It’s my 45th birthday tomorrow and I stop (as one does) to take stock and think about my life; what I’ve achieved, my triumphs and failures and how the rest is looking to shape up. I must admit to thinking I have had quite an interesting life and while I’ve had many challenges and can’t say that I’ve achieved everything I would like to, I am especially grateful for my life in Christ.
I am going through a particularly trying time at the moment, you might even call it a midlife crisis if you were into clichés, although my take is that the whole of my life is a journey which has ups and downs, stops, starts and pauses and all my experiences can be categorised as one of these.
During these musings I heard through the grapevine (i.e. the internet) that Reverend John Stott had died. I didn’t know him personally, but being a regular attendee of All Souls Langham Place, I had of course heard of him and admired him. Saying he was a man of influence is like saying the Queen is a bit connected. He was a man whose life touched every one who knew him and some of us who didn’t. His commitment to Christ’s message and the truth of His word made him stand out as a man of integrity and conviction. He reportedly turned down arguably prestigious appointments which he judged could stand in the way of his commitment to evangelism and the spreading of the Gospel. According to the Telegraph, ‘Stott was never prepared to compromise on the priority of Biblical revelation, and it was this unwillingness that stood in the way of his appointment to an English bishopric.’
He was a leader at All souls for over 50 years and the current Rector Hugh Palmer said of him,’As Rector for many years, John’s ministry extended well beyond the bounds of All Souls and his leadership was valued and experienced not just in London but nationally and internationally.’
Personally, what struck me was the coverage of his death in the mainstream press. The BBC’s religious correspondent said he was ‘…regarded as a kind of “Protestant Pope”‘ and his obituary in the Telegraph said he was one of the most influential Anglican clergymen of the 20th century. The comment that struck me the most though was the one by David Turner of the Guardian: ‘Though the name of the Rev John Stott…….rarely appeared in the UK national press, in April 2005 Time Magazine placed him among the world’s top 100 major influencers. A comment piece in the New York Times six months earlier had expressed surprise that he was ignored by the press,….'[emphasis added]
I think, of all the tributes and commentaries, this was the most complementary and relevant. It showed me that a person of faith can be hugely influential without all the media hysteria and leave a legacy that means that they live forever.
Being almost exactly half his age when he died I take comfort, inspiration and encouragement from his life’s work and the knowledge that he is with his Lord for eternity.
His life is a perfect example of the Gospel and an argument for following a life of service and faith, the rewards of which are eternal life on both sides of eternity. There is also a contrast that is especially poignant if we compare his legacy to that of Amy Winehouse who died in the same week.
If I apply John Stott’s ‘double listening‘, I would conclude that God is emphasising the importance of faith and the gospel in achieving eternal life. Just as Jesus said, ‘But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added.’