tradition where their culture was handed down from generation to generation by stories told and retold.

I don’t think my testimony is very spectacular or riveting. My experience was enough to get my name written in the Lamb’s Book.  I grew up in a family where religion was mostly a social thing. My parents were not believers, and they had some background with Christian Scientist theology. I won’t digress on this point. Suffice it to say that this denomination is not mainstream Christian theology.

My concept of God was limited. I think I always believed in God, but only in a detached way.  I met my wife in college. Both of her older brothers were in my fraternity.  She had grown up in Shelby, NC, a rural community in western North Carolina.  I had grown up in a suburb of New York. We were opposites in so many ways.  Growing up, she had been active in Young Life and in her church. I had not. Cub scouts was the closest I got, and that’s not very close.

We got married when I was 21 and in my second year of law school.  As our family grew, she was desperate to have our children involved in Christian things.  Grudgingly, I agreed to visit various churches in Raleigh with her. She was hoping one of them would appeal to me. They did not, and I often opted to spend my Sunday mornings at my office trying to catch up. My kids even enjoyed coming with me because they loved to play with paper and pens at my office.

Great spiritual leader?  Well, no, not exactly.

By the time our third child arrived, I was entrenched in a life devoid of anything spiritual. Work was my god, and at times I was a workaholic, spending many hours at the office.  In the law business, you get paid for every hour that you work for a client. Ergo, the more hours you work, the more money you make.  I think you get the idea of what that might look like to a young aspiring lawyer.

That all changed in the early 1980’s.  My mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer in September, 1981.  She lived about 4 hours away by car.  I had grown close to her over the years. She treated me like one of her sons.  Both brothers often accused me as being her “favorite”.

During that final year of her life, my wife took our 5-year-old with her and spent most of the week with her mother.  She would return to Raleigh on Friday night for the weekend, and then return to Shelby on Sunday night. I remained in Raleigh and kept up with our older two children. My wife put some 25,000 miles on our car going back and forth that year.   My youngest son spent so much time in Shelby that he graduated from two separate schools – one in Shelby and one in Raleigh.

The experience of that year could have caused marital friction, but it didn’t because I knew how much my wife loved her mother.  Her mother was a rare bird:  a school teacher with a severe case of osteoarthritis, a painful, deforming and debilitating disease.  Yet she never complained about her circumstances.  In fact, you could never get her to talk about herself.  She would quickly turn every conversation to finding out what was going on in your life, not hers.

Over that final year of her mother’s life, I began to realize that she had an inner peace about her life that I had not encountered before.  Self-effacing.  Ever gracious, even though her health was on the decline. She was a true servant of God – always putting others’ interests ahead of her own. Her life had an enormous impact on me.

In February of 1982, we went to a church service and I heard the gospel message.  I had never heard it before, and it penetrated me. For the first time, Christianity made sense to me.

In tears, I came forward and I accepted Him into my life.  It was a game changer, as I have noted before.  I later realized I had been the product of 17 years of prayers by my wife.  The terminal illness of her mother was what caused me to turn my life over to someone greater than me.

While my mother-in-law played a key role in my coming to faith, she did so without ever verbalizing it.  She just lived it. She was a billboard for Christ without saying a word.  She had a peace that was surreal and unfathomable.  It made me wonder what made her different, and where she got her inner strength.

Several years ago, I had a card with a saying on it on my desk.  It said: “Preach Christ always; if necessary, use words.” That’s what my mother-in-law did. And that saying is something we can all use.  Sometimes, it is not the words you use to point to Christ, but what you do and how you live.

That’s what the next generation is looking for: authenticity.  When you have shown them authenticity, they will then listen to your words.  You must first earn the right to speak with your life.

That was the beginning of my journey in Christ. It has not been linear.  No straight roads.  Lots of turns and twists, many of them unanticipated.  But that’s life. I quickly learned to trust Jesus to guide me through the unknowns.  I also have learned that he does perform miracles – often in others.  I wish I had kept a list of the miracles I’ve seen happen in my life. It makes a convincing story to tell of God’s power.  If nothing else, it confirms that God is real and that He answers prayer.

So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The challenge here is that we all need to remember that the world is watching.  You may be a billboard for Christ. Not just what you say, but what you do.  Is your life authentic?  Does your faith show up in your actions?  Remember: one picture is worth a thousand words.  If you are going to be a picture to someone else, make sure it is a good one.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  How you live your life is more important than you realize, and your mentee is watching you.  Be authentic and transparent. It is the key to being able to speak into their lives.

WORSHIP: Listen to Matt Redman sing Let My Words Be Few.

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.

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