People Matter to God
Not long after Tom stepped onto the sailboat, it became clear that he was a
first-class sailor, a fierce competitor, and someone who thrived on living at the edge of adventure.
Beyond that, this latest member of our racing crew had an infectious personality. He
wanted the music turned up loud, lots of friends around, and plenty of excitement after the race. He wanted to win, but he wanted to have a good time doing it.
I hardly knew Tom when I asked
him to join us. As our friendship developed, I found out that he was an all-or-nothing kind of individual. When he believed in something and was excited about it, there was no stopping him. But if he wasn't
interested, there was almost no way to get him started.
And therein was the challenge. You see, Tom had little time for spiritual matters of any kind.
one night Tom showed up for our regatta with his arm in a sling. When I asked him what had happened, he explained that he had been out racing go-carts the night before, had imbibed too much alcohol, had gotten a bit out of
control, and ended up getting into a fight.
By this time he knew I was a minister, so he half-kiddingly asked if I could help him out by praying over him.
sometime," I replied, "but right now I have a Scripture verse for you."
"All right," he said, "what is it?"
I said, "The Bible says in Galatians 6:7 that 'a man
reaps what he sows.'"
To my surprise, Tom seemed stunned. "It doesn't really say that does it?" he asked.
"It absolutely does," I told him. "It says
that if you want to sow the kind of seed you were sowing last night, you're going to reap the kind of sling you're wearing today."
"You're putting me on!" he shot back.
"I'm not kidding you," I assured him, "and I think maybe you ought to commit that verse to memory!"
Over the next few days, I'd chide him a little by asking if he'd
learned it yet. Before long, he'd just look me in the eye and quote it.
In fact, that whole incident became somewhat of a standing joke between us that summer, and it opened up the door to
some conversations about spiritual matters. The following season Tom showed a few more signs that he was willing to take it a bit further.
One night when we were having dinner in a restaurant
he asked me, "How does a person go about getting a Bible? I've thought about trying to read one, but I didn't know if regular stores sell them."
"Well, I could probably fix you up with one,"
I told him, trying to be nonchalant about the fact that finally, after two years of prayer and relationship-building, he was starting to display some genuine interest.
Later that fall, Tom
actually drove a couple of hundred miles from Michigan to Chicago in order to visit our church and to spend some time hanging out at my house and talking together.
After he got back home, he called
me and said, "I feel different on the inside. It seems like I'm starting to fit some puzzle pieces together. I don't know how it's all going to turn out, but I really like what's happening to me, even if I don't
completely understand it."
One evening after a two-hour talk about what it means to be a Christian, I told him, "Tommy, you're going to make a great Christian someday. You're honest to the
core, flat-out dedicated to whatever you commit yourself to, and more concerned about what's true than about what other people think."
He conceded that I might be right. But he wasn't
ready. He was in the process and moving in the right direction, but he wasn't about to sign on any dotted lines. Not yet.
I'll never forget those talks with Tom. They were
unpredictable, they were risky, they were exhilarating, they were give-and-take, they were up-and-down. And they reminded me of something I'd known for a long time: There's nothing in life that's as exciting as
befriending, loving, and leading wayward people toward faith in Christ. Nothing.
In their hearts of hearts, I think all true followers of Christ long to become contagious
Christians. Though unsure about how to do so or the risks involved, deep down they sense that there isn't anything as rewarding as opening a person up to God's love and truth.
But though we
might like the idea of having a spiritual impact on others, we won't take decisive action unless we first raise our motivation level. And one of the best ways to do that is to get God's perspective on the matter.
Let's begin with two lessons, both from unexpected sources. One is from the realm of science, the other is from the world of business. The first describes the way things are. The
second prescribes the way things ought to be.
A Surprising Source
First, there is the Anthropic Principle. It's creating a lot of controversy these days among intellectuals.
"Of course," you say, "the Anthropic Principle. I was just reading about that last night before I went to bed!"
Simply stated, the Anthropic Principle implies that when we look at the world
around us, it would seem, at least at first blush, the the universe was somehow designed to support and nourish human life.
This concept, which is very prevalent in the world of
secular science and philosophy, didn't originate with Christian scholars. But the evidence points so overwhelmingly toward this apparent design in the universe that it's virtually undeniable by experts of every religious and
nonreligious stripe. This has sent skeptics scurrying to find some sort of natural explanation for this apparently supernatural phenomenon.
Here are a few of the hard facts:
- Raise or lower the universe's rate of expansion by even one part in a million, and it would have ruled out the possibility of life.
- If the average distance between stars were any greater, planets like earth would not have been formed; any smaller, the planetary orbits necessary for life would not have occurred.
- If the ratio of carbon to oxygen had been slightly different than it is, none of us would have been here to breathe the air.
- Change the tilt of the earth's axis slightly in one direction, and we would freeze. Change it in the other direction, and we'd burn up.
