I have com to firmly believe that God does His best work in my life when I don’t know what I am doing! As I reflect back on 33 years of pastoral ministry and now five years of chaplaincy ministry, I realize that the stories I remember most had nothing to do with my plans or strategies. No one got saved by listening to my skilled presentation of the Gospel. The services that broke open when the altars were lined were most often the ones in which I didn’t get a chance to preach.
Like a lot of pastors, I spent most of my time trying to figure out the “magic formula” that would increase attendance and finances. I attended conferences about leadership, stewardship and any other “ship” I could find. What was this or that pastor doing to make his church grow? Changing the music, replacing the pews with padded chairs, offering multiple services, turning off the lights in the audience while adding spotlights on the pastor were just a few things that were suggested.
All of those changes have their place, but I have yet to meet someone who got saved simply because they were sitting in a padded chair. All that I accomplished through my many attempts was to get very, very tired. My weariness came from at least two things: I was trying to please people (which is impossible) and I was trying to do it myself.
Fortunately, God consistently sent me reminders that when He is allowed to move, the Kingdom grows! At one point, God started “interrupting” my studies by sending several men in the church into my office to talk about getting saved. I could never have formulated an evangelism plan that would have made that happen. God moved! I saw a family of four (now five) who came to the altar during the same Sunday service. Because we are all now Facebook friends, I have been able to watch that decision from 30 years ago be lived out in the next generation. I had nothing to do with that miracle, because I never got to say a word, much less preach. God moved!
When I stepped out of my role as a pastor, I began to see how many things that were priorities in my life just faded away. So many things that I poured my energy into really don’t matter at all. All that really matters is helping people to find Christ and walking with them on their continued journey with Him. As a hospice chaplain, I have the unique role of being a listener. I have to listen for God to open a door to talk about Him. I know that may sound a little strange, but it actually is the way God wants to work and move in our lives. Almost weekly, God allow me to watch Him change lives in what seems like impossible situations.
When I make chaplain visits, I often provide my co-workers with a good laugh. For one thing, I am directionally-challenged. I rely on OnStar for all my directions. I once spent 45 minutes visiting with the wrong family, because the OnStar directions sent me out into the countryside. I have tripped on a front porch and fallen face first while the patient is watching. I have told a family that their loved one looked very peaceful only to fin out the person had just died.
Jesus has a good sense of humor. I am sure I make Him laugh every time I get into my car. However, the good thing is that when I am calling, I know that I don’t know what I am doing. Bu nature, I am very shy. I cover that trait with my humor. Talking to someone I just met is not a comfortable situation. In the midst of my numerous blunders, God still amazes me!
Recently, I was headed back to the office after a busy day of calling. I had planned to do some charting and then go home. While I was driving, I got a phone call from a man who said, “Hey Randy, this is A. J. (not his real name). You called this morning about a visit. I think Mom really would like to see you. If you can, would you come out to the house?”
I was more than willing to make the call. My only problem was the man never gave me his last name. I was driving so I didn’t have anything to write on. I had called a number of people that morning, but I didn’t remember an A. J. My first thought was that the call was from a home where the patient had requested to be baptized. She testified that she was a Christian and knew she was going to heaven, but it bothered her that she had never been baptized. We made plans for me to visit her soon and baptize her by sprinkling.
I concluded that the phone call originated from that patient’s home. I went back to the office and checked if that particular family had called. Sure enough, they had. I got my supplies and headed immediately over to the home. The patient was alert enough to realize what was happening. As we gathered around her bed, I baptized her. The patient became very peaceful. During the night, she passed away. I was certainly glad I had made the visit.
The next morning, I saw an acquaintance and asked how she was doing. Her answer was, “Terrible! I am just terrible!” Trying to help, I asked if she was struggling with something at work. I was shocked when she said, “No! It is my father-in-law. He is actively dying. You said you were going to come last night. Why didn’t you show up?” I had gone to the wrong home the day before!
I explained what had happened and apologized profusely. I told my friend I would go to her home that very moment. When I got there, the family was gathered around the hospital bed anxiously waiting. I introduced myself and explained my mistaken visit. The family was very understanding and forgiving. One of the family even said, “Well, the lady must have needed you more than we did.”
While we were standing around the father-in-law’s bed, my friend suggested that her father-in-law might want to be baptized. The patient said, it didn’t matter to him one way or the other, but it was important to my friend. I baptized the father-in-law and prayed with the family. My friend then waved me over to talk to her son, because he was having trouble with losing his grandfather.
The son and I stepped into the kitchen to talk. The young man said, “Because of my physical condition, I haven’t been over to see my Grandpa very much.” We talked about the importance of being present now. He then added, “I don’t want to keep living the way I have been living. I haven’t lived a good life. I need Jesus to change my life. I want to know Jesus like my Grandpa knows Him. I have been thinking of going back to church and reading my Bible.”
After we had talked about how Jesus was ready to forgive him, the son said, “And I want to be baptized right now!” I clarified that being baptized and accepting Christ are not the same thing. He understood, but he wanted to be baptized. The family gather around the son and I baptized him. The son went back to his grandfather’s bedside, leaned over and told his Grandpa about being baptized. I couldn’t hear what he said, but his mother’s eyes got real big as she listened to her son’s profession. As I drove back to the office, I had to smile, because God had again proved the He does His best work, when I don’t know what I am doing.