A New Young Friend and the Old, Old Story
Jillian (not her real name) asked if we could get together and I didn’t have to think twice. Our interactions have been few and brief but there was something special about her. Was it her bright eyes and engaging smile? Her poised but warm demeanor? She’s young enough to be my daughter yet I knew this was a woman I’d like to know better.
Our lunch was as warm as her personality. She opened up her life to me. Shared her struggles and fears. Asked for advice about an important and timely decision she was facing. I asked lots of questions and learned many things about her. But two days later I learned even more.
On that day Benny and I sat with her and a male friend at Starbucks to explore where things were between them and the implications of her pending decision on their relationship. I watched her intently listen to him and heard her share concerns and ask questions both honestly and graciously. Then when he began communicating his struggles and frustrations over not being able to provide her the security for which she was hoping as she anticipates making a weighty decision that could affect them both, I saw something wonderful happen.
The gospel was put on display.
She reached for his hand and spoke faith and hope-filled words to him. She pointed to ways she sees God working in his life and reminded him that His faithfulness will continue, despite the challenges and hardships and confusion and frustrations of today. She pointed him to Christ who is in control. And these words were spoken with humble, gentle but firm confidence.
If you’re like me sometimes it’s hard to know what the gospel really looks like in relationships. I actually used to think the gospel was something you spoke only to the lost who needed to hear how the sinless life, atoning death and glorious resurrection of Christ made a way for them to have a relationship with God, brings meaning to suffering and provides hope for the future. Then I heard men like Jerry Bridges and others talk about “preaching the gospel to myself every day” and I wrestled with what that meant.
Women like Jillian know what it means. It means reminding sufferers that an imminent Savior is near when they’re struggling. That God is at work in the foggy chaos, doing things they just can’t see yet. That when the weariness of battling temptation sets in there is hope because “after all, you’re still in the fight.” That even when you feel like God is distant He is truly near; in fact, He’s right there at the table with you.
And the gospel is best preached when your own needs aren’t being met the way you’d like them to be. After all, Christ died on the cross “while we were yet sinners” and while being mocked and reproached. Jillian wasn’t being mocked that morning, but her needs weren’t on the front burner of the conversation; rather, God’s activity in both her and her boyfriend’s lives were. The gospel in real life means we don’t have to be the focus because God is.
Perhaps Jillian came to Starbucks that morning hoping to hear words of comforting assurance that their relationship was important enough to him to warrant her decision going one way over the other. What she did hear were the heartfelt, honest words of a fellow struggler who was humble enough to say, “I just don’t know.” At one point I expressed what I had been feeling for quite a few minutes: “Guys, I feel like I’m on holy ground. God is here and His work is SOOO evident in you both!”
Jillian may not have heard exactly what she hoped for, but Benny, her friend and I heard the gospel articulately preached by a woman who may not even realize that’s what she was doing. “Out of the abundance of her heart, her mouth spoke.” Truths that have been worked into her life -- including through her own share of disappointments and betrayals and hardships and sin patterns – came spilling out of her mouth with Divine and timely kindness. In those moments her own needs were beautifully absent and the needs of her friend were unselfishly in full view.
I left both encouraged and convicted. When Benny and I got into our car to drive home we looked at each other and said, “What just happened?” We sat with two godly twenty-something’s who had just modeled something spectacular for us. One demonstrated gutsy and humble honest vulnerability in the face potentially risky misunderstanding. The other responded with inspired speech full of the kind of grace and truth that puts a face on the gospel.
I’m wrestling with what we experienced that morning. When I’m longing for the security of knowing where I stand in an important relationship am I willing to set aside my desires for the sake of the other? What’s more important, having my needs met or putting the gospel front and center? When I have an audience to share my legitimate concerns or even my girly gripes in my marriage do I emphasize the ways Benny “should” or “needs to” change over the areas I see God working in his life?
When it comes right down to it too often my needs or preferences or desires too often take center stage, rather than what God is up to in a relationship.
Thanks to Jillian I’ve been reminded that no matter what’s going on in my heart or where my longings lie, God is at work. And what spills out of my mouth is often what’s been brewing in my heart. A girl my daughter’s age understands the “old, old story of Jesus and his love” well enough to put it on display while enjoying a cup of coffee with an old pastor and his wife.
Lord, please help me to meditate more on Your life and work in 2015 and to engage more with You and Your work in my heart so when the sponge of my heart is squeezed (thank you, David Pawlison for that image!) what comes out is the everyday fruit of the gospel in everyday life and conversations.
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