Thanking God for a Very Ordinary Man Who Pressed on Towards Jesus
I went to a funeral today. It was for the man who taught me the Lord’s prayer.
Mr. Tilsley graduated to heaven at the age of 96. He spent more than 35 years—over one-third of his life—teaching Sunday School.
When I was nine years old, my mom started taking us to church. She would drop me off in the church basement for class with the other children. They all came from intact Dutch families. Mine was neither intact nor Dutch.
A sticker chart hung on the wall, just inside the classroom door. Mr. Tilsley would greet me there with a hug every Sunday, turn to the sticker chart and say, “Well, Jennie, are you ready to tell me what you’ve learned?” And I would rehearse my progress in the Lord’s prayer.
He listened with pride twinkling in his eyes. Each sticker earned was progress towards a Sunday School prize. After our Bible recitation he taught us a Bible story. Mr. Tilsley was the first to introduce me to Moses, Abraham, and the disciples.
Every year, on my birthday, Mr. Tilsley would call. Upon answering, he did not say hello, but dove right in, “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Jennie, happy birthday to you.” Then, “Have a great day today. Goodbye!” He called all the kids and many adults in our church every year.
And that’s all I really knew of Mr. Tilsley until today. Today my childhood pastor colored in a more detailed picture. I didn't know that Mr. Tilsley didn’t become a Christian until his 40s or 50s. And I didn't know that “he had a deep faith, but slightly flawed theology,” which the pastor shared with a grin.
With a smile our pastor shared how every week Mr. Tilsley would meet him for a bagel and a coffee. And every week he had some scripture to discuss and some idea that most likely needed direction. And though his doctrine sometimes missed the mark, the pastor said Mr. Tilsley loved the Bible. He read it, memorized it, cherished it.
Not only did Mr. Tilsley have a deep faith, but he was faithful. Though his wife never accompanied him to church, he was always, always there. Though he was an old man even when I first met him, he never missed a week. Though his hearing failed, he had to walk with a cane, and his strength was clearly waning—he was faith-filled and faithful.
I agree with the eulogy today that he heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:23) when he met Jesus a few weeks back. Mr. Tilsley is a striking example of a long obedience in the same direction. He never grew weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9).
Though he didn’t have all his theology ducks in a row, he pursued truth every week—both in his own Bible study and prayer and in discipling from the pastor. Though he was a work in progress, he invested in us kids. Though he was late to the faith, he gave himself over to the body of Christ.
He was an ordinary man with an extraordinary God. Generations of Christians now bear witness to his ordinary ministry that bore beautiful fruit. What a sweet example of a very normal man who pressed on toward the goal in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).
I thank God for using Mr. Tilsley to teach me the Lord’s prayer. Though my mom and I were sort of outsiders in the church that God provided, Mr. Tilsley warmly welcomed us in. And now, he’s been warmly welcomed home.