She was rather shy, from a country village. It was her first time in the city of London. She hadn’t really wanted to come here, but somehow the opinions of others and circumstances had combined, and here she was, a university fresher.
On the first day she made friends with a chatty northern redhead, and they wandered round the fresher stalls together, joining a vast number of clubs which they never then attended. On the way round they found a religious stall. She hadn’t been sure about God for a long time: he wasn’t real to her, but her redheaded friend was enthusiastic and, wanting to keep an open mind, she signed up too.
Come the first Sunday, she was somewhat surprised to find that the religious nuts were inviting all the freshers who had foolishly signed up, to go with them to a church called All Souls. The shy student pondered. They seemed friendly enough and they were making an effort. Nothing to lose – so off they all went.
Our student was astonished when she got inside the church. All the students sat upstairs in the gallery, and even so, the place was packed with hundreds of people. The singing was warm and convinced. She was familiar with a country church with retired people who mouthed their way through Matins. This was an altogether different sort of church.
Then the minister got up to preach. She’d never heard of him, a guy called John Stott.
There were no histrionics, no wanderings about, no waving of arms, no emotional appeals. Quietly, he asked if anyone in church was wondering whether God was real. He went on to describe her thoughts so exactly that she was dumbfounded, wondering how he knew. She found she was sitting on the edge of her seat.
At the end, he said that if anyone wanted to find out more, they were invited to stay behind afterwards. So once the service was over she crawled down the stairs with hundreds of others and fought her way back into church against the tide of people leaving.
And there it happened. She sat there quietly, listening, with every fibre of her being saying ‘this, at last, is what I’ve been looking for all this time. This is it.’ She felt very emotional, and was afraid that’s all it was – emotion that wouldn’t last.
She said so to the counsellor who took her to one side, when she told John Stott she wanted to find out more. The counsellor’s words never left her: ‘I have followed Jesus Christ for 17 years, and I can tell you, it does last!’
The student can now say ‘I have followed Jesus Christ for 44 years, and I can tell you, it not only lasts, it gets better all the time.’
That student, dear reader, was me. I am remembering the late John Stott, who died yesterday at the age of 90. His quiet, unemotional preaching brought thousands of people into a living Christian faith, and taught thousands more so that their faith deepened and strengthened. He was one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 20th century, with a global influence and books translated into numerous languages.
He was never starry. He hated all that. It was all about Jesus. Nothing else mattered.
Tens of thousands like me thank the Lord for you, John. The direction of my life changed completely because of you. I am sure the trumpets sounded for you on the other side.