We often speak of not knowing how much time someone has left, that a person could die at any moment, that telling others the Gospel is urgent. Most of the time it seems like such truisms resound as platitudes more than passionate mission statements moving us to action. Today the passing of a neighbor reminded me of the dire circumstances of this life and the necessity to act when the Spirit presses upon me to go to someone with the Gospel.
My neighbor S to the west had a brother who was dying of cancer. I’d seen him walking the neighborhood over the past several months, coming and going to doctor appointments, and sitting on the front porch conversing with family and friends. About a month back I asked her husband, R, how J, her brother, was doing. R told me the situation was becoming critical, that J’s time left was minimal. Hospice had been called, treatment for vanquishing the cancer had ceased, and now they simply waited for his last breath to come.
Immediately, I felt the need to get some gospel materials to J. How much longer would he have? Yet with each passing day, I would arrive home from the office frustrated that, yet again, I had forgotten to grab some tracts and a DVD for him. Inexcusable forgetfulness lingered for a few weeks, when finally I set a long-overdue reminder on my phone to prompt me to retrieve the materials from the office upon my arrival. That day was yesterday. But then when I arrived home in the evening, I felt too tired and nervous to venture next door and deliver the resources. What if he was in a bad state? What if I was too late? What if they were hostile to the Gospel? I decided to wait. Certainly I would see C, J’s mom and caretaker, outside the next day and could drop off these materials in a less obtrusive and more natural way.
Today was the next day, and when I arrived home in the late afternoon, no one next door was anywhere to be found. The drive and the street indicated people were home along with some guests. I wanted this to be easy, to casually and unobtrusively hand out a Bible, a tract, and a DVD. As I sat in my car, I prayed.
“Lord, not today.”
“Lord, I’m afraid.”
“Lord, what am I going to say?”
The only answer was an overwhelming pressure in my heart that said, “Go. Go now. Go today. You don’t have time to delay.”
My hands started shaking. I dug through my laptop bag to find the materials that had been sitting in my car for the past 24 hours. I prayed one more time. “Are you sure? OK, I’ll go, but You’ll have to tell me what to say.” Anxiously, I walked to the front door. S opened the door before I had a chance to ring the bell, almost as if they were waiting for some messenger, someone to come rescue their brother from the terrors of hell. He was pacing outside, S said, because he was nervous and dreaded the reality that he was in the final hours of his life. I saw him outside, gaunt except for a swollen belly betraying the cancer that had consumed the rest of his body. His face looked about the same age as mine; he was only 45.
He came inside and sat down in his chair. I told him what I’d brought, but he simply stared off into the distance. Was he still there, was he listening, did he know what I was saying? I asked the family if we could pray, and I prayed for J, for his relatives, and in my prayer I pleaded that he might believe in Jesus Christ, explaining the gospel as I brought my incense before God’s throne. Then, I left. The family thanked me for coming. It was about 4:30pm.
Strangely, I had left the office early. I was going to stay until 5pm, but I was restless and knew better writing would be accomplished another time, perhaps later this evening. At 5:15pm, C knocked on our door. J had died, she said, passing away at 4:57pm, less than 30 minutes after I saw him.
What happened to J’s soul? It’s hard for me to conceive that divine Providence would have orchestrated these events with such impeccable timing throughout the day, would have impressed on me an irresistible urge to go next door, and would have opened up the opportunity so clearly, only to leave a sinner to perish in his sins. Perhaps J heard the Gospel, perhaps he heeded my pleas that he believe in Christ for salvation from his sins, because perhaps God granted that broken, nervous, trembling prayer from a servant who almost didn’t get there in time.
This evening I gratefully give thanks to God that this opportunity wasn’t missed. And I’m reminded once again that time is short, the message is urgent, and when the Spirit presses you to act, obey. You never know when it might be a sinner’s last day.