In 1985, George Jones sang some lyrics, in his Texas twain, which pulls upon the heart strings of the Lord’s church today and apply to us, when he sang, “Who’s gonna fill their shoes? Who’s gonna stand that tall? Who’s gonna play the Opry or the Wabash Cannonball?” Ok, maybe not all those lyrics, especially the part about the Grand Ole Opry or the Wabash Cannonball, apply to the church. Lately, I find myself focusing on the future of the church rather than the past. Growing up in the church, I remember those who strived tirelessly to make a difference as they influenced others to do good, lead others to Christ, and to build up the body in Paintsville. Many congregations have dwindled to nothing, across the nation, because those faithful and diligent workers passed onto their eternal reward, and no one was willing to “fill their shoes.” I cannot help but consider the words of Samuel, in Judges 2:10, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.” No one was prepared to fill the shoes of that faithful generation and, as a result, it led to apostasy. Could this happen to the Lord’s church in future generations?
For a moment, I want you to consider with me THREE requirements for us to fill the shoes of the faithful generations of the past, so we can build toward a better future for the church:
- To fill their shoes, you must “stand tall.” Zacchaeus, historically, was a supposed “wee little man”, as the song goes, (Luke 19:3). Jesus came to town, and he desired to see who Jesus was so badly that he climbed a sycamore tree. Remarkably, Jesus came to the home of Zacchaeus, a notorious sinner, though others complained, (v. 7). In the greatest moment of his life, Zacchaeus stood tall, despite his ungodly life, and repented. If we are going to fill the shoes of a past faithful generation, we must stand tall despite the ungodly world that surrounds us.
- To fill their shoes, you must give your “heart and soul.” This is the first and greatest commandment of God, (Matthew 22:37-39). Once, when Jesus had a conversation with a Rich Young Ruler, he found a man who loved God, had kept His commands since birth, and one who Jesus “loved”, (Matthew 10:21). Yet, he walked away sorrowful from the Lord because he could not obey Jesus. What was the hold up for the Rich Young Ruler? Sacrifice. Quite frankly, there will be shoes, that will never be filled in the church, because of the sacrifice those shoes require. If we are going to fill the shoes of a past faithful generation, we must be willing to sacrifice.
- To fill their shoes, you must find your place. Some of the biggest shoes to fill, in the first century church, were those of Dorcas. She was described as a “woman full of good works and charitable deeds which she did”, (Acts 9:36). She was so beloved by the church that, after she became sick and died, many widows wept and showed Peter the tunics and garments that Dorcas had made for them, (v. 39). Dorcas found her place in the church. Her place was not in the public, but it was remarkable and meaningful. To fill the shoes of a past faithful generation, we must find our place in the church.
I want to conclude by sharing an adaptation of the lyrics to, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” I do not know who wrote them, but they are profound in their meaning. The lyrics say, “You know this old world is full of Christians, but just a few who have touched our hearts in a special way. Imagine life without them, all those brothers and sisters like the ones who greet you on the Lord’s Day. Those whose smile and words can lift us from the blues, the ones who teach our children, Lord, I wonder who’s gonna fill their shoes? Who’s gonna fill their shoes? Who’s gonna stand that tall? Who’s gonna teach your Bible classes, things that matter to us all? Who’s gonna let you know you’re missed and stop to call on you? Lord, I wonder, who’s gonna fill their shoes?” Will you be the one who will fill the shoes of a past faithful generation?