I was not in the mood for a spiritual conversation.
I had places I had to be. But as I walked out of QuickChek towards my car, the Holy Spirit weighed heavily on my heart, directing me to share my faith with him. The “him” was a tough-looking army veteran stationed at a table outside the store. He had pictures of wars he’d been in, one or two medals on display, and some military gear to boot. He didn’t seem like the kind of guy who wanted to be bothered about spiritual matters.
So I sat in my car in the parking lot, hoping the Holy Spirit would release me from this errand.
Nope. The longer I sat, the clearer it became in my conscience that God had designed this to be a divine opportunity.
I tried formulating a discussion in my mind, but nothing glaringly profound came to mind. So I figured I’d just wing it. I got out of my car, walked towards him….. and walked right past him back into the store!
As my courage failed me, I thought, “Urgh! What am I doing!” Then a thought came to mind. “How about getting to know him?”
That seemed easy enough. So I gave it a second try. This time, I walked past him again, but turned a few feet away as if something on his table caught my attention, “Hey man, thanks for serving our country.”
As it turns out, he was more willing to engage in a conversation than I’d anticipated. He went on to tell me about himself, the wars he’d fought in, the friends he’d lost, and his Mustang parked a few feet away.
I must confess that though I should have stayed in the moment of the conversation and taken my time to get to know him, I was mostly selfishly concerned about getting “to the point” of the gospel. So as he spoke, I listened for any opening in our conversation through which I could introduce the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus.
Almost ten minutes later, nothing.
Worried that the opportunity might never arise, I told him a little bit about myself and my relationship with my dad in his dying years [they were about the same age]. Then I asked him if he’d ever considered what might happen if his last day were to suddenly creep up on him, like it did several of his friends in battle. His response gave off an “it-happens-if-it-happens” feel. He also added some details about having lived a "fairly good life", which he believed readied him enough for God.
Of course I knew that Biblically speaking, one’s good works fall short of God’s holy standard. I knew that it was by God’s loving grace we are saved, not by any righteousness of our own. I knew that faith was a free gift God gave to all who came to Him humbly through Jesus Christ, but the conversation didn't quite feel right enough to introduce these truths. So I decided to just go for it. Trying really hard not to sound like a spiritual elitist, or even worse, a Pharisee, I attempted to explain who Jesus was and what He did on the cross.
It was if my words hit a brick wall.
He was still engaged in our conversation, but seemed to steer it away from spirituality anytime I attempted to bring it up.
So, I gave up.
We chatted a little more about his car and I thanked him as sincerely as I could for all he had done for the country. As I drove away from that QuickChek, I felt a little confused.
I was under the impression that God had orchestrated this moment as a spiritually transformative experience for this man. Why was it such a difficult conversation?
Then it hit me.
This encounter was every bit a learning opportunity for me as much as it was for him. I went into it thinking I had something important he needed to hear, but came out of it realizing I was the one who had something to learn. Having had some time to sit on this and reflect on it, I understand now that that experience was very much designed by God to train me in the art of listening to His Spirt's leading . Since then, there have been a number of lessons God has taught me through the course of the week, all of which my encounter at QuickChek prepared me for.
So, though I didn't have the privilege of leading my new military friend into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, and though the conversation ended awkwardly, I take comfort in the knowledge that I actually matured spiritually, ever so slightly, through that experience.
And therein lies one of the benefits of sharing our faith, (even when it feels awkward). In fact, it brings to mind a Biblical story of a blind man in the ninth chapter of the gospel of John.
In that passage, we meet a blind beggar who’s been in his condition since birth. Jesus tracks him down with every intention of healing him. But rather than miraculously commanding his eyesight to be restored, Jesus goes old school and does what God did in Genesis 2 when He formed Adam from the dust of the ground. Jesus spits in sand, makes mud from it, and rubs it on the blind man’s eyes. Then He tells him to go wash it off at a local pool. When the blind man does this, he miraculously finds that he has a new set of eyes! Boom! A miracle has happened!
Neighbors and co-beggars [who may or may not have witnessed the miracle] get in an argument among themselves about the true nature of his supposed healing. “How in the world can you suddenly now see when you’ve been blind since birth?” The man explains as plainly as he can that a man named Jesus, was the determining factor. Unconvinced, they haul him off to the religious authorities. This of course, is a huge problem.
The religious leaders do not like Jesus because He doesn’t follow their burdensome religious rules. To make matters worse, Jesus healed on a Sabbath, which went against their strict religious rules about not lifting a finger to do any kind of work on the day of rest.
Now here’s where sharing your faith can result in some unwanted drama.
When the man is interrogated about his new set of eyes, he once again explains how Jesus healed him. The leaders don’t believe him and end up asking the same questions several different ways, hoping he will give them a different answer [that doesn’t attribute any credit to Jesus]. At one point in the heated examination, the healed man cuts through all their hypocrisy by stating the obvious fact about Jesus’ miraculous hand in his life. In verse 25, he essentially says, “Listen fellas, I don’t know if Jesus is all these wicked things you all are claiming He is. All I know is that I was blind my whole life, but now I can see because Jesus made a new set of eyes for me!”
Sometimes, the greatest story you and I will tell about Jesus is the transformation He’s made in our lives. Words are important, but it certainly drives the point home if you can show clearly who you were before you met Jesus, and how you are different as a result of Jesus in your life.
Back to the story.
As their questioning progresses, the man becomes even bolder. When the religious leaders attack the integrity of Jesus, this man becomes a little confrontational and challenges them by asking, “Why do you all keep asking me the same question?!? I told you already! Are you all trying to secretly get saved and don’t want anyone to know?”
At this point, feces clearly hits the fan. They become so angry with him that they cuss him out and expel him from the synagogue. Later, Jesus tracks Him down and invites the healed man to place his faith in Him. The man believes and becomes adopted by faith into God’s family.
Here’s what I want to draw out of this story [and why it came to mind as I drove away from my new military friend outside QuickChek].
By sharing the story of what Jesus did in his life, he actually ended up “converting” nobody! Not only that, but his boldness in his newfound faith resulted in him being kicked out of a central gathering place for every good Jew! One undeniable benefit that came from this experience, however, is that it resulted in a great deal of spiritual growth for the man. In the process of being questioned, he had to work out what he really believed about who Jesus was. Though theologically untrained, his “unwanted drama” forced him to arrive at this personal conviction he states in verse 32, “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
The correlation for me was this: The very act of evangelizing causes our faith to grow and flourish. It forces us to better understand what we believe, who we believe in, why we believe in Him, and how we might more clearly communicate it to others. Sharing our faith will sometimes come at a cost, but that cost is the price we [gladly] pay for becoming more like Jesus.
The reality is that God is the only One who can restore a lost humanity to Himself. The even better news is that He is more passionate about our family, friends, [and even strangers] who are far from Him. In His great love, He calls us to be a part of His global mission. Sharing our faith, then, is not a burden, but an awesome privilege. Therefore, we should never be passive or disengaged when it comes to sharing our faith.
We just need to keep in mind that on occasion, sharing our faith won’t always result in a visible “win.” Sometimes, we'll experience the exact opposite and might even make a few enemies. But understand that the instruction to “always be ready to explain the hope of Christ in you” still stands. Also understand that as we step out in faith and share our story, we'll discover that WE are the ones who are probably most changed by the encounter, especially when we face opposition.
So as you go about your week, be attentive to every relationship God brings your way. Sincerely get to know the person. As you do, do not be afraid to share the hope of Christ in you.
It will result in a “win” for both of you!