No surprises in today’s menu, thought Pastor Kelvin, surveying the burger options for a Golden Arches lunch with Steve and Warren. Yes, they "would like fries with that,” and a table number, after the cashier promised to bring their coffees over to them.
At the table, with their heads bowed, grace was unwittingly gate-crashed by her cheerful “Here are your coffees.”
“Thank you,” they replied, looking up and smiling. Her smile was edged with curiosity as she walked away. How could these guys order their meals so cheerfully; suddenly share a migraine and then just as quickly snap out of it?
Their conversation kicked in as Kelvin had hoped, for he regularly lunched with men from his church—on their own or with their work colleagues. Menus ranged across silver service, fast-foods, roadside sandwiches and factory canteens, for he was focused on understanding them and their work pressures better. These lunches gave him more honest feedback than any fleeting “wonderful message, pastor” comments at the church door. Which in turn helped him to avoid clichés that roam the stratosphere before coming to rest above the heads of a congregation.
Sales management training helped Steve and Warren to regularly exceed their monthly targets, with sales pitches that subsumed any prospect’s excuses. But they felt like failures at winning people to Christ, and they wanted to know why.
“Pastor Kelvin, the church started with three thousand converts in a single day! Why don’t we see that happening here?” Warren asked, “Especially when our church already outnumbers the hundred and twenty at Pentecost.”
“Warren, the church is growing much faster than that,” replied Kelvin. “Worldwide mission figures show that over seventy-five thousand people give their lives to Jesus every day—over three thousand every hour!”
“But it’s not happening here,” said Steve, “and we've got Christian schools, Christian universities, Christian radio and television networks, Christian movies and books and newspapers…”
“You guys canvass for prospective sales, without expecting every call to produce a contract,” Kelvin replied, “because you know people need time to recognise your product and how it can help them. At Pentecost, centuries of annual festivals and prophecies had prepared the crowd, and their eyes were opened when Peter told them in Acts 2:36: ‘This Jesus whom you crucified, God has made both Yahweh and Messiah!’ Peter reached into where they came from, and opened God’s door for their future.”
As Warren’s mouthful subsided, he wiped a napkin across his mouth. “But pastor, we’ve got sharp testimonies about how we came to know Jesus, but nobody wants to know—and we don’t have centuries to prepare anybody. What should we do?”
Kelvin smiled. “It’s wonderful to have a clear testimony about being born again. But if it’s all we ever tell people, pretty soon they’ll start wishing we’d never been born the first time!
“God uses a whole chain of people as he draws people to himself. Sometimes he lets us know our part in this, but mostly he trusts us with unexpected opportunities to show more interest in others than we have in ourselves. This gives them a rest from needing to compete for attention, and it stimulates their curiosity about what God’s love might do for them.
“You don't like it when people refuse deals that you know would help them. Just like me, when people miss the point of my preaching; because we don’t like people to walk away. But there is no micro-wave switch here, because our desire for them to know Jesus can’t outstrip his desire—or his patience—for them.
“Jesus often let people walk away when he knew they weren’t ready, and our best reply to these people is to let them rest and chew over our interaction with them. This gives them room to get back to us or to ask somebody else about where to go from there.
“I’ve found it helpful to silently pray beneath any conversation; for clear insight about where God is working in people’s lives. Give that a try, and you’ll be able to rest in his guidance to say or ask something relevant, or to just let them talk about their dreams or their disappointments. Sooner or later God will open a door that leads to more than we could ever ask or imagine.
"So let’s be thankful for whatever his next opportunity will be, and rest in his trust in the meantime.”
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