One day on an airplane I sat next to Elam, a world traveler. His particular mode of travel, I soon learned, was quite unique. He navigated around the globe in a small sailboat — solo.
My imagination immediately took flight. Questions ensued about dangerous storms on the high seas, lonely star-speckled nights, radio communications, exotic ports o’ call. And . . . pirates?
Sensing, perhaps, genuine curiosity from 43D, Elam in 43E was only too happy to share his remarkable experiences.
I also had an ear tuned to the Lord. Quite possibly the Holy Spirit was joining this little convo in the clouds. The pairing of campus evangelist and intrepid adventurer at thirty thousand feet couldn’t be mere coincidence, could it?
In years past I spent a lot of time thinking I was bringing Jesus to people (though I may have said otherwise). But the last decade or so I’ve flipped the script. Now, I believe, Jesus brings us to people.
That is, God goes before us in witness, and invites us along.
Wherever we fly, wherever we sail, wherever we walk or drive in the world, the Lord gets there first. He is always “prior.” He works ahead of us, opening doors, preparing conversations, softening souls.
If it’s true that God goes before us in evangelism . . . well, that changes everything. That gets us out of the business of selling Jesus and imposing our beliefs on others and into the business of discernment. Our first job in witness is to act as spiritual detectives, discerning what God is already doing in the lives of those around us, then participating in his work.
A half hour into the Elam convo I tossed out a spiritual question. I sensed the Lord had opened a door, and my job was to walk on through.
“When you’re alone at sea,” I said, “observing the glories of nature, do you ever think about God? That, maybe, he created it all and is present with you?”
“No, not really,” 43D replied coolly. “I’m an atheist.”
Okay, maybe I missed a cue somewhere along the way. I thought the Lord had cleared space for a turn to the spiritual. I must have gotten it wrong. Or did I?