Faith that Won’t Quit

We often walk through moments and seasons of disappointment in life. Even though we have a tendency to glamorize the lives of our spiritual mothers and fathers, they experienced the same. John Wesley responded to God’s call to inspire and challenge the Church of England. Eventually, the Methodist Church grew out of his passion for seeking a deep relationship with the Lord and ushering in revival. Over the years, Wesley preached all over England and kept a meticulous journal of his activities which we still have today.  Some of the entries might surprise you. 

For instance, here are a few entries from his journal that were written in the early years of the Methodist movement: 

Sunday, May 7th: I preached at St. Lawrence’s in the morning, and afterward at St. Katherine Cree’s Church. I was enabled to speak strong words at both; and was therefore the less surprised at being informed that I was not to preach any more in either of those churches. 

Sunday, May 14th: I preached in the morning at St. Ann’s, Aldersgate; and in the afternoon at the Savoy Chapel, free salvation by faith in the blood of Christ. I was quickly apprised that at St. Ann’s, likewise, I am to preach no more. 

Friday, May 19th: I preached at St. John’s, Wapping at three and at St. Bennett’s, Paul’s Wharf, in the evening.  At these churches, likewise, I am to preach no more. 

Sunday, 5, in the morning, at St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate; in the afternoon, at Islington; and in the evening, to such a congregation as I never saw before, at St. Clement’s, in the Strand. As this was the first time of my preaching here, I suppose it is to be the last. 

Many people would have likely quit after they were kicked out of the second or third church, if not sooner! John Wesley faced overwhelming challenges, and I have no doubt that it would have been easy for him to give up and quit.

The earliest Christians were in the same boat. They faced threats on every side because of their newfound commitment to Jesus.  On one hand, they faced threats from the Imperial Government in Rome.  When fires swept across Rome in 64 AD, Emperor Nero blamed Christians for setting the blaze and ordered their mass arrest and execution across the city. On the other hand, they faced persecution from local authorities and peers that shared their religious traditions.

Throughout the first three hundred years of the Church, many people felt that Christians were pagans because they only worshiped one God. In fact, early Christians were often called atheists because they refused to worship the numerous gods worshiped in surrounding cultures. Many people even believed having Christians in their towns would upset their gods!  Tertullian, one of early Christians who observed these persecutions wrote, “if the Tiber rises to the walls, if the Nile does not rise to the fields; if the sky stands still, if the earth moves, if there is famine, if there is pestilence, the cry goes up, ‘Christians to the lion.’” There are countless stories of Christians appearing before their accusers, who asked them to deny and renounce their faith in Jesus Christ!

That’s the kind of environment in which the letter of Hebrews was written. The early Christians who first read Hebrews were sorely tempted to turn their back on the faith to escape the torture, imprisonment, and execution they could easily be facing. They needed encouragement to persevere, and they needed resources that would allow them to be faithful even in the face of incredible odds. The book of Hebrews gives one of the clearest descriptions of the kind of perseverance and endurance we’re called to have as Christians, even in the face of insurmountable challenges. 

In Hebrews 11:1, we read, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for – the conviction of things not seen.”  Abraham is then offered as a living embodiment of this incredible definition of faith. God called Abraham and his family to leave their home to cross the desert to a land they had never seen.  Even though he’d never seen this land, he trusted God in faith. It was Abraham’s faith that convinced him to move his family somewhere he couldn’t even picture in his mind. Later on, God promised he would create a great nation of people out of Abraham’s descendants, even though he and Sarah were too old for children. It was Abraham’s faith that convinced him of what seemed impossible. It was his faith that continually assured him of things he couldn’t see. Over and over again, Abraham’s faith gave him confidence and assurance to press on in faithful obedience. Even though he couldn’t see the outcome, Abraham knew that God’s promises are more real than anything else in this world. His faith in God was what gave him the strength to press on, to keep the faith, and to persevere.

When I was little, there were times that I would get sick and tired of something I started.  I remember one summer I got tired of Little League Baseball and I was ready to quit.  My dad wouldn’t have it!  He wouldn’t let me quit, and he let me know in no uncertain terms that our family simply didn’t quit. This was a man who worked for over forty years at the same job with only one or two promotions, so I knew better than to argue!

