In the 35 years I knew him, I learned a lot from his books and chapel messages at Columbia International University. But he taught me more important things when we verbally interacted, and when I merely observed his life. What follows are three things he taught me.
1. Robertson taught me how to weep.
I saw him weep in public twice. In the 1980s, in a faculty meeting, he told the story of a young married man who had a mental breakdown and killed his infant child, then suffered brain damage when he ran in front of an emergency vehicle that arrived at the scene. Many days later, Robertson visited the man’s hospital room. The only cards on tables or the wall were from the same relative (not his former wife). His compassion for the person, for the broken marriage, for the senseless loss of life, spilled over in his tears. He wept for the painful effects of sin in our fallen world.
The second occurrence, also in a faculty meeting, were tears spawned by people facing an eternity without Christ. Tears flowed when he reiterated the need for missionaries serving among people groups who had not heard the gospel.
I’m sobered by how many times God’s leaders in the Bible wept. And in Joel 2:17, God mandated tears due to the effects of sin on people we serve: “Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep between the porch and the altar, saying, ‘Spare Thy people, O Lord.’”
“Father, when I weep, let it be for the right reasons.”
2. Robertson taught me how to pray.
During a visit to his home, when I sought personal counsel regarding my walk with Christ, I asked about his prayer life. Reluctantly, for he was hesitant to elevate his praying as an example for others, he showed me a prayer notebook teeming with photos of persons for whom he prayed, and spaces for writing in specific requests. He waged war for family members, leaders of Columbia International University, missionaries, unconverted persons he knew, and for folks in other categories.
Some of the persons he prayed for weekly, others daily. The pictures created identification and personalized his praying. Intercession took a significant chunk of the one hour a day he spent with the Lord early each morning.
Over 20 years later, when he was 85, he walked by me on campus and said, “I prayed for you this morning.” I thanked him for his occasional prayers on my behalf. That’s when he corrected me, saying, “I don’t pray for you occasionally. I pray for you every day.” (Perhaps he grasped just how needy I am!)
Like Epaphras, Robertson “labored earnestly” in prayer for others (Col. 4:12-13).
“Father, enable me to work half as hard at intercession as I do for studying and teaching.”
3. Robertson taught me how to worship.
During our final faced-to-face conversation (July, 2014), my queries uncovered how he approached his personal devotions each morning. In addition to the praying and Bible reading, he sang aloud to the Lord each day. He wanted to express vocally his love, praise, and thanksgiving to the supreme lover of his soul.
Perhaps it was a way to prepare his heart for the demands and interactions he would face during the day. But most of all, I’m convinced he viewed it simply as a way to enjoy companionship with his Lord. His worship wasn’t primarily to prepare him for something, but to interact with Someone.
Systematically, he sang through a published hymnal, and started through it again after he had completed the book. When he didn’t know the melody of that day’s hymn, he made up a tune of his own.
Robertson took Psalm 100:2 literally: “Come before Him with joyful singing.”
“Father, help me to view my time alone with You as cultivation of intimacy, not something I need for utilitarian reasons.”
Thank you, Robertson, for teaching me when you weren’t even aware it was happening.
To my readers who knew Robertson: What is one vital lesson he taught you?