Earlier this week the evangelist Michael Green went to be with the Lord. Hearing the news brought back precious memories of “Choose Life”- the OICCU Mission of 1997 that happened when I was a student. I well recall Michael preaching the Gospel with radiant joy in the Sheldonian Theatre normally garbed in a slightly absurd woolly jumper. It was a remarkably fruitful week with several hundred signing up for follow-up courses: I have at least one friend who became a Christian off the back of it. To be honest, at the time we questioned whether Michael was coming to the end of his student mission days- little imagining that he would still be doing them twenty years later. When I became OICCU Secretary a year after the Mission I inadvertently booked Michael and somebody else to speak on the same date for an evangelistic meeting. I had the embarrassment of writing to cancel his attendance. From memory, he was very gracious! This April I am due to speak at the OICCU College Reps’ Conference. Michael was the speaker last year. To be honest, I am certain that as I do it I will be wishing that the students were still listening to him.
Reading some of the tributes and recalling his evangelistic preaching has caused me to reflect. He did have an ability- with bubbling enthusiasm- to encourage people to commit their lives to the Lord. And that has left me dissatisfied with one aspect of my attempts at preaching. Often people are very nice to me after sermons. I have noticed that one compliment has recurred frequently in recent times- perhaps particularly after evangelistic sermons: “You certainly gave me lots to think about.” Now, at one level, I am pleased. I believe that preaching should be thoughtful rather than simply manipulative. Sometimes the most appropriate application of God’s Word is that our thinking on some aspect of life is changed. The main challenge of Haggai, for example, is to “Give careful thoughts to your ways.”
And yet I am troubled by the compliment. It is partly because I know what I am like. I recall a conversation with a friend of mine who was challenging me on a particular issue. “I’ll go away and think about it,” I responded. He looked me in the eye and said- “That’s the phrase you use when you have decided not to do anything.” I remember realising that he knew me well- that was precisely what was going on. There is a danger that going away to think about something becomes a delaying tactic- we are not explicitly rejecting God’s Word but nor are we planning to do very much with it. But it won’t do. All of us will appear before Christ one day. At that point saying that we were planning to think about Him won’t be sufficient. We need to have Him as our Master and Saviour. Much the same challenge applies to Christians as well. We started the year at Woody Road looking at the words of Psalm 95 (repeated in Hebrews 3): “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” One of the most crucial moments for the Christian is the time just after we have heard God’s Word. Hearing is only half the job: what will we do next? The call is to repent where necessary and to have faith in God’s promises- that is more than simply a vague notion that I might think about it at some point.
In part I am writing this as an aide memoire for myself- Don’t be afraid to be urgent. Make sure that people realise they need to make a decision. Encourage people to trust in Jesus rather than think about possibly doing that one day. But I am also writing it as a challenge to all of us to respond to God’s Word. Don’t be afraid of commitment. Do something in response to God’s Word. Maybe you have heard God speak recently. You may not be a Christian but have been struck by something in a talk. Can I encourage you? Become a Christian. Commit your life to Christ. You really won’t regret it! Or perhaps you are a Christian and you have heard God’s voice prompting you to change something. What have you done with that? Don’t delay! We are called to do more than just think.