Of course the question arises, what do we do if we have a conversation with someone? What do we think about? What do we pray about? What do we do?
The suggestion this week is that we become 3D people. First, we Develop friendships. There is not enough friendship in this world. There are many lonely folk. God is calling us to leave our comfort zone, our cocoon which is so protective, and purposefully reach out to others. You might call it living in “search mode”.
Does this seem a little strange? I think that this is what Jesus is pointing to in the three stories that he tells in Luke 15. He has been meeting all sorts of people in the market place, and the good religious Pharisees are alarmed and upset at the characters that Jesus is spending time with. They criticise him for it. There is a sort of internal logic that runs: God is like us. We can see that these folk are living disreputable lives, and we disapprove. God obviously condemns them as well. We are right to stay clear of them.
Jesus responds to this way of thinking by telling stories. You can imagine a Pharisee turning over in his mind the stories, about a sheep, about a coin, about a son. What did they all have in common? Lostness. And in each case the thing that was lost was precious to someone, and they went out of their way to find it. There was effort, and commitment and involvement; a shepherd combing the countryside. A woman sweeping each corner. A father pining and keeping watch. They all longed to find that which was lost. And there was a narrowing down; a hundred sheep, ten coins, a wayward boy. I wonder if the penny dropped, realisation dawned that Jesus is talking about how the Father loves everybody, indiscriminately, lavishly, without exception?
Jesus is here describing the motive force that is impelling him to go around meeting people – God loves the lost! And so do we. We value them by reaching out in friendship. You might say that you do not have time for 100 new friends! The truth is that they feel the same way! If, however, we reach out to 100 folk, how wonderful it would be if we found one, or two, or perhaps three true friendships?
And so we walk across the room, literally or metaphorically. And it may be that we are meeting someone we would not normally spend time with. Someone with a different coloured skin, or who supports a different political party, or who seems much less cultured or polite than us(!), or perhaps seems richer or better dressed than us. There are no strings attached. This is not a trick or a technique. We merely want to be friends, and that reflects the heart and character of God our Father.
And what do we do? We Discover stories. It is good to get to know people, and to value them for who they are. I know some folk are worried that I am advocating that we should all be evangelists, plaguing people with gospel truths, whether they want to hear them or not. Actually I am strongly suggesting that we do the opposite. It’s good to listen. We are not telling anyone what to do. We are not saying that we have all the answers. We are merely showing interest and sharing our Father’s concern. We are prayerfully reaching out, but with no strings attached, and we are seeking to be ready for those precious, rare moments when it seems that someone might like to explore a relationship with Jesus.
This brings us to our third point, Discern appropriate next steps. Keep praying in your heart all the time, looking for any promptings about the way forward. As a friendship grows, we may find that they tell us their stories and that we are entrusted with their real concerns and needs. In small groups this week we are going to consider “forks in the road”. These are when we are faced with a choice about what to do or say. As we were saying earlier, it’s good to listen. There will be many times when the Spirit’s quiet prompting will be to say or do nothing, when it would be unhelpful to bring God into the conversation, or to invite someone to church.
Equally, there will be times when we are led to some small step forward. We might perhaps lend a book or leaflet that has been a blessing to us or that we feel would be helpful. We might offer some practical advice or help. We might even offer to pray for them on a regular, consistent basis.
May we each have the Father’s yearning heart, the Son’s self-giving searching love, and the Spirit’s gentle caring impulse to reach out in friendship to all we meet and know.
Discussion pointers for midweek groups
1. Can you identify either of the following patterns in your own life?
‘cocooning’ (safe in a comfortable Christian circle of friends)
or ‘connecting’ (increasing love and desire to connect with people outside the faith)
2. Christ-followers need to be intentional about mixing with people who are far from God. When/if you notice yourself veering towards a cocooning pattern, can you think of ways of moving towards connecting again?
3. Were there ways that you related particularly towards “Super” Dave’s story? e.g.
· negative religious experiences
· witnessed a close friend submitting their lives to Christ
· significant loss – eg death of a close relative or friend
· lengthy journey to faith in God
4. Bill Hybels says, “everyday seemingly insignificant things can become divine life-altering tools in the hands of compassionate Christ-followers.”
What role did the following everyday things play in Dave’s journey toward God?
books/tangible resources; time; recreational interests
5. Expressing a heartfelt emotion also played a major role in Dave coming to faith in Christ. What did you think when Bill told Dave, “I’m not going to heaven without you, Supe”?
How does this comment reflect a ‘bottom-line value of love” towards Dave?
Have you ever felt this way about someone in your own life? If so, did you tell them about it? If you didn’t, what stopped you?
6. Why do you think it is so important to understand people’s own stories before trying to
engage in spiritual discussions with them?