22 Sep Unscripted
I like to talk with people I’ve just met. I like to talk to people in general. Ok, I like to talk. I say “hi” to strangers in the grocery store, sometimes receiving suspicious glances from protective parents. I talk to people on elevators like they are old friends I haven’t seen for a while. I get annoyed at toll booth operators who don’t have the courtesy to even grunt when I wish them a wonderful day. I’m not exaggerating about this. But even as an enthusiastic conversationalist (someone who likes to talk) I dread some conversations. I’ve learned to spot them immediately.
There is the one with my wife that starts out “Um, we need to talk.” Or the one with my teenage daughter that begins with “Daddy, do you think I’m trustworthy?” I don’t like the conversation on the phone that begins with a long silence before an operator comes on, butchering my name and saying “Mr. Poowlock, I’d like to ask you just a few short questions for a survey.” And I really hate the phone call from an acquaintance I haven’t talked to in years saying “Hey, I was just thinking about you for a great marketing opportunity. How would you like to make some extra money?” But one of the most uncomfortable conversations for me to have is when someone approaches me on the street and asks “If you died today, would you go to Heaven or Hell?” I’m not uncomfortable with the question, and I certainly know the answer. But when I’m approached in this way, I feel as though there is a rehearsed script being presented, and I am performing a scene for which I have not studied.
Now if I, being a professed follower of Christ, and someone who is committed to openly sharing my faith with others can be uncomfortable with such an approach, imagine how an unbeliever might feel. There is one thing I’ve learned from having so many conversations with so many people over so much time. That is: there is a difference between a presentation and a conversation. Any good persuasive speech writer knows to address the arguments, to ask pointed and leading questions in order to bring the listeners to the desired objective. Often questions are rhetorical, and assume that the audience will answer in a certain way. A conversation, on the other hand requires two-way, open communication. The answers aren’t preplanned and tidy. They allow for both parties to hear and be heard.
I engage in spiritual conversations every day. In fact, I pray before I leave my house that God will lead me to the right person, that I might share His love with them. I don’t even have to break my routine, or go on a special mission to have these conversations. They happen while I’m going about my business. I’m continually amazed at how easy the conversations go, and how receptive people are. There are some things that I keep in mind, and I’d like to share them with you.
First, I see everyone as equally deserving of God’s mercy. Many of the people that I’ve found to be most receptive to God’s love are those I would have considered the most hostile toward it. Jesus gave His life for every single human. There’s not one He’s willing to ignore.
Secondly, I seek to connect sincerely with those I speak with, authentically interested in who they are. I don’t have a hidden agenda. I often learn wonderful things from these conversations. God has often used others to bless me in the process.
Thirdly, I remind myself that everyone is on a spiritual journey, either toward God or away from God. My intention is not to convert someone in a conversation. I want my life, my friendship, my conversations to motivate everyone I meet to take one step closer to the One that gave Himself for me. I’m not the Savior.
Fourthly, I listen. I listen to the person I’m conversing with, while I listen to God. Too many times, Christians go out to share their faith by answering questions that no one is asking. I seek to hear what is important to the person I’m speaking with. What do they care about? What are they hoping for? What do they need? How would Jesus demonstrate compassion for their concerns? Would Jesus have me share something encouraging, or just shut up and listen? A hug goes farther than a theology lesson, a kind word produces more than an argument, and I’ve never in my life offered to pray for someone in need and been rejected.
There are times when people will begin a spiritual conversation with me, but they have their own scripted agenda. They’ve already judged me and dismissed me before they actually know what I believe. It is not my job to defend a political party, or another person's religious views. Jesus didn’t ask us to be His lawyers, just His witnesses. I don’t want to be guilty of judging someone or dismissing them before actually knowing who they are and what’s important to them. After all, Jesus loves them, died to forgive them, and He was pretty clear about judging them. If we’re willing to meet people where they are, listen as they reveal what’s on their heart, and respond as God nudges us to offer them encouragement, we’ll find out what Jesus knew, that life, as well as a meaningful spiritual conversation is unscripted. I think that’s something worth talking about.