Little did I know that dad was trying to instill in me a lesson that can be one of the greatest resources we have in our faith. Often times things don’t go the way we expect in our lives, and we think it would be easier to give up. Sometimes, we’re tossed by storms in our lives and we think it might just be easier to quit. The message of Hebrews reminds us that faith means never giving up. Faith is what allows us to hold tightly to the goodness of God even when our circumstances whisper lies that nothing will ever be OK again. Faith is trusting God who enables us to keep pressing on in faith even when things feel overwhelming! Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. 

John Wesley was kicked out of almost as many churches as those where he was invited back to preach. Yet, he had faith in an invisible God. He trusted in God’s promises because he trusted in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. As a result, the things that happened at the beginning of his life did not end up being the final word.  As he neared his 85th birthday, on Saturday, August 22nd, Wesley wrote in his journal as he had continued doing throughout his life:

I crossed over to Redruth and at six preached to a huge multitude, as usual, from the steps of the market house. The Word seemed to sink deep into every heart. I know not that ever I spent such a week in Cornwall before. 

Sunday, August 23. I preached there again in the morning and in the evening at the amphitheater, I suppose, for the last time. My voice cannot now command the still increasing multitude. It was supposed they were now more than [five and?] twenty thousand.

Because of the power of the Holy Spirit, the promises of God in Jesus Christ, and the reality of the resurrection (the ultimate promise of faith), Wesley was able to press on in his faith, preaching a bold message about the reality of God and God’s power to transform lives. He persevered like the great saints of old. He pressed on in faith like Abraham and Sarah. Because of his faith, Wesley never allowed opposition to keep him from proclaiming the good news.  And so we find him, in the 85th year of his life, sharing the message of faith with more than 20,000 people. 

That is what faith is all about – it’s the reminder that God’s promises and God’s power are more real than anything else in this world.  When we feel like we can’t go on, when life seems so rough, we need to persevere and continue trusting in the one whose promises never fail and never end – no matter what.

Catfish and God’s Mercy

In the first church I served, I attended a local ministerial alliance meeting at a local church’s monthly men’s breakfast.  It was at a small country church sitting next to an old cemetery. The biscuits and gravy were delicious, the coffee was stout, and the bacon was cooked crispy, which is the only good way to cook bacon. After breakfast, the preachers who were there broke off into another room to carry on the business of the day. There were only eight of us there that day. Southern Baptist, Freewill Baptist, Church of God, and a couple community churches that weren’t affiliated with a denomination. We took care of the business of planning our upcoming Thanksgiving service with the usual conversation.

After a few of us left, the real conversation began. Several of the men took turns sharing how God was working in their lives, oftentimes sharing how they had led someone to the Lord. Finally, one of the men who I had come to know and respect started to share. This preacher was an old-fashioned “whoopin’ and hollerin’” sort of preacher. He came from a mostly-baptist background but didn’t really belong to a denomination. He didn’t have any kind of degree and he couldn’t quote a theologian to save his life, but he proceeded to share a remarkable story that I will never forget.  

He began to share about a man named “Catfish.” Catfish was a friend of his, but he was not someone who ever darkened the doors of the church. His wife had gone to my preacher friend’s church for many years, but Catfish wouldn’t come with her. Catfish got cancer. Each time my friend would visit him in the hospital, he would ask Catfish if he was right with God before he left. To this, Catfish always replied, “The Lord’s Spirit don’t strive with me anymore, because I denied him and missed my chance.” This happened a couple times before my friend returned to find Catfish in terrible shape, on the verge of death. They began the same conversation they always had about various things from the weather to fishing to how the doctors thought he was doing.

Before leaving, my preacher friend reached out to hold Catfish’s hand. He said, “You know what I’m going to ask. I want to know if you’ve made your peace with God.” Again, Catfish said, “The Spirit don’t strive with me anymore. I’ve missed my chance.” My friend’s voice slowed and became more intense as he continued the story, “Right then, I tightened my grip on his hand just a bit…and I looked him in the eye.” In a quiet trembling voice, he shared with us the words he spoke to Catfish, “I said, my God is more merciful than that.” At this, he said, Catfish broke into tears. At that moment, he entered into relationship a merciful, forgiving, and loving God – a God who doesn’t give up. Catfish made a commitment to Christ right then and there, with his wife and my preacher friend weeping tears of joy by his bed.

