Solomon's beautiful proverb tells us that wise words are like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” I would like to suggest that wise deeds and apt responses to life situations are similarly beautiful. Let me share a few of the words of some of those who have shaped the course of my life, in roughly chronological order. Their grace has become not just my example, but who I am.
John Stott, as he preached in Toronto: “You are here so you can learn the secrets of Christian growth and living. Well, there are no secrets. You read the Bible and you pray.” Revolutionary to my husband and me.
Susan Schaeffer Macaulay at English L'Abri: “Sometimes I realize I haven't really prayed or read the Bible for a couple of weeks . . .” (And how would you, dear Susan, with your service to all of us?) So this really can happen with a sincere Christian? Whew! Now I can look God in the eye again.
On to a little side trip we made to Oxford at this time: The porter of Magdalen College: “Yes, I knew CS Lewis. What do I remember about him? The main thing is how he would always share the food packages he got from America during the days of rationing.” Okay, not his intellect; His character! Always ask the tailors, the grocers, the neighbors . . .
Francis Schaeffer: “If you say something is true, than you have to say that the opposite is not true in order to be faithful to the whole truth of God.” And isn't that when the trouble begins? Always!
Howard, our first pastor: “What you believe about God is a moral issue.” How wonderful to learn that early on in Christian life. Nothing is more important than knowing God as He is, just because that is who He is. A second thing I heard him say, and have never forgotten, is how surprised he was, as he grew as a Christian, at the level of disappointment there is in life. Thank you for your honesty, Howard. Combined with Mrs. Schaeffer's “If you want all or nothing, you get nothing every time,” it has served me well over the years.
Two of the most theologically helpful one-liners ever, came from our second pastor, Mike: “Faith is believing what God says is true.” Brilliantly simple and dead on! Such a deterrent to fanciful thoughts! Also, “Mysticism is trying to know God apart from Scripture.” Bingo! And for the same reason.
My dear Scottish friend, Flora, has shared much of the wisdom of her own life with me. This wonderful quote from Robert Murray McCheyne, I first heard from her: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” How many times has that saved me from despair? And re-directed me. A second piece of wisdom that I have never forgotten is that “Some men live too long, and in their latter years begin to tear down what they built at first.” Sobering. May that not be me.
A very successful friend who will not be named cried out one night: “I hate this life.” So do I, more often than I want to admit; so do I. But thank you for your wonderful example of working with all your might to use it to God's glory. May I be as faithful.
A shortened form of a conversation I had with my friend, Thea, somewhat older than I, and further ahead in child-raising: “Thea, how do you know whether or not your children are Christians?” Thea: “Well, you don't look at their behavior because children who are loved generally want to please their parents. You look at specifically Christian things. Do they read the Bible and pray? And, Barbara, just ask them! They will know and will tell you the truth.” I did and, in some cases, did not get the answer I wanted. I shed many tears, but it was helpful and necessary for both my children and me.
My friend, Gerda, again a little older and wiser: “Barbara, you have to know your children better than they know themselves. Before they even realize they are turning down a wrong road, you have to be heading them off from it.” Yes, indeed. That has worked well. Thank you, Gerda!
And, finally, my husband, John, who has helped me a thousand times over during the course of our marriage deal with the shock at my own continuing sinfulness. I leave the concluding words to him: “Well, of course. You are a sinner and you sin. What do you expect? Why do you think Christ came?” Thank you, John. That perspective has saved me from despair countless times.