If it is true that we seldom develop friendships with “the lost” primarily because we don’t want to feel uncomfortable, and not because we are afraid we will adopt their sinful ways, then one Old Testament character immediately comes to mind. Jonah.
No, I’m not thinking of his being swallowed by a great sea creature. I’m referring to the fact that his heart doesn’t change throughout his four-chapter saga. I recently preached on this minor prophet and used a pretty simple outline: Jonah’s Predicament (Ch. 1); Jonah’s Prayer (Ch. 2); Jonah’s Preaching (Ch. 3); and Jonah’s Pouting (Ch. 4). The book concludes with Jonah furious at God for withholding His judgment of Nineveh, the Assyrians’ repenting, and Jonah being angry at God for taking away his comfort. Comfort, not conversions, was Jonah’s focus.
Would you agree that we should never underestimate the comfort factor? Developing deep relationships with lost people is messy, time-consuming, and unsettling to our comfortable routine.
Part of the problem is that I am very me-centered. I may not always realize my default position, but many of my decisions and choices come down to “What’s in it for me?” Does this conversation fit into my agenda, advance my goals, meet my needs? Am I wasting my time here?
A few weeks ago I was invited to one of my lost friend’s home after playing a set of tennis with him. He talked for an hour about how he wanted to change out the wooden banisters in his house for chrome ones. But I listened and I asked questions. I had to mentally force myself to focus on him and the topic he had chosen. We didn’t talk about Jesus or Christianity or being born again. We (He) talked about banisters. But we had a conversation.
I wonder — Could it be that some of us are rather poor at conversations? While we long for conversions, must we be reminded that friendship involves a hefty dose of listening? And each conversation that we engage in holds the potential of advancing that friendship, perhaps toward conversion. Are we listening? (to be continued)