Over the years, I’ve heard educated preachers flippantly talk about rural uneducated ministers, dismissing the possibility that someone without a seminary education could possibly be effective in a modern world. Hearing that sentiment makes me sick and reminds me of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth,

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

God doesn’t need someone with a degree or a pedigree to carry out His work in the world. God works with those who are willing to be obedient. Granted, God can just as easily call someone with a doctorate or a GED, but the only absolute requirement is to receive him as Lord and walk in obedience to His Holy Spirit.

John Wesley, in his advice to preachers, reminded them, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most.” While education has value, there is nothing more important than spending and being spent in the work of inviting the lost into a saving relationship with Christ, which is made possible by the amazing mercy and love of God. 

One Word for 2020

Several years back, my friend Andrew Forrest introduced me to the idea of choosing “one word” as a theme for the New Year. It has been a powerful spiritual practice for me ever since, and I recommend it to anyone who struggles with traditional resolutions. In past years I’ve chosen words like move, joy, trust, and surrender.

As I’ve thought and prayed about my word for 2020, I’ve been drawn to a passage in scripture that speaks to my soul.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15:5-11 ESV

In this passage, Jesus tells his followers that the only way to bear fruit that lasts begins with abiding in him. Apart from abiding, we accomplish nothing of lasting value. Apart from abiding and obeying, we will not live a life filled with the joy of Christ. The foundation of a faithful and fruitful life is abiding in the love of Jesus.

My word of the year for 2020 is “abide.” I want everything I do as a disciple of Jesus to come from a place of abiding and obedience. For me, this means two important things.

First, it means prioritizing time in God’s presence. Even as a pastor, it is tempting and easy to prioritize productivity. Like anyone else, we are tempted to focus on the many things that need to be done. We end up, like Martha in Luke 10:38-42, being so determined to do all the things that need to be done that we miss out on God’s presence. In those moments, we hear the words of Jesus, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (vv. 41-42 NKJV) For me, this means taking time at the beginning of each day to read the Bible and pray. It also means intentionally spending extended time in prayer to seek the presence of God. Without abiding in God’s loving presence, nothing we do or accomplish will last.

Next, this means understanding the Kingdom’s order for effort and grace. A wise pastor once said that grace means that as Christians we work from love, not for love. In our world, we often work to prove ourselves. We work to show everyone how valuable we are and how productive we can be.

In the world of God’s Kingdom, our value is based on the deep and abiding love of God who sent his Son, Jesus Christ to save us and restore us. We receive this love as a pure and unearned gift. That is grace. All of our efforts for the Lord are not to earn His love or favor. Instead, our efforts flow from abiding in His love and favor!

While abide is my “one word” for 2020, it will likely not be yours. I believe as you pray over the next day or two, God will share a word to guide and direct your life and faith for the year ahead. What is your word for 2020?

 

A Flat Tire and God’s Provision

I was almost finished with my seminary education, and I had worked through most of the process preparing to be commissioned and licensed for ministry. All that remained in the process at that point was a final interview with the primary board responsible for ordination within my denomination. My family and I lived in Wilmore, Kentucky at the time, so I had to fly back to Oklahoma city for this interview.

I had scheduled plenty of time to get my rental car and make it to the interview with time to spare, but flights are never predictable. Our flight was running late, and by the time I arrived in OKC, I had just enough time to get my rental car and drive to the church where interviews were being held.

Just a few miles north of the airport, I heard a pop and the tell-tale sound of a tire that went flatter than a pancake. This was before everyone had a smartphone, so I wasn’t able to call and let the board know I would be late. A million thoughts went through my mind, but the first was that I needed to get off the road and find a safe place to deal with the problem.

Taking the logical approach and pulling off into a business to the right didn’t seem right, so I kept driving a couple hundred yards and then turned left across two lanes of traffic into a nondescript building with no signs indicating what it was used for. I hoped to walk in and find a phone book and use their phone to call for help.

