Every Tuesday night I join with the Bridge Ministry to offer the homeless and poor of Nashville a meal, groceries, clothing, and most importantly the Word of God through a full worship/evangelistic service. After the closing prayer, and before the grocery line begins, there is a giveaway. We give one tent, one sleeping bag, and one bicycle to the people with winning tickets. These tickets are acquired when they get their meal before the service. Usually a faithful volunteer named Scott will reach into a bag and call out a number from the list of tickets given out that night. When a person hears their number, they come forward to receive their gift.
Brother Scott will usually call out the number several times if a winner does not respond right away. But eventually, if no one comes forward, he will simply draw another number from the bag. He does this until he has a winner.
People may not respond to their number for various reasons. But usually it is because they either left the service to head home, or because they have already moved to the grocery line which is basically too far away to hear their number. If they remain in the 'sanctuary' area, they will hear their number.
Last night after the giveaway was completely done, a woman came to the front and said, "I have one of the winning tickets. How do I get my prize?" I asked her, "Why didn't you come forward when he called your number?" She responded, "I couldn't hear him." I said, "Well, he always calls it out several times before moving to the next number." She said, "Well, I was back there by the groceries. I said, "Oh... yeah... you need to be in a place where you can hear your number if you want to win the prize." Every week people are told that if they want to win, they need to remain in the area where they can hear their number... but inevitably, some will leave. This lady walked away disappointed because she missed her opportunity.
I turned to Brother Scott and said, "Now there is an illustration if I ever saw one." He smiled and said, "There's a sermon there for you." I stopped and said, "There is a devotional for tomorrow morning."
So here is the spiritual application. Jesus once told a story of a rich man who lived a life of pleasure. Outside of his house was a poor man named Lazarus who was in great physical need. The rich man cared nothing for the poor man, and Lazarus would eat the scraps thrown from the rich man's house. Both men died. The rich man's soul went to a place where there was torment and pain, but Lazarus went to a place of paradise. They could see each other, but neither could get to the other place. The rich man asked for relief from his torment, but was told that there was to be none because of the life he lived apart from God.
He then asked if someone from paradise could go back into the realm of the living to warn his family members about the torment that awaits those who live life without caring for God and others. Here was the response from Abraham, the spokesman in paradise...
"They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them." The rich man replied, "No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent." But Abraham told him, "If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead." (Luke 16:29-31)
People have plenty of opportunity to receive what God has for them. God has done everything in His power to offer eternal life to everyone. He calls, and calls, and calls. He has given nature, which tells of the glory and salvation of the Lord. He has given writings through history which tells us of His great acts throughout generations, including the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. He speaks through people in our lives on a regular basis. He even speaks directly to each person. He has called your number many times. If you don't respond and receive the prize, it isn't God's fault. It isn't anyone else's fault. It is because you decided you would rather be somewhere else seeking something else.
Today, God will continue calling you. Please be in the right place, and respond to His call. He wants to give you much more than a sleeping bag or bicycle. He wants to give you a clear and deep relationship with Him. He does not call out to people who cannot answer. He has both given you the ability to respond, as well as the opportunity. You aren't just holding a number. God knows your name. He calls it out. Listen for your name... and respond.
[Bible quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.]
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.