She was the kind of girl who always said the wrong thing. She tried to claw her way into the popular crowd, in her de-clawed, shy kitten sort of way. It was high school in the early nineties, and we were all just doing the best we could with the very little that we knew about being teenagers. It felt like none of us really had a clue as to what kind of reaction we would get when we opened our mouths to speak, and we continually tested out all of the different ways to be, a petri dish of social experimentation in small town America.
I was no different. Predictably labeled the “goody two-shoes” of the school, I don’t remember being particularly kind or thoughtful. She was new to our school, and when the popular crowd rejected her she turned to me, and I invited her to come to some sort of youth group event with my church. I don’t remember where we went or what else happened that night, but I remember feeling like I was being mean to her. Somehow she was just such an easy target. She kept saying things that were ridiculous. I kept setting her straight. In the back of a dark church van I, the oldest leader of the youth group, sat with a crowd gathered round me while I ungraciously showed everyone all of the ways that a Christian shouldn’t be.
And then, somewhere along the way, on a long Texas road, her expression changed, and she asked me in all sincerity how to become a Christian. Imagine how my heart stopped for a moment while I realized that after my poor treatment of this girl all night long, I was the last person who should be trying to share the gospel with her. I had misrepresented Christ and refused to see this girl through spiritual eyes, and so I stumbled through a weak explanation of how Jesus changes us. I sat there in front of her, changed, knowing that I had acted all night like I never met Jesus before in my life.
And I was crushed.
I was a high schooler. I had so much to learn about Christianity. And even though I don’t remember much about my high school years, this was one of those rare moments when God was dealing with me so closely and so clearly that it cut me all the way to my immature little soul. I loved Him so. Yet, I was only beginning the sometimes painful process of being refined and sanctified by my gracious God. And in His goodness He has never let me forget the way I felt that night in a church van, as the passing interstate lights played across the face of a girl who was turning to me, of all people, for gospel truth.
I hope I have grown since then. But, I often find myself wondering if the woman from the insurance company who has put me on hold (again) could turn to me for the gospel. Am I treating her in a way that wouldn’t make me blush with shame if she asked me about my Jesus? When the fast food restaurant gets half of the order wrong and I am already running late, am I reacting in a way that would make me feel good about proclaiming that I am a child of God? After all of these long years of being molded and changed and taught by the Holy Spirit, I still have a hard time seeing those around me through spiritual eyes. I still fail to remember that they are souls, not just representatives of a company. Not just school teachers. Not just mamas or mechanics or police officers. Not just kids on the playground who aren’t treating one of my babies right. Not just awkward high school girls who always seem to say the wrong thing. Souls, one and all.
Paul said that we need to preach the word, being prepared in season and out of season. Part of that preparation is simply seeing the people around us. Really seeing them as needy sinners like ourselves. How else can we “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching”? The simple answer is that we can’t. Not effectively. Not if we are seeing people as nothing more than characters to be dealt with. But if we open our eyes to the spiritual needs around us, it will change the way we treat everyone that we come into contact with. And then we will really be prepared to talk about the gospel at any time.
I don’t know what happened to the girl from the back of the van that night so many years ago. I pray that Jesus rescued her. I’m thankful I can see her face in my mind today, a reminder of how much I still have to learn, twenty-something years later. I’m not ashamed of the gospel, but will I be ashamed of myself when a gospel moment arises?
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:2