The lady at the front desk looked surprised when I asked for the rental car company’s phone number. She laughed and said, “you don’t know where you are, do you?” Of course, I did not. She said, “this just so happens to be the regional repair center for several rental car companies here in Oklahoma City. Don’t worry sir, we’ll just get you a new car in a few minutes and you’ll be on your way.”

I couldn’t believe it. In my mind, I had already failed my interview and would soon be calling my wife to tell her about the whole ordeal. Instead, I just so happened to have taken an illogical turn into the perfect place for God to meet my need at that moment. I was in a car and on my way in plenty of time to make the interview!

I don’t know what you’re facing today. I don’t know what your urgent “flat tire” situation might be. But I do know this. Sometimes, in the middle of these moments of confusion and fear, you’ll take a turn that doesn’t seem to make sense. And it is often in those moments that God leads you to the perfect place to receive an amazing dose of His provision and grace.

Maybe you’re experiencing a relationship that is going bad or has already ended. Maybe you’ve had a family member receive a terrible diagnosis, or you’re facing the fear of receiving one yourself. Maybe your business or work situation has gone as flat as the tire on my rental car. As you look for a safe place to pull off, you may instead be feeling a nudge to turn into a place that doesn’t make sense.

For instance, it could be that turning to a church is the last thing you’d consider for facing a situation like those I described. Or maybe talking to a trusted counselor, pastor, or friend about the situations you’re dealing with makes no logical sense in your mind. But it just might be that turning in a way that seems unnatural to you could be just the way God wants to meet you and provide grace for your need. God still leads. God still guides. And God wants to pour His love into your heart and life today.

Upgrade from the Kids’ Table

Today, many of us will be gathering with family around tables for a Christmas feast. Graduating from the kids’ table to sit with the grownups is a rite of passage in most families. The adults get to gather around a nice oak dining room table, and the kids sit at an old card table on the back porch. There’s always that moment when you feel like you’re too old to sit at the kids’ table, and you start begging your parents to graduate to the dining room.

Then there are those times when the adult table fills up too quickly and one of the last adults getting food ends up slumped over the card table with their knees sticking up into the table. Looking at these scenes in many families, you can tell a lot about someone’s identity from where they sit. For years in my wife’s family, my father-in-law has sat at one end of the table and my mother-in-law sits at the other end. The rest of us sit in the middle where we are busy passing food back and forth throughout the meal.

Even in most living rooms, you’ll find mom’s favorite chair, dad’s chair, and all the open seating for those of lesser status! Or maybe you’ve waited to get on an airplane lately. Business class, select class, preferred, priority, and then cattle call. You can tell a lot about someone’s identity from where they are seated.

Believe it or not, the Bible ties together identity and seating as well. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength.” (Ephesians 1:18-19)

Paul prays for people to know two things. First, “the wealth of his glorious inheritance,” and second, the “immeasurable greatness of his power.” Once our eyes are open to these two realities, we see the reality of where Christ is seated, “ He exercised this power in Christ by raising Him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens—  far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he subjected everything under his feet and appointed him as head over everything for the church,  which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”(Ephesians 1:20-23) Here we see Christ is raised and seated at the right hand of God the Father. As a result, he is given all power and authority and dominion. No one has a higher title than Jesus. No one has more power than Jesus. No one has more authority than Jesus.

As Ephesians continues, we discover our identity before we have a relationship with Christ. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Apart from a relationship with Jesus, we are dead in sins and trespasses. We follow the ways of the world, and we are led by a spirit of disobedience rather than God’s Holy Spirit. However, out of God’s amazing grace, we are saved, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!” (Ephesians 2:4)

Without the grace of God, we are easily led astray by every whim and desire of our hearts. Paul says we are headed for wrath. John Stott describes God’s wrath as, “neither an impersonal process of cause and effect (as some scholars have tried to argue), nor a passionate, arbitrary or vindictive outburst of temper, but His holy and uncompromising antagonism to evil, with which He refuses to negotiate.” God moves to destroy the evil that is destroying us.

But God is rich in mercy and through his great love, he makes us alive with Christ, saves us by his grace, and gives us “upgraded seating.” “He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, so that  in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6-7) 

We are not just saved by God, but elevated. As Christians, we are seated at the big table. We are seated at the best possible table with an all-access pass to the presence of Jesus Christ. This is a table spread out with immeasurable riches. Out of this upgraded seating, we have a number of benefits.

