Finding Our Way – Neville Ward

 

Neville Ward photo

I was born in Adamstown, a suburb of Newcastle, NSW, in 1937, and have remained in this city to the present day. I was born of Christian parents, my mother being an Anglican, and my father a Methodist. At age 5-8 years I attended the local Methodist Sunday School and was to remain with Methodist churches (later to be called the Uniting Church due to amalgamation) for the next 40 years. My most significant memory of that local church was a sign on the wall which said, “Jesus said I will come again. Be ye also ready.” Was this an early sign of the search which was to follow?

At age 9, we moved to Waratah, a neighbouring suburb and there I attended the Methodist Sunday School. I became aware, as I grew older, that this church was a young person’s paradise, with young adult groups aplenty, such as Christian Endeavour, Rays and Comrades for girls and for boys, the Order of Knights. There were trips away, camps, socials, dances, tennis club, sports days, concerts, visits by other church people from Sydney (our State capital), and many other activities. At age 14, I taught Sunday School for a year or so. Then due to a policy change, I was withdrawn from this. This was my first encounter with church politics.

At 19, I was called to National Service with the army. This involved 178 days spread over 2 years, 98 days of which were spent at Holsworthy Military Barracks in Sydney. My Christian involvement did not stop here, as I became friends with a fellow from my hut who was the son of an Anglican minister of a Sydney suburb. On weekend leave, I would stay with them at their home and attend church on Sunday mornings.

At 20 years of age, I found the love of my life, Robin, who had also been attending the same church at Waratah for some 5 years. By this time, I was searching for something more ‘spiritual’, as it were. I felt something was missing and I needed to grow in my faith. I found that Robin was searching also. Two people with the same needs coming together. Was this the hand of the Lord?

Because we both felt this need, we visited our minister at his home, and asked him for guidance. His advice was to forget about it and it would just happen. Well, we left feeling that something was still missing. At this point, I did not pick up on the fact that all we needed was to hear the words, ‘Read God’s Word.’ Our feelings were such that we availed ourselves of quiet time in the church before services, as the church design permitted this solitude and contemplation.

As far as my working career was concerned, after completing high school at age 14, my Dad said, “Come with me. I’m taking you down the street to get you started as an apprentice mechanic.” I continued in that career for 47 years till my retirement at age 61. This career “choice” proved to be the right decision as I enjoyed every moment of it.

Now at Kotara, another Newcastle suburb, with our three children, we were continuing in our Christian life. I was then in my late thirties. I had a family friend who had become a Methodist Pastor, who returned to Newcastle to take up duties in a nearby suburb. One evening, after working on the parish vehicle at his home, I met with him in his office and asked for his advice about our perception that something was missing in our Christian faith. He asked me if I was ‘speaking in tongues’ yet? I said no. He said, “When you do, come and see me.” I left feeling more confused than ever. Again, the message I was missing was to read God’s Word.

As time went on, the Kotara church embarked on a program put forward by our minister to carry out certain tasks as per instructions. One was Bible study groups (about 12 in number) which we attended weekly for a short period of time. We looked forward to these each week. Then came the news that these classes were to cease. Some of our group met with the minister and requested that the studies continue. Much to our disappointment, we were denied permission and told to cease forthwith. We had to move to the next task. I have to say that this was a strange result, to say the least.

I knew we enjoyed the Bible study, but still failed to grasp the meaning of reading God’s Word. You see, we had been brought up on a culture of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” True enough, but I really couldn’t think past that.

Our church was a modern building, with a foyer adjacent to the church entrance. So solitude and quiet contemplation before the service was out of the question, due to the noise level. It got worse as the people spilled over into the church itself. I made several requests to those in authority for something to be done, but it just fell on deaf ears.

The last day at church for Robin and me came one morning when the minister stood in the pulpit for a minute or so, wanting to start the service, but was ignored to the point that a steward came forward, raised his arms and cried out over the noise, “BE QUIET. The minister wants to start the service.”

However, this is not a condemnation of the church or the ministers, for it provided us and our children (who incidentally stayed on for many years), with a splendid grounding for Christian life, which overall, was life-changing for all and invaluable. But for us, it no longer fulfilled our needs.

I was now 45. Robin and I needed more. It is at this point I believe God intervened and said, “I will just have to show them the way.” I can remember saying to Robin, “I can get more out of reading the Bible at home.” At the last, the realization of what was needed had arrived. I read the Bible at home for some 15 years to great satisfaction, but really having no idea about interpreting it correctly or putting the Old Testament with the New. I found out that the Bible is not just for the minister to study at college, it is for us all. I wonder what God is thinking about it all? Perhaps, “Why don’t they read 2 Timothy 2:15?”

In my opinion, spirituality or deeper understanding and knowledge were not something that was encouraged in any of the churches we attended. The Old Testament was, mostly, conspicuous by its absence. Some years before my retirement, my son Peter and his wife Anne, were attending BBFA Bible study meetings, and every time we saw them we would talk and learn about things we had never before encountered, It started to make sense. Bit by bit we gained insight and a pattern emerged. We jumped out of our comfort zone and started attending the BBFA studies.

I came to understand that reading the Word at home without the correct interpretation, and believing that everything I read applied to me, was false. For the first time, at the BBFA I encountered Miles Coverdale’s famous words:

“It shall greatly help ye to understand scripture, ifthou mark not only what is spoken, or written, but of whom, to whom, with what words, at what time, were, to what intent, with what circumstance, considering what goeth before and what followeth.”

Well, I know many of you are familiar with these words. What was it like for you when you first heard them? It was, for me, like a light was switched on! Robin and I slowly felt our way, and it took time, but slowly a pattern of God’s words and instructions emerged. That was 11 years ago.

Many of you will know that 2 Timothy 2:15 says: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” And 2 Timothy 3:16 reads: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

These verses, together with Miles Coverdale’s words, have been wonderful helps in our study of the Bible.

In conclusion:

Well, Readers, if some of you are asking the same questions that Robin and I asked, or if you have knowledge as limited as ours was, I’ve just given you my answer. Read God’s Word. Believe me, it’s a knockout of knowledge!

Don’t miss out as long as I did. Get the tools required and study the Word as the Lord would have you do. Find out what is in it for you and soon enough, you will be so contented, you will feel as if you are lying down in green pastures beside the still waters.

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