A widow contacted a local church to come pick up an old rusty car that belonged to her late husband. He had one request– that the car be kept in the old garage at the church parsonage and that anyone who wanted to could stop by and work on it. He had purchased it years before with the intention of restoring it to drive around in during his retirement. But time and ill-health had robbed him of his dream. His hope was that someone might enjoy working on it, and if no one came to work on the car, perhaps the church could sell it to scrappers and at least get some money for it. An ad was placed in the bulletin, and another in the local paper. Hours were set up, when people could stop by to work on the car.
Soon, there was a great stir– several members of the congregation came forward to protest. Some were concerned about the safety and liability involved in having the car in the garage where anyone could get to it. Surely, it would be in the church’s best interest to have the car locked away, so only members of the congregation could get to it. Others were arguing about how to restore the car properly– what was the original color of the chassis and the interior? Could they find the exact parts for that make and model? Who would work on the engine? The interior? The frame? Surely the old man didn’t mean for just anyone to come in and work wherever s/he felt like working…how would the job get done? Detailed schedules were posted and discussed; re-posted and opposed.
Weeks, and even months went by. The church was divided; some threatened to leave. And none of the church members had even visited the old car in the garage– it sat forgotten. Except…
A young man in town had seen the notice in the newspaper. He wrote down the original work schedule and followed it, quietly coming every Tuesday and Friday night after work, and patiently working to restore the car. He cleaned and oiled parts, “tinkered” with others, sanded off rust, fixed hose lines and checked all the panels. He patched upholstery and polished up the old tires. He painted the chassis and found matching window wipers to replace the old ones. He worked on the motor and the exhaust, and even the old AM radio. He made sure the mirrors and windows were not cracked or chipped. He even hunted around to find the right hood ornament to replace the one that was lost. Only the pastor knew of his work, and even he had never joined the man or asked about his progress– he merely opened the garage door every time the young man arrived, and closed it when the young man left.
After eight months, the division in the church had reached a fevered pitch. One group demanded that the car be removed to a secure location and that the labor should be divided based on an elaborate chart that focused on how long someone had attended the church, their skill base, what time they were available to work, and whether they were currently an elder or deacon (or had ever served as an elder or deacon).
When the group arrived at the garage, they were shocked to discover that the car was completely restored, polished and glorious in its restoration. Shocked and angry, they attacked the pastor– How could he have allowed this to happen “behind their backs?” When the pastor admitted that he was as surprised as they were, their attention turned to the young man. They hunted him down and demanded an explanation. How dare he come and work on the church’s car without their knowledge or approval! Who did he think he was?!
The young man’s answer left them stunned. He said, “I read an invitation that said anyone who wished could come and help restore an old car to help out a local church. I came every week, and no one else ever showed up to help. No one from your church did any work on this car. No one ever came to check on it or see if any work had been done. No one from your church gave me a word of encouragement, no one had a helpful suggestion or even constructive criticism. No one offered me a word of gratitude. No one helped hold a lamp or flashlight so I could see the hidden damage as I made repairs. No one helped when I had to hoist the motor or clean off the grease and grime, or polish the chrome. The invitation was clear– whosoever will, may come. I came. I followed the directions I was given– I came on Tuesdays and Fridays, and I cleaned up each time before I left. I put a lot of work into this car, and now I’m done. I hope your church can decide on a good use for it; she’s a beauty, and I think she’ll run really well– I didn’t take her for a spin, but I hope someone will be able to enjoy her for many years to come.”
The crowd from the church still had one question– Why had the young man come in the first place, and why did he keep working on the car all those months? Did he want the car for himself?
“No,” the man said; “when I first read the ad in the paper and I saw the word ‘restoration’, I was deeply moved. Not too many years ago, I was living a very wild and dangerous life. I felt alone and abandoned and I was filled with anger. I was restless and destructive. But one man in town took me under his wing. He gave me a part-time job, and made me promise to stay in school. But much more than that, he and his wife invited me over for dinner several times. They made time out of their busy schedule to come and watch me play basketball after I finally made the team in my senior year. When I joined the army, they sent letters and care packages. The old man used to tell me that I reminded him of an old car he bought and kept in his garage. He said it was an amazing machine that just needed restoration– he said I was an amazing person who just needed some restoration. He told me that Jesus came to bring restoration to anyone who wanted to come to Him.”
“I finished my time in the army; I came back and started my own business. I got busy and moved on with life. I never came back to thank that man for his kindness, and he never asked for anything from me. I guess I expected to thank him some day, but I found out that he had died. I went to see his widow. She was so gracious, asking about my family and wishing me the best, and then she mentioned her husband’s last request. And when I saw the ad in the paper, I knew this was a way for me to thank the old man, but also to experience what restoration really means. When I came to God, I was rusty, filthy, and broken. God has sanded off the rust in my life, mended broken relationships, and given me new life. It’s an honor to be able to bring restoration, no matter the circumstances. God has done so much to restore my life, it’s the least I can do to help restore an old car. I hope that somehow, this car can inspire renewal in someone else’s life the way its owner helped bring restoration to my life.”
I wish I could say that the young man’s story changed the hearts of the angry deacons and elders. A few of them were touched; some even convicted of their pride and selfishness. But most were simply put out.
What have I done with the precious gift of restoration in my life? God, lead me to someone today who needs to hear, and SEE, the miracle of restoration and Grace.