Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
September 1, 2019
He keeps calling me to come out
If you have been to church a few times, you have probably heard the story of Jesus calling Lazarus to come out of the tomb in which he had been buried. In his Gospel, John says, “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.” Jesus then says to the amazed bystanders, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
In some ways that is the story of my life. Ever since I surrendered my life to Jesus as a young man, I have heard him calling me to come out of a mess I was in or a mess I had made. I don’t mean that I heard an audible voice, which is what Lazarus heard. I mean a voice that resonated in my soul so strongly that I knew it was Jesus speaking directly to me.
No, I was not dead physically. It was a spiritual deadness. And each time I knew that if I did not “come out” when he called, my life would be over. For example, my ministry at one fine church ended in failure after two years. I blew it as a pastor and the bishop moved me to another church. I moved but I was engulfed in self-pity which is a paralyzing pit of misery, rather like a tomb. I constantly talked about how I had been wronged to anyone who would listen. Then one day I heard the unmistakable voice of Jesus saying, “Walter, come out!” I came out and like Lazarus I was blessed to have dear friends remove my grave clothes and help me leave my self-pity in the tomb.
On another occasion I found myself in the tomb of depression. I had retired from pastoral ministry, involuntarily because I had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. Soon after I opted for the surgical replacement of both my worn-out knees. Home from the hospital, bleeding and pain in one knee continued to dog me. Day after day I was miserable, trying to “raise my knee higher than my heart” on the advice of the good doctor. When I overheard my family talking about how depressed I was, I knew they were right. I was indeed depressed. I was a wretched soul, absorbed with the thought that my life was over.
Then one day I heard that voice again, that loud, voice deep in my soul calling my name. “Walter, come out!” I came out but I had to crawl out because I could not walk. Somehow, the loving voice that commanded my attention kept calling until I managed to obey and escape that awful pit of depression. That same voice guided me to accept a new job as associate pastor of Saint James United Methodist Church in Montgomery. I had no idea that the Lord would grant me 15 years to serve him in that wonderful relationship. God is indeed full of surprises!
Lazarus is not the only person Jesus called out of adverse circumstances. In his Gospel Mark shares the striking story of Jesus encountering in a synagogue “a man with a shriveled hand.” I can visualize that man standing in the back, trying to hide his useless hand. But Jesus saw him. How startled he must have been when suddenly Jesus looked at him and said with authority, “Stand up in front of everyone. Come up here!”
It is interesting that Jesus did not ask the man if he would be willing to come forward nor did he offer him some reward for doing so. There was no small talk, just a bold command to come forward and stand in front of everyone. That is how Jesus has often approached me. I knew from the sound of his voice that it was time to fish or cut bait. Obey Jesus or stay in the cave into which I had retreated. Fortunately, the man with the shriveled hand obeyed Jesus. And his hand was restored when he obeyed Jesus’ second command to stretch out his hand.
I have been where that man was. I had a problem I could not fix. I saw no solution. But just as I was about to throw up my hands and give up, Jesus came to me. And he called me to come out of a pit of anger, a pit of resentment, a pit of timidity, a pit of indifference, a pit of discouragement, a pit of shame – you name it and I have been in it. But Jesus loved me too much to leave me there. Again and again, I have heard his voice calling to me, “Walter, come out of that pit! You don’t belong there! You don’t have to stay there! Come out! Come out!”
That is the wonderful thing I have discovered about Jesus. When you surrender to him, and join his team, he will never leave you. You may walk away from him but he will not walk away from you. You may give up your faith because bad things happen and your prayers were not answered like you wanted them answered. But Jesus will not leave you alone. He loves you too much to do that. You cannot get in a pit so deep that you cannot hear his voice calling your name, and saying “Come out and stand here next to me so I can restore your soul and give you the grace to get back in the game!”
I have found it helpful to affirm the truth with my voice. His voice has power, the power to convince me that he will help me get out any wretched pit or mess I have made. There is divine power in the words, “Come out!” and “Stand up and move!” My voice can have power too. So every time he has called me out of a pit, I find it strengthens my faith to say out loud, to myself: “I can get out! I can get out! I can get out! I will get out! I will move! I will do what the Lord says do!”
If you find yourself in a miserable pit today, or next week, or next year, stop feeling sorry for yourself and listen for his voice. There are many voices trying to get your attention so listen carefully until you discern the clear, loving voice of Jesus. And when he calls you to come out, stand up and move out! Obey him! Do what he says do!
And when you get out, don’t expect him to spend any time commiserating with you about how wretched the pit was. He has no interest in your past. Once he restores you, and renews your zeal to serve him, he will give you a new assignment. You will continue to have problems, and perhaps land in another pit one day, but in the meantime you will know the joy of being used for a mighty purpose by which your little life will be dignified! + + +