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!