Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Off from the main street of Sioux Center, Iowa stood a small house, in fact, it was a very small house, actually consisting only of a small living room and a still smaller bedroom, with a lean-to for a kitchen.
I knocked, and then stooped as I stepped through the kitchen door. On the opposite side of the room, with a table between them, sat an elderly couple. As was customary, he was spending the evening reading the Bible, one chapter after another. Across from his sat his wife, busily engaged in her knitting, while she attentively listened to the Scriptures.
There was a pause when I entered, a smile of welcome. The Bible was closed and laid aside, and a chair was offered so that we could converse together for a little while.
It seemed a shame to disturb this quiet, pleasant atmosphere by my intrusion, but the welcome smile I received from both of these elderly saints made me feel entirely welcome.
This man was a carpet-weaver by trade. Behind his house was a shed where he worked his loom, producing carpets of various kinds: cheap carpets made from strips of rag from worn-out clothing, but also carpets made from expensive woolen yarn, produced in all kinds of intricate designs.
One could profitably spend a little time watching this experiences weaver as he sent the shuttle back and forth, and with a foot treadle intertwined the woof with the warp. I did so once. As I watched, it seemed to me, in my ignorance, that he did not quite know what he was doing, as he tossed material of various colors between the intertwining threads. In fact, it seemed all wrong. A strip of one color here, a dash of another color there, one strip following the other in what appeared to be a mass of confusion.
As he noticed my concerned look, a slight smile lit up his face. While I was inclined to shake my head in wonder he continued to add row upon row, color upon color, in mass disorder.
. . . until at the right moment he unrolled the carpet to show a perfect design.
I was reminded of the many times in my life when it seemed that nothing was as it should be. Everything seemed all wrong. Even as I slept I dreaded the thought of another day in which the wrong could never be righted. I was inclined to complain with the old patriarch Jacob, “All these things are against me” (Gen. 42:36).
. . . until—but, no, I never did get to see that pattern that my Lord was making. By His grace however I learned to say with the apostle Paul, “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31, 32).
But that was at an earlier occasion. Now, as we sat and talked, the conversation turned spontaneously to the spiritual and to the hope that we cherish in our hearts.
Let me add that, after a while, this man looked at his wife. She smiled and kept on knitting. A little while later he looked at her again, and she smiled in return. Finally he said, “Aren’t your going to make us a cup of coffee?” “Oh,” she said, as if she had not understood before, “is that what you want?”
I was struck with the atmosphere of perfect contentment and understanding. They had so little, and yet they had so much.
We have our dens, our comfortable chairs, our newspapers, our books, our TV sets, and so much more to occupy our attention on a quiet evening. But have we lost something?
Do you say, “But the evening you described belongs to old folk”? Maybe so; we may have to be old before we fully appreciate the one thing worthwhile. And maybe we won’t find it then.
But, still, haven’t we lost something?
Another incident I recall happened down south in the “Bible Belt.”
My son and I drove up to the steel mills, where a person worked whom we wanted to meet.
When we approached the gate and asked for this person, the guard who was stationed there told us where we could find him. He added this striking remark, “You will not talk to him for five minutes, or you will know that he is a Christian.” What a testimony of a man! We wondered, would it be true? Could it be true, that in a few minutes this man would reveal his true nature? Let me assure you that this was true. Could others say that about you or me?
One evening, soon after, we were invited to the home of another man, who also worked in steel, walking on narrow beams five or six stories above the ground. As we approached his home we saw written over the front door the words, “Jesus lives here.” Immediately I was set to wondering whether that would become evident during our visit with that family that evening. I was with a certain amount of curiosity that I went in upon their invitation.
At the meal this mad led in devotions, and his prayer he made the request that our conversation throughout the evening might not fall into secular, but would remain spiritual. This was another surprise. Again I wondered whether that would or could happen.
I must say that this was indeed the case. Even when we discussed secular matters, and that was the purpose of our visit, the conversation did remain strictly spiritual.
It could well be said, “The Lord was in our midst.”
Have we maybe lost something? You may object and say, “But we are not accustomed to carrying our hearts on our coat sleeve.” That may be ever so true, but, still, why is it so hard to strike the spiritual and the heavenly?
Why? Is there something lacking in our lives?
In my thoughts I now go to a farm community in the far west.
It is a winter evening. My wife and I are visiting with a large family in their big kitchen, gathered with the family around that table.
It was customary in this community for the visitors to enjoy the company of the whole family, young and old. And, on the other hand, for the entire family to enjoy the visitors. Later in the evening the children would go off to bed. The older people would go to the living room to visit there awhile. In the meantime the young folks would be making the lunch in the kitchen.
This was a farm community. There was likely no place for the young folks to go—at least not every evening. The family therefore could enjoy being together, and the visitors could enjoy spending some time with the whole family. That was a real pleasure. The time sped by. All too soon it was time to go home.
Today, all this has changed. The automobile has made inroads into our lives. There are so many places to go, and we all are so busy. Especially where the mother in the home also goes out to work, there is very little time that the whole family is together.
Well may we ask ourselves, if it is not too late, What is happening to our family life?
What is happening to our own spiritual life? To the spiritual life of our family? To our church?
Forgive me that I reminisce a bit. But my thoughts go back to the old hard-coal stove that stood in the corner of the living room casting a warm glow from its mica windows through the room.
It’s a wintry Sunday afternoon. The family is gathered in the twilight singing the songs of Zion that have thrilled the hearts of the saints throughout the ages.
What a wonderful gift the Lord has given us, the gift of song. There is no experience of the soul that is not expressed in the Psalms, cries of anguish, complaints of sin, grieving confessions, but also joys of salvation, glorying in the riches of God’s grace, bursting forth in praise to our God, expressing the hopes, the longings, for the blessedness awaiting us beyond the grave.
We can sing in our inner being without uttering a word. That is true especially when we sing “songs in the night.” We can sing while we are working, or while we travel, either alone or in the company of others.
But it is something special when God’s covenant family is gathered together in solemn meditation, expressing itself in song. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! . . . For there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore” (Ps, 133:1, 3). Does your family have time to sing as family?
Or have we lost something?
When we made confession of our faith before God and His church we vowed: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Are we living up to that?
“Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord.” And Jesus adds to that, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).