She asks, “Are you a Christian?”
I pause for a second, stroke my chin and looking toward her face I reply thoughtfully, “Yes ... but different.”
Thus begins a dialogue. The questioner poses a simple inquiry, to be sure, but one which I sense is burdened with baggage from an unknown and perhaps bitter history. I respond truthfully with no hidden agenda or shame. “I am a Christian” I declare. But I also lead the listener into an arena of equality, of union, that she was not expecting. If she has presented the question with the intent of aiming and firing a grievance at me, she has been disarmed. If she has initiated the dialogue with the intent of slapping a label on my forehead, “Hah! You're just like all the others!” the label will not stick. I am not pushing her away. I am also not joining her in an arena of conquest. I am inviting her to come sit side-by-side and listen to a story, for no conversation could possibly end here. The dialogue must continue.
“Different? In what way?”
At this point, the doors to the chambers of her heart have been opened. She wants to know what makes me different. I look into her eyes while a warm smile spreads across my face. I take a moment to pray silently asking, “Lord Jesus, what yearnings burn in your heart for her? Place words on my lips that speak your love and compassion. Help me lead her to you, I pray.” I prepare my heart to be filled to its brim with His love in order to invite her to drink from it.
Where the dialogue proceeds from here is unique. She has a context, a history, that I know nothing about and which is quite unlike any other. What the Spirit leads me to speak could never be scripted or premeditated. I must rely entirely on my Counselor to guide and direct the dialogue from this point for it to have its greatest effect. She has wandered into my path thirsty, like the woman at the well. The water I offer to her must not come from my own jug but from the deep pool of His eternally refreshing wellspring.
If I were to rely on my own efforts, my flesh, I might respond by turning the focus on me: I would explain how I desire to share His love and His compassion, not to start a dissertation or a debate; how I enjoy a faith based on a relationship not a set of propositions. But my flesh will always fall short. My flesh will always stray toward the well-worn path of sermonizing, of talking without listening, of standing and preaching rather than sitting and sharing. My spirit however, more often than not, will respond with a simple question.
In this instance, it responds through me,“In what way would you want a Christian to be different?”
… and then I continue to pray
and listen while the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to her through her own
words, her own story, and even through her own wrestling with her
beliefs and her past. It happens every time. It can be trusted. And I am stunned, in
awe of what the Father can do when I step humbly aside and let Him
play through and take the lead. I invited her to listen to a story. And what
she hears is one newly composed unexpectedly coming from her own lips.
All I have to do is show up and shut up. Show up and listen. Show up and show His love.
I am called to be different. I am called to stand out ... to stand up and live the Good News ... to espouse it, not merely preach it. I am called to reflect the heart of the Jesus I know, not just the Jesus I “know of” or “know about.” And that is a calling I not only gladly accept, but truth be told, cannot imagine living without.
The woman was led to Christ, but differently. She didn't pray any special prayer. She wasn't given the secret handshake and password to get into heaven. I didn't hand her an opt-in card to sign. All I gave her was a drink from deep within my soul. And she left the plane refreshed with a new face in her friends list and the seed of new life in her heart.
And the birth of those relationships continues to fill me with joy.
On another flight, a young college-aged man sits next to me. His conversation starts with something along the lines of “If this plane crashed today and we all died, do you know where you would be tomorrow?”
As Christians, we all have some idea of how we might respond to someone trying to proselytize us. Some of us would relish the delicious irony of it. Others would be annoyed. Most of my imagined responses would only serve to embarrass and silence him for the rest of the flight. The Spirit in me, however, yearns to thicken the veneer of his thin evangelism. It yearns to lead his well-intentioned heart into a deeper level of intimacy with His Savior and our Lord.
It yearns to lead him beyond logic and into love.
It yearns, too, for us to live out our lives as Christ-ians, “little Christs”, in His service to love our neighbors, to plant and nurture relationships which we cherish through life … and beyond.