The Holy Spirit uses everything to teach the Christian who is listening. Here is a recent lesson I learned.
I have many professional acquaintances around town, such as doctors, car mechanics, etc. People know that I’m a pastor, so sometimes they tell me their “God stories”.
Recently, a person wanted to tell me their “God story”, and they decided that I was safe person to hear such a story. Apparently they didn’t feel comfortable telling all of their friends, but I was chosen as a listener, which I welcomed.
I didn’t know that this person had an inkling of any kind of faith. They were someone new to me. This was our first talk about things spiritual. I sensed that a “door was being opened”. I was ready to lead the way.
As their story developed, I wanted to figure out exactly what this person believed. I wanted to know their theological position, what church they attended, and if their understanding about God was “correct and accurate”. I found myself wanting to get to the “bottom line” as soon as possible.
What I discovered about myself was this: I wanted this person’s “label”. I wanted to figure them out, categorize them, understand how they thought, and pre-plan my responses to what would undoubtedly need correcting in their spiritual life. I wanted to know where they went to church, because that would tell me everything I would need to know in order to be able to analyze them and lead them on the right path to Jesus.
The Holy Spirit restrained me from any kind of investigating. I held my tongue, and just kept listening. I set aside my pastoral “fix it, guide it, teach it” mentality, and just listened as a friend. Instead of rushing the conversation to get to a spiritual “bottom line”, I allowed this person to share their heart.
My new friend wasn’t asking to be analyzed, categorized, and instructed. They just wanted to share a blessed moment that they had with God. They wanted to share, but I wanted to analyze. They spoke from joy, but I wanted to teach. They wanted a listener, but I wanted a student.
I needed their label so that I could figure them out and make sure they were on the right path. (shaking my head here, as I insert sad face emoticon)
As usual, God was right, and the Holy Spirit led me well. I restrained myself from asking for their label, and just listened. I discovered a person with true and developing faith. I discovered a person with a sensitive heart, a genuine concern about loving others, and one who was concerned about the “tactics” that some Christians use when presenting the Gospel.
I was able to share this person’s joy and concerns without reading their “label”, and pre-determining their spiritual correctness. We had a great talk. I was deeply blessed.
Happily, I can say that I never asked what church they went to, how they were raised, or what else they believed. This is someone that I will see regularly around town. Those conversations may or may not come, but my prayer is that each and every conversation will be Spirit led, and that I will not go into my diagnostic way of thinking. I want to love people, not just lead them, teach them, or fix them. If God want to use do those things, I am ready.
Until then, I pray that I don’t feel compelled to ask people for their label, so that I can quickly figure them out and dispense the wisdom of the ages.
May we as followers of Jesus not see people as projects to be quickly completed, but as people that God loves. May we move away from fixing people, but may we be conduits of love and grace. May we be listeners, with whom people feel comfortable to pour out their hearts, because they trust us.
And may we rid ourselves of thinking we need to label people and quickly understand them for the purposes of correcting, leading, and guiding.
Lord, help us to listen, and help us to love.