When you’re motivated to talk with others about Jesus and you make yourself available for those opportunities, you never know what’s going to happen on what starts out to be an average and routine day. It’s what I call “the unexpected adventure” of the Christian life.
At the end of a long day at the newspaper where I was an editor, I was packing up to leave when I felt the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit. I sensed God leading me to go into the business office and invite my atheist friend to come with me to an Easter service at my church. The impression was so strong that I figured something dramatic was about to happen.
I walked into the office. The place appeared empty except for my friend, who was sitting alone at his desk. Perfect! I reminded him that Easter was coming and asked if he would come to church with Leslie and me. He turned me down cold. I asked if he was interested in spiritual matters, and he emphatically said no. I asked if he had any questions about God, and again he said no. I explained why the resurrection was so important, but he wasn’t interested.
With all of my evangelistic overtures being instantly shut down, I began to feel embarrassed. If God really had prodded me to talk with him, then why was he so uninterested? Finally, I stammered as I backed out of the office, “Well, uh, if you’ve ever got any questions, um, I guess you know where my desk is.”
What was that all about? I couldn’t understand why he was so resistant. I finally concluded that maybe I was going to be one link in a long chain of influences that would eventually lead him to Christ. Yet, as far as I know, he remains a skeptic to this day.
Skip ahead a few years. By this time I was a teaching pastor at a church in suburban Chicago. After I spoke one Sunday, a middle-aged man walked up, shook my hand, and said, “I just want to thank you for the spiritual influence you’ve had in my life.”
“That’s very nice,” I said. “But who are you?”
“Let me tell you my story,” he replied. “A few years ago I lost my job. I didn’t have any money and I was afraid I was going to lose my house. I called a friend of mine who runs a newspaper and said, ‘Do you have any work available for me?’ He asked me, ‘Can you tile floors?’ Well, I had tiled my bathroom once, so I said, ‘Sure.’ He told me, ‘We need some tiling done at the newspaper; if you can do that, we can pay you.’
“So one day, shortly before Easter, I was on my hands and knees behind a desk in the business office of the newspaper, fixing some tiles, when you walked into the room. I don’t think you even saw me. You started talking about God and Jesus and Easter to some guy, and he wasn’t interested at all. But I was crouching there listening, and my heart was beating fast, and I started thinking, ‘I need God! I need to go to church!’
“As soon as you left, I called my wife and said, ‘We’re going to church this Easter.’ She said, ‘You’re kidding!’ I said, ‘No, we are.’ We ended up going to your church that Easter—and my wife, my teenage son, and I all came to faith in Christ. And I just wanted to thank you!”
I was dumbstruck! This was a new form of outreach: ricochet evangelism, where the gospel bounces off a hard heart and zips around the room until it hits a heart that is more receptive. Who could have foreseen that—except the amazing God of grace?
There is nothing more exciting than letting God use you to reach out to others for Him. This is the antidote to a dry, boring, vanilla Christian life. When you’re living on the evangelistic edge, that’s when your prayer life is the most fervent, because you’re asking God for His help and guidance in talking to your friends about Him; it’s when your worship is the most heartfelt, because you’re praising the God of the Second Chance, who loves your spiritually confused friends even more than you do; it’s when your Bible study really comes alive, because you’re not just looking for abstract theological truths, but you’re searching for insights that might help you reach your neighbor; it’s when your dependence on God is at its greatest, because you know that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit there’s nothing you can do to bring anyone into the kingdom.
This is where the spiritual action is! So how can you participate in the unexpected adventure? Let’s examine three important elements: we need to be available, prayerful, and authentic.
First, be available. In the story I just recounted, about all I had to offer God was my availability. Think about it: I didn’t even know who I was really talking to. I spoke as I sensed the Holy Spirit was leading me, but I did so filled with doubt and confusion about why my words weren’t connecting—yet God used me in unexpected ways.
My ministry associate Mark Mittelberg, coauthor of our book The Unexpected Adventure, tells about wanting to reach out years ago to Kyle, a friend he’d gone to school with. At the time Mark was new in his relationship with Christ, and he had not yet become a serious student of theology and apologetics. As a result, he felt intimidated in trying to share his faith with Kyle, who had been one of the smartest people in their class.
Despite his feelings of inadequacy, Mark made himself available. He sensed he was in over his head, but he did his best to explain the difference Jesus had made in his life. More than that, he invited Kyle for a long car ride, during which he played a tape of a teacher who made the gospel clear. And when the recording ended, you guessed it: Kyle understood the message and was ready to receive Christ. Mark pulled the car over to the side of the highway and led Kyle in a prayer of commitment— amazed at how God was working.
Again, the key was availability. If you want to be used by God in the lives of others, make yourself available to Him each day—and watch for the opportunities He’ll bring.
Second, be prayerful. I was reminded of the power of prayer a few years ago when I was just about to baptize a woman. Feeling a nudge from the Holy Spirit, I turned to the woman’s husband and asked, “Have you given your life to Jesus?”
What happened next shocked me: he burst out sobbing. “No, I haven’t,” he said. “But I want to right now.”
I was stunned—but right then and there, I prayed with him to receive Christ and then I baptized the two of them together. As I walked off the stage, another woman ran up, threw her arms around me, and kept sobbing, “Nine years, nine years, nine years!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but who are you, and what do you mean?”
It turned out she was the man’s sister, and she and the man’s wife had been praying for him for nine long years—seeing no glimmer of spiritual interest. But they persevered and kept praying, and look what God did!
Maybe you’ve been praying for a friend or loved one for a long time, but you’ve started to lose heart. Bring that person to mind. As those two women would wholeheartedly tell you— never give up hope, and never stop praying.
Third, be authentic. The importance of this became clear to me when a young nurse named Maggie, who had experienced abuse at the hands of people who claimed to be Christians, began attending our church. Soon she was part of a small group of spiritual seekers who were meeting with a Christian couple to investigate faith issues. Maggie ended up writing this poem about those two leaders:
Do you knowdo you understandthat you representJesus to me?
Do you knowdo you understandthat when you treat me withgentleness,it raises the question in mymindthat maybe He is gentle, too.Maybe He isn’t someonewho laughs when I am hurt.
Do you knowdo you understandthat when you listen to myquestionsand you don’t laugh, I think,“What if Jesus is interested inme, too?”
Do you knowdo you understandthat when I hear you talkhonestly about arguments andconflict and scars from yourpast that I think,“Maybe I am just a regularpersoninstead of a bad, no good littlegirlwho deserves abuse.”
If you care, then I think maybeHe cares—and then there’s thisflame of hope that burns insideof meand for a while I am afraid tobreathebecause it might go out.
Do you knowdo you understandthat your words are His words?That your face is His face tosomeone like me?
Please, be who you say you are.Please, God, don’t let this beanother trick.Please let this be real.Please!
Do you knowdo you understandthat you representJesus to me?
A few days after sending me that powerful poem, Maggie told me, with great joy and excitement, that she had given her life to Christ. When I asked her what prompted her to step across the line of faith, her reply was simple. “Well,” she said, “I just met a whole bunch of people who were like Jesus to me.”
Here’s the encouraging news: you and I can do this! We don’t need a doctorate in theology. We can make ourselves available, we can pray, and we can live authentic Christian lives. Do these things—and watch for opportunities to experience the unexpected adventure of a lifetime.
Lee Strobel, the former award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune, is a New York Times best-selling author of nearly twenty books and has been interviewed on numerous national television programs. Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg’s latest book, The Unexpected Adventure, is a devotional designed to help people seize opportunities to talk with others about Jesus (www.theunexpectedadventure.com).