Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son"
Don't take it for granted that what you see or hear is really reality. Be careful not to make a judgment without knowing all of the facts. Never assume.
This was a lesson I learned repeatedly as a newspaper reporter. Never assume someone's name is spelled the way you think it is. Never assume so-and-so meant this when he said that. When you are going for the facts, don't rely on opinion or speculation. "Assume" means to "take for granted or without proof." So where am I going with all of this?
This "never assume" lesson was brought home again this week with two students whom I have interacted with through Shepherd's Heart's sponsorship program.
Earlier this year we cut off Gerald's sponsorship. An island orphan, Gerald had been helped with his school fees by Karina and then SHIM since 2004. But in recent years we saw his life taking a downward course. We wanted to help, and we tried, but it seemed Gerald only grew harder, increasingly argumentative, and more and more negative. It was as if there was an aura of death and self-destruction around him. His choices made it unethical for us to continue supporting him.
When we released Gerald from the program, we helped for the last time with part of his school fees, as he enrolled in a school in Kampala. We didn't know where his path would lead, but we felt it would likely not be a good outcome. It was like releasing the prodigal.
When I saw him on the island this week for the first time in a number of months, I expected the same old Gerald. And I found myself inwardly bracing for a debate or a slew of negative comments.
It was with surprise and initial doubt that I learned it was definitely not the same old Gerald who had paid us a visit. While at school, God had used people and circumstances to bring him to the point of acknowledging his need for a Savior. And the supernatural work of transformation has begun. In his own words, Gerald has left alcohol and vulgar language. He is no longer seeking recognition or approval from man, but is waiting on God for His words of guidance and divine truth.
We had given up on Gerald. We assumed he would only continue barreling down his self-destructive path. But God did not forget Gerald. And He didn't assume the prodigal would not return home.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~It was a question I asked to make small talk with David. We were trying to fill time as we waited to conduct some business in the SHIM office yesterday afternoon. I like David. He is a good student, and a well-behaved and polite young man. He is quiet, so though he is one of our sponsored students, I admit I don't know him as well as some of the others.
"David, when did you become born again?"
His answer to my question took me aback.
In surprise I said I had assumed he was born again because he showed such good behavior.
David said that although his parents are Christians and his dad a pastor, he had not received salvation before January 2nd of this year. My surprise turned to joy as I realized what this shy boy was sharing with me - He was a true follower, and no longer a pretender.
He shared that the fear that had once gripped his heart when called upon to drum in church, or when given opportunity to testify, was gone. With salvation came a freedom from such fear. David now drums and testifies in church without fearing. God is doing a transformational work in the life of this shy young man.
I assumed Gerald's hard heart was impenetrable, and his death-bent course nearly unalterable.
I assumed sweet, compliant David had been living as a Christian for years.
God did not assume - He didn't have to as He knew the truth about these young men's hearts and their paths. The Heavenly Father recognized each son was a prodigal at the core. And it was with great joy and love that He welcomed them home.
A second lesson learned this week is never assume that what you are investing in another individual is for naught. If God asks you to pray for, give to, encourage, challenge or admonish someone, but there seems to be little effect or fruit, don't assume it is in vain. Seeds take time to grow. Be obedient and let God bring the fruit in His time.
As Christians we should never assume when we serve an all-powerful, awesome, loving and sovereign God, whose ways are far above our own.
"For nothing is impossible with God." - Luke 1:37