Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have... 1 Peter 3:15
“Always be prepared...” Those words have been haunting me for the last few days. Why? Because I failed.
I’ll tell you what happened. I’d gone to one of those wholesale warehouses to get a part for my electric shaver, and in the waiting room I got chatting with another customer.
He was a friendly chap, and told me a bit about himself.
Life hadn’t been easy - he was hobbling painfully on a couple of crutches, and told me that both his legs had been smashed by a nasty car-crash some years before.
“Well,” he said, “I’m lucky to be alive really.” To which I replied with some banal remark about none of us ever being able to take a day of life for granted.
“That’s true,” he said, “it’s just matter of pot-luck really, isn’t it?”
And that was the moment...
That was the split second, when I could - indeed surely should - have made a suitable response. Nothing heavy, of course - not a standard three-point sermon on the uncertainties of life, or an improving lecture about the need to be ready daily for death.
No. Just something perhaps along the lines (with a smile) of “Well, personally I prefer to put it down to the will of God.”
All right, even that might have caused a slight touch of embarrassment for a moment. But we had talked for long enough to be at ease with one another, and I am fairly confident that he wouldn’t have gone home and told his family about “this religious nutter I met today”.
But anyway, the moment was gone, and of course once it’s gone it’s never going to come back.
You may, of course, feel I did in fact do best to miss the moment. But the more I thought about it the more I felt it was a good opportunity gone begging. After all, he had chosen to make a theological remark to me. Yes, I mean that! - even something as basic as “it’s all just a matter of pot-luck” is an expression of opinion about life, death and the universe. So why not respond to it with a theological statement in return?
And suppose I had caused real embarrassment? Is that necessarily such a bad thing? After all, we had never met in our lives before, and it’s completely unlikely that we will again. He could quite happily rinse me out of his mind.
But who knows?
Perhaps, just perhaps, he might have driven off thinking to himself “Mmm, interesting what that chap said...” Perhaps, just perhaps, my remark might have come after something else “religious” that had been said to him recently, something seen on television or heard on the radio. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a member of his family who is a sincere Christian.
Indeed, perhaps - just perhaps - we might have got involved in a good discussion right there and then. (Electric shavers can wait.)
A lot of perhapses! And here’s another couple: perhaps nothing whatever would have come of that brief conversation. But the point is that we will never know. Perhaps his whole life might have been changed by what was triggered in those few minutes. Didn’t Jesus speak about the tiny seed going into the ground and bearing great fruit?
If you wanted to be pedantic you could point out to me that in our Bible verse Peter suggests that we ought to wait first - he speaks about “everyone who asks you for the hope that is in you”. The other person should take the initiative.
Well, all right. But I think that’s a bit hair-splitting. After all, I would hardly have been ramming my beliefs down his throat, would I? And I think that’s probably what Peter is concerned about.
Peter goes on to remind us that anything we say should be said “with gentleness and respect”. Amen indeed to that. All I know is that, weighing it up in mind as I drove away, I felt quite sure I had made a mess of it. Grrr.
Billy Graham wrote: “God will hold us responsible as to how well we fulfil our responsibilities to this age and take advantage of our opportunities.”
I wonder how many more opportunities I will have...? More to the point, I wonder how many of them I will grab hold of?
Lord God, give me eyes that see, a mind that responds, a tongue that speaks truth, and a heart that loves those still without Christ - and so help me to be a true ambassador for you. Amen.