A stranger in a red corvette: Lessons in Spirit-led ministry

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A stranger in a red corvette: Lessons in Spirit-led ministry

April 11, 2023 -

A red corvette sits empty on an urban road. © By chicagophoto/stock.adobe.com

A red corvette sits empty on an urban road. © By chicagophoto/stock.adobe.com

A red corvette sits empty on an urban road. © By chicagophoto/stock.adobe.com

“We withhold the truth for the sake of acceptance. We polish our social media persona to remove the rough edges of religiosity. And we nurture relationships with unbelievers for years without broaching the subject of Christ. Why? To please people. In our twisted understanding, we reason such people-pleasing efforts are for the sake of future gospel opportunities. But in reality, we’re often just fearing others instead of God.” —Elliot Clark, Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land

I was walking in our neighborhood last Saturday afternoon when a red Corvette pulled up beside me and its white-haired, bearded driver yelled over the roar of the engine, “How do I get out of here?”

Not sure I understood his question, I said, “I’m sorry?”

He yelled again, “How do I get out of here?”

I asked him, “Where do you want to go?”

He replied with the name of the major east-west street just north of our neighborhood. I told him to follow the street he was on until it curved to the left, then take his first right and he would be there.

He yelled his thanks as his car roared away.

A parable in four dimensions

As I continued walking, I reflected on this strange encounter as a cultural parable.

  1. I knew something this lost traveler did not. This did not make me his moral superior. I’m certain there were many things he knew that I did not. The fact that I happened to be in possession of information he needed did not justify anything but humility in sharing it with him.
  2. Unlike most lost people, this man knew that he was lost. He had obviously been trying to find his way out of our labyrinthine neighborhood without success. (I had similar troubles when we first moved in fifteen years ago.) As a result, he knew that he needed directions and was willing to risk taking advice from a total stranger. He was forthright and even insistent on seeking my help, which made giving it an easy thing to do.
  3. I could not think of a justifiable reason not to meet his need. If I knew how he could remedy his lostness, why would I not help? Basic decency and a minimal level of compassion would require my response.
  4. I had no way to know the ultimate outcome of our encounter, but I knew I did what I could when I could. He might be so directionally challenged that he would quickly become lost again. He might be on his way to do something nefarious. He might get into a wreck that would have been avoided if I had not given him directions to the street he sought. None of that was within my control. My success was measured by my faithfulness to the opportunity at hand.

An hour on a train

The parallels with evangelism are obvious, of course. Here’s where my parable stops being relevant to that purpose, however: most lost people don’t know they are lost. They have chosen at least one of two cultural options:

  1. There is no such thing as “lost” or “found,” only the journey in the moment. Every road leads wherever fate, or karma, or the Force intends you to go. The key is to live in the moment.
  2. We are all on the same journey, so no one of us has the moral agency or authority to give directions to anyone else. Such imposition is narrow-minded, hypocritical, and even dangerous to a tolerant society.

If my driver had been in this condition, how would I help him?

I would need to begin with the apagogic work of explaining to him why his current position is untenable.

To illustrate: The great apologist Francis Schaeffer was once asked what he would do if he had an hour with an unbeliever on a train. Schaeffer replied that he would need the first forty-five minutes to convince the man that he was lost; it would then be an easy matter to explain to him how he could be saved.

Of course, telling lost people they are lost risks their anger and rejection. And, as Clark notes so convictingly, many of us fear people more than we fear God.

The Spirit “will guide you into all the truth”

The key to our cultural and evangelistic dilemma is found in the fact of Easter.

Over and over in the gospels we read that Jesus knew the thoughts and hearts of those he encountered (cf. Matthew 12:25; 22:18; Mark 2:8; Luke 6:8; 11:17; John 2:25). As a result, he knew the best ways to reach them, from asking a Samaritan woman for water (John 4:7), to identifying Nathanael before Nathanael knew him (John 1:47–49), to healing blind eyes so he could heal blind hearts (cf. John 9).

Now the risen Christ is ready to lead us to reach those we are called to reach today. He promised that his Spirit “will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).

The Spirit is preparing the people today he intends us to encounter tomorrow. He is likewise preparing us today for tomorrow’s opportunities. If we will begin the day by submitting it to him (Ephesians 5:18), then pray with Samuel all through the day, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9 NLT), he will indeed speak. As with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, he will lead us into evangelistic encounters we could not have anticipated (Acts 8:26–39) and we will plant trees we may never sit under.

A prayer that becomes a lifestyle

Seen in this way, evangelism is not a chore and a burden but an adventure. Each day we follow the Spirit, we can know that he is leading us and using us in ways that are advancing the kingdom and touching souls.

And, as I often write, we cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.

“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” I am now committed to praying these words until they become my lifestyle.

Will you join me?

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