Monday, June 8, 2020

Honesty about faith

Early I admitted my failure to ask my father quite basic questions about his life.  But I do remember him telling me about the day he went forward to profess his Christian faith at West Ham Central Mission.  It was an evening service, packed with hundreds of people.  The preacher was a visiting woman who spoke about the seriousness of following Jesus and the boldness needed to make public confession.  At the end she invited anyone who wanted to make public their commitment to Jesus to walk to the front and stand in front of her.  I guess a hymn was sung as she prayed and waited for a response.

No one in the large crowd went forward.  At this point my father suddenly felt that this was the moment for him to make his declaration.  His faith commitment had been growing especially through the Christian Endeavour Society where he first learned to express his faith.  He had solid trust but he had never shown it. So, he walked to the front.

I asked him whether part of him had felt sorry for the woman preacher because nobody was going forward and he admitted that he had!  The fact that she had spoke so clearly and was suffering the embarrassment of no response at all was in the mix of factors that spurred him to the front.  How honest this analysis of motive was! And how true of a man whose spirituality throughout all the time I knew him always seemed to resist any spiritual hyping up!  He never fitted easily into any Christian labeling. He knew the Holy Spirit works in different ways with different personalities.

Much later when the evangelist David Watson was leading a city-wide campaign in Cambridge I remember his wonder that when the evangelist making his challenge to respond publicly he would often appear to dampen down emotion by interjecting a piece from the Riding Lights drama group.  By the time he gave the public appeal it almost seemed an anticlimax.  Yet people would surge forward. 'It's like Elijah pouring water on the altar,' he said, 'and it shows the Holy Spirit truly at work.'

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