First, we realize our proximity to Jesus. Hebrews 4:12 affirms this as well, “Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.” Jesus is with us and we are with him, no matter what situation we face in our life.

Next, wherever we are currently seated in this world, we gain the perspective of eternally upgraded seating. When we realize we are seated in heavenly places with Jesus Christ, the other places we are seated matter far less. We often get caught up in “if only” thinking. If only I had a better job. If only my marriage were more like so-and-so’s marriage (I hate to break it to you, but so-and-so still leaves their toothbrush on the counter). If only my kids were like their kids. If only we could go on vacations all the time like everyone I see on Facebook. If only I had their circumstances, and on and on.


Recognizing you are a child of the king, seated with Christ in heavenly places changes all of this. I can have the best seat in the world or the worst seat, but the spiritual reality is that I am seated with Christ and have access to the King. This King hears my prayers, knows my name, and holds my life in the palm of his hand.

Finally, we are called to embrace the power and potential of walking as sons and daughters of the King. We have the power to shift the spiritual atmosphere of our neighborhoods and communities. We are commissioned as Christ’s representatives in the world. We can stop denying the potential we have to bring healing, grace, and transformation to whatever environment we find ourselves in.

When my wife and I were getting off our plane on our honeymoon, someone heard that we just got married. They said, “why didn’t you tell the airline?? They often will upgrade newlyweds free of charge to first-class!” We didn’t realize our identity carried more benefits than we had taken advantage of that day. This doesn’t have to be you. There are several tables. Which one do you want to be seated at? The table in the world: dead in sins and trespasses, following the ways of the world, dominated by your own will and inclinations? The table of self: saved from hell, but focused on yourself? Or the table of Christ: seated with him in heavenly places.

It is time to leave the kids’ table. It is time to recognize our true identity and boldly approach the Father who has not only saved us, but lifted us up with Christ and seated us at a table filled with mercy, grace, and power.

Obedience to a Whisper

As I walked into the first church I served as a pastor, I wandered through an old office located just behind the sanctuary. Years before, the heavy stained glass windows had been replaced with large clear panes of glass. These windows invited those inside to look out at the surrounding community. When I looked out the window, I saw a series of small wooden homes near the church. A few of these homes were obviously older. Some hadn’t been cared for in years, and most had a dilapidated car or two in their gravel driveways.

One of these homes stared me in the face every time I walked from our parsonage across the street to my office, which was next door to the church. When the weather was nice, the family who lived there could often be found sitting on the porch. I would feel the tug of the Holy Spirit saying, “how can you preach and not reach out to the people I’ve placed directly in your line of sight day after day?” Finally, I stepped out of my comfort zone and into obedience. I walked the few steps next door, introduced myself as the pastor of the church, and engaged in small talk before telling them they’d be welcome to join us in worship anytime. I learned this was a rental property, and later found out that the people who lived there shifted almost seasonally. This family moved not long after.

One night as we slept, some bored teenager decided it would be a good idea to spray paint our sidewalk with a few choice words. Of course, it wasn’t long before I was kneeling alongside a friend from the congregation who doubled as our treasurer, mission director, and pianist. As we cleaned the graffiti off the sidewalk, a little boy who had just moved into the house next door came and stood beside us. He asked, “who owns this church?” We both laughed as I said, “well, nobody really. It belongs to God.” He said, “oh no, that’s not right. Somebody owns it. Every building is owned by somebody.” I tried to find an analogy and pointed to the high school across the street and said, “it’s like the school. Who do you think owns the school?” to which he replied, “the principal owns the school!” My friend pointed at me and said, “then I guess he owns this church!”

It wasn’t long after this conversation that the kid began attending on Sunday mornings. It was fascinating to see how a young man who’d never stepped foot in a church experienced everything in worship on a Sunday morning. I looked out during the sermon one day, and he had his feet propped up on the pew in front of him. One day as we made time for the congregation to greet and shake hands, a watchful member noticed he’d made his way to the front where our traditional church had candles burning on the altar. He was moving his hand quickly back and forth over the flame! To our church’s credit, people didn’t get worked up and gently helped him understand what to do and when.

