You know this guy. He is a good husband. He has provided well for his family. He is faithful to his commitments and he has made a life for himself that by most considerations is full and rewarding. But he has one condition that has held him back. He has a heart of stone.
Now, that may sound judgmental on my part. But I’m not telling anything that most people would find disagreeable. Even his wife would agree. That’s not to say that he has not loved her and that he has not loved his children and grandchildren. And it’s not to say that he has not had some emotional moments in his life.
He has smiled at the birth of his children. He has wept at funerals. He has been overwhelmed at some of the moments in life that move any man to laughter or tears. It’s not like he doesn’t have a heart at all.
But when it comes to God, he shuts the door. Religion has never been his thing. He has faith in himself and not so much in the Creator. The only time he has ever stepped inside a church has been at the urging of his wife or perhaps when there was a free meal. Even a stone cold heart is not impervious to the wonders of a pot-luck. Fried chicken with all the fixin’s. Apple pie to boot.
His wife is the hero in this story. She has cared for him and cares for him in spite of his cantankerous ways. She has been his helpmate through it all.
“I want you to pray for my husband,” she pleads. “His time is running out and I just don’t know what to do.”
A lot of folks in our little church have prayed for him. For years. But for 89 years he has resisted the tug of God on his heart with a firm and resounding, “No. Not interested.”
Until this last week.
I must confess that I really don’t know enough of this story to be telling it. I have no idea what changed his mind. Maybe being confined to a wheelchair gave him pause to think about things which his heart had never allowed him to consider before. Maybe it was his full grown grandson who was coming to terms with his own journey. Maybe, just maybe, it was prayer.
It’s not often we humans are privileged to witness something near miraculous, but anyone who sat out there in the sanctuary this past Sunday knew that this was no ordinary event.
Mr. Stone Cold Heart had decided it was time for him to go down in the water and get his life in order.
It was early in the service. We sang one song and the stage cleared. The preacher made his way into the baptistery. One of the men read from the Book. He read about the guy that came to work in the vineyard at the 11th hour and got paid the same as those who had worked all day. Seemed appropriate for Mr. Stone Cold Heart.
While this was going on, in a side room the old man in the wheel chair was being prepared. Which was no easy task. He had almost no strength of his own. It was like handling a fragile package with no handles. One wrong move and someone would be dialing 911.
His grandson went first. His voice clear. His belief firm. He is maybe 40 years old and for the first time committing himself to a decision that men have faced since Adam and Eve made the wrong decision. The young man paving the way for the old man on this day.
He is standing there in the baptistery soaking wet. Another man joins him and the preacher. I’ve never seen a baptism that required three strong men, but this one did.
Someone suggested that maybe we should forgo the dip. Surely the Lord wouldn’t mind if we just poured a little water over a tired and frail old man. But that call is not ours to make, and Mr. Not-So-Stone Cold Heart was determined to go under.
For a man in a wheelchair, stairs are tough. He had to walk up a set and then down a set in order to get in the water. Each step was painful. He grimaced. He held on with a death grip to those helping him. They held on to him so tight it probably hurt.
Then it happened. Just when he got ankle deep, he wept. I’m not sure if it’s accurate to say this, but I’m pretty sure that when an ice cold heart of stone melts, like a block of ice, it turns into a puddle of tears. The preacher could hardly compose himself to do this holy thing.
One of the more practical men had thought ahead and lowered the water level. If you put four grown men in the baptistry all at one time, the water has to go somewhere. Even I learned in 9th grade science about displacement. And if there is any movement at all, then you get wave action. You have to keep in mind that dunking leads to sloshing.
The words were spoken. A crippled old man went under. And he walked back up those stairs with a new heart. One not so much made of stone any longer.
So, how does a man wait so long? How does a heart change after 89 years of resisting every plea of his wife, every prayer that has been offered, every tug that he ignored.
I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. Not now.
His wife hugged me at the end of the service. I don’t know why. I didn’t have anything to do with the events of the day. I shook his hand, his fingers curled inward and stiff. He tried to speak but couldn’t.
I heard the preacher say, “Wow. Just wow!”
“Watching him come down those steps just got to me. I guess we all come that way, you know. Crippled. Broken. Bringing nothing but a heart that only God can change.”
What else do you say but, “Amen.”