- Suppose the earth had been a bit closer or further from the sun, or just a little larger or smaller, or if it rotated at a speed any different from the one we're spinning at right now. Given any of these changes, the
resulting temperature variations would be completely fatal.
So the lesson we can draw from the Anthropic Principle is this: Someone
must have gone to a lot of effort to make things just right so that you and I could be here to enjoy life. In short, modern science points to the fact that we must really matter to God!
A Lesson From Business
Now let's move from science to the world of business. Did you know there's been a radical transformation in this arena during the last few years that provides an important lesson for
Cutting-edge management experts have been talking about these developments in grandiose terms. For example, in Thriving On Chaos, Tom Peters refers to this transformation
as a "customer revolution." Ken Blanchard, author of the enormously successful book, The One-Minute Manager,
has been crisscrossing the country talking about what he calls "the upside-down pyramid." What is this change that they feel is so critical for all of corporate America to hear?
ready for this? Hold onto your wingtips: Business, if they're going to be successful for the long haul, must pull their attention off of themselves and refocus their energies on their only reason for existence - to
serve their customers.
Now, before we chide them for going to great lengths to state the obvious, let's note that this advice is sorely needed. How many times do you feel frustrated when
you're trying to get basic service in a gas station, restaurant, bank, bakery, or department store? The natural tendency for these organizations, both big and small, is to become ingrown. Employees begin burning up
their energy on internal problems, petty policy disputes, and staff-related strife. And all too often this happens while the customer stands at the checkout counter patiently waiting to be served.
So along come experts like Peters and Blanchard with a challenge that is simple and profound. It's time to turn over the corporate pyramid, they say, and get back to serving the person "at the
top" - and that's the customer, not the boss. We must work to develop a "customer obsession."
It's not hard to see that both the problems and the solutions of the business world have
close cousins within the Christian community. We can get so easily entangled and ensnared in the internal issues, questions, and personal situations in our churches that it's hard to remember that the primary reason we remain
on this planet is to reach the people "out there." Just like commercial organizations need to get their focus off themselves, we as individuals Christians and collective churches need to recalibrate our sights on the target
God has given us: spiritually lost people.
So if the lesson from science is that people matter to God, then the lesson from business is they'd better matter to us, too. Only as
we begin to value those outside our Christian circles will we be truly fulfilled and functioning according to God's purpose for us.
But let's be honest. It's hard to keep our focus. Our
tendency is to drift away from genuinely valuing the spiritually confused. We're quick to forget how much they matter to God.
An Eye-Opening Interchange
I was reminded of this
recently on an out-of-state trip when I bumped into an old acquaintance. He was a man I knew to be a churchgoer, so to get a conversation going, I said to him, "Well, are you looking forward to Easter Sunday?"
As casually as I had asked the question, he replied, "No, I'm not. As a matter of fact, I never go to church on Easter."
"You're kidding!" I said.
"You don't go to church on Easter Sunday? You can get arrested for that!"
Ignoring my attempt at humor, he said with some intensity, "I don't go to church on Easter because I can't stand to
see all those 'oncers.' You know, the 'annuals,' all the people who come around once a year. They get themselves all dressed up to make their appearance, and they mess everything up at my church, especially the parking
lot. Who do these people think they're fooling? They're not fooling me and they're certainly not fooling God! This has bothered me so much over the years that I just quit going to church on Easter Sunday. I
have no use for 'oncers.'"
Although he didn't say it directly, I thought to myself, "Not only does he have no use for these people, I'll bet he's convinced that God
doesn't have any use for them, either."
And you know, as much as I hate to admit it, it's not uncommon for people like me - and maybe like you - to fall prey to similar value judgments. We
all tend to make armchair assessments of who God has use for and who He doesn't. And before we know it, we've reduced our mental list of those God really cares about to our own little group of select people who happen to look
just like us. That list almost never includes the people "out there" who aren't part of the church.
Can you see how dangerous this is? Once we've bought into this line of reasoning,
we've imperceptibly but effectively removed any hope of getting motivated to spread God's message of grace. After all, if these people don't matter that much to God, why should we get all worked up about trying to reach them.
An Age-Old Issue
This kind of thinking is not new among God's people. We see the same attitudes surfacing in various places throughout the Bible. In fact, one of the central
thrusts of Jesus' ministry was to address this issue and challenge His would-be followers to change their view of those outside the family of God.
One day while Jesus was teaching in a sizeable
metropolitan area, He found Himself surrounded by a large crowd of irreligious people. Oncers. Undesirables. The unconvinced. The spiritually confused. The morally bankrupt people of the town. People
God wouldn't possibly have any use for!
Off to the side was a huddle of religious leaders who were shaking their heads and talking to each other in muffled tones. They were complaining about
the fact that Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of the holy God, was hanging out with - well, let's just say it - those kinds of people.
Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking. So
He moved the whole procession over to where those in the "holy huddle" were standing. Then, in a steady but forceful tone, he began to tell a pointed and powerful series of stories.
Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg. Zondervan Publishers, 1994.