About a month ago I watched a documentary called “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.” Ever since I saw it, I’ve been telling people about it. Unsolicited, out-of-nowhere, I will ask people, “Have you ever heard of the Barkley Marathons…?” Whether or not people want to hear about it is beside the point …I am bound determined that they be exposed to the existence of this riveting foot race. And I don’t just bring it up in a loosey-goosey, perfunctory, sort of way; I zealously implore people to investigate for themselves …to taste and see that this is something very good! Moreover, I don’t tell people about the Barkley Marathons out of a sense of duty & obligation, but rather – I share the news of this documentary with them because I honestly enjoy it and I want to invite people to share in the things that I enjoy.
So WHY am I so scared to talk to people about Jesus?
Is it that I think that people will be genuinely intrigued with something like the Barkley Marathons, while on the other hand I sincerely doubt that they will be interested in talking about Jesus? Perhaps that has something to do with it, but it’s not the primary issue by a long-shot. Is it that I worship the approval of others, and I fear that if I talk to them about Jesus they may not like me? That certainly has a lot to do with it, but (again) that’s not the main issue.
The main issue is that my encounter with the Word of God tends to be perfunctory as opposed to personal.
Once upon a time there was a Samaritan woman who had lived her entire life on automated, superficial, interactions with God, and subsequently she had no relevant or substantive way of speaking with others about God. Her relationships with others was reduced to transactional manipulation, and life was essentially a matter of self-protection and mere survival. Then – one day – she had a personal encounter with God, and everything changed. All of a sudden her self-preservation operating system was eclipsed and supplanted by an operating system wherein the most powerful and scrutinizing person to have ever lived – knowing full well the obscenities and shame of her entire life – genuinely guaranteed eternal rest and satisfaction to her free of charge. In an instant she found herself eager to speak with others about this personal encounter with the Word of God incarnate, saying, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.”
Once upon a time there was a doctor named Luke who personally encountered the only true and living God, and subsequently he paid close attention to all the accomplishments of God amongst humans (much the same way you follow your favorite television show in a very close, detailed, and personal manner). Luke wound-up writing a couple of very long, elaborate, letters to a high-ranking politician named Theophilus in order that he too might have personal, and certain, knowledge of God! Whether or not Theophilus was remotely interested in hearing about these things is beside the point, Dr. Luke was determined to share the news of God’s achievements with him regardless of Theophilus’s disposition or desire.
This morning I tuned in – with sincere attention – to the narrative of Jonah (the dude who lived 3 days in the belly of a large fish). At the beginning of the story God commands the prophet to do something you might think he’d be extremely eager to do …Jonah is commanded to visit his least favorite people on the planet and chastise them for their wickedness (this is something self-righteous preachers like Jonah live for!). But instead of jumping at the opportunity, Jonah attempts with all his might to run away from this call. Why? What’s going on? What is Jonah so afraid of? The answer is found near the end of the story where Jonah says, “I made haste to flee because I KNEW that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” In short, Jonah’s greatest fear was that God would save the evil people he hated! Of course this is messed-up, but more importantly – it is deeply relevant and personal to any human being who honestly examines his/her own heart. God’s Word is so personal and marvelously intrusive that even a righteous prophet like Jonah is forced to grapple with the bitterness and hatred in his own heart, and eventually come to grips with the reality that in wrath God remembers mercy (Habakkuk 3:2).
At some point today someone will most likely ask me, “How are you doing?” (this is a perfunctory greeting in America). What if my reply was, “I read the story of Jonah and discovered depths of hatred in my heart that I never knew where there, and God is now causing me to grapple with the REALITY of grace for me personally (not just for teaching the doctrines of grace to others, and not just the concept/idea of grace …but a personal encounter with the Word of God which confronts my wretchedness and compels me to be in awe & wonder of why God would save a wretch like me!?).” I might also go on to talk about the fact that (by no coincidence) I am finishing a book entitled Jayber Crow, where the main character (Jayber Crow) speaks candidly about the deep-seated struggle inside himself regarding his bitterness and hatred of a man in his close-knit community named Troy. This is the raw, real, personal way in which God is shepherding me and renovating my soul! …Of course, the poor sap who posed the question will perhaps rue the day he asked the likes of me such a standard question, but honestly I really don’t care if he was inconvenienced by my uncomfortable & long-winded answer, because God has made it clear that both the man asking and the wretch answering require personal confrontations and encounters with the active and living Word of God.