My wife worked for a local dentist with a generous soul. He told her that he enjoyed giving out bikes to kids at Christmas, and she immediately thought of our new young friend. I walked back to the house next door and knocked on the door. The boy lived with his grandmother and she came to the door. I reintroduced myself and asked her how she was and told her how much we enjoyed having her grandson at church. Then I asked her if she had any plans for Christmas. She began to choke up a bit and told me that she was raising him and a granddaughter and it wasn’t going to be a year she could afford much for them.

I proceeded to tell her about how a local dentist, who wanted no credit, would be willing to buy both of her grandkids a bike and that I would place them in her storage shed a few days before Christmas. She immediately began to cry, thanking me for this blessing. But I knew. It had nothing to do with me. It started first when the Spirit nudged me and invited me to reach out to the house next door. Every tale of grace and blessing starts with obedience to a whisper

God’s Grace in Jackson Creek

As a child, my bedroom overlooked Jackson Creek. On rainy days it would overflow its banks and, at least in my childhood imagination, it would look like the epic floods of Noah. During the summer, it was the perfect place to wade, catch crawdads, and find a swimming hole or two that were just deep enough to find relief from the scorching Oklahoma summer sun.

Even though we lived in the country, we had a few neighbors with kids around my age, and we would spend hours playing in and around Jackson Creek. One day, my neighbor Kyle and I were swimming in the creek, and somehow our conversation turned to faith. Unexpectedly, Kyle asked me if I would baptize him. Even though I attended church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, I felt immensely unqualified for what he was asking me to do. I told him I didn’t think I was supposed to do that. 

Even though we were both still in grade school, I had talked to Kyle about Jesus. We’d be in the middle of a fierce G.I. Joe battle and I would abruptly stop and ask, “are you saved?” He must have known the right answer to change the subject, because he would say something like, “yeah, I guess,” and we’d go right back to playing our game. I’d breathe a huge sigh of relief because I had no idea what to say next. Once again, standing there in the creek, I had no idea how to respond!

Little did I know that Kyle, even as someone who rarely if ever entered the doors of the church, recognized something that God had placed in my identity before I was even aware of it. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how to account for this reality.

God’s Holy Spirit is not just active in the lives of those who have already entered into saving faith in Jesus Christ. God’s Holy Spirit is living and active, pursuing all men and women, in order to bring each of us into a relationship with Him. Scripture tells us, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men…” 1 John 4:19 shows us, “We love Him because He first loved us.” And Romans 2:4b shows us, “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.”

Without the grace of the Holy Spirit, active in our lives even before we realize it, we would never have the potential to turn to God, love Him, and experience the life-changing love that saves us from sin and death. The Holy Spirit was already active in my neighbor creating a hunger in him for the things of God, such as baptism. Because of the reality of the Spirit’s presence working to pursue him, I believe he even sensed something of God’s call on my life long before I was aware of it. 

Looking back, I know I was just a child, so I’m not hard on myself for not knowing how to respond. However, I wish I had known how to translate that conversation into a deeper encounter with the Lord. In these situations now, I realize that the burden is on God, rather than my own knowledge. While knowledge matters, it is far more important to discern how God is working in a spiritual conversation and to find simple ways to point them to Jesus. 

Maybe you will find yourself in a similar situation with someone like my old neighbor. First, be open to finding people who are hungry for God in the most unexpected places – maybe even chest-deep in a creek behind your house. You are likely around people who are spiritually hungry all the time. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to this hunger and He will.

Second, take comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work in people long before you enter the picture. Because of this truth, you can have confidence that you don’t have to be the smartest or most experienced Christian to point that person to Jesus. One of the best things to do is to help them recognize that even their curiosity or hunger is from the Lord.

Next, pray and ask the Lord what the appropriate next step might be. Sometimes God will give you a word to share or the perfect question to ask. If you’re at a complete loss for words, it might be as simple as saying, “I am so happy you’re really seeking God. Can I take you to a friend who might be better able to answer your questions?”

Finally, rest assured, we follow the One, “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). God is more than capable of leading and guiding you as you offer his deep and abiding love to those hungry for an encounter with Him!