I was having lunch with a couple of old friends a few weeks ago and doing what only old friends can do: telling old stories, recalling old memories, laughing at old antics, generally just enjoying each others company. But when the conversation turned to the present and to the content of life these days, it was a little different story. It seems that the story being written these days in the lives of these dear friends wasn't quite as enjoyable to talk about; they have both been through (and are still going through) a lot. In fact, as we talked about it all, there was not quite as much enthusiasm about this story, not as much laughter--only the hard reality of what life can throw at you from time to time...particularly as you get older.
The beauty of it all was that there was a deep desire in the midst of the pain, and the struggle, and the chaos, to really press into faith; to turn to God and truly trust in Him. And there was the realization that the content of their lives these days might just be the best type of "soil" in which the fruit of the Spirit can actually work, and grow, and take root. We wondered together out loud about why faith wasn't more a part of their picture when they were younger, and talked about the times and the places and the people God had used through the years to try and get their attention and capture their hearts. We talked about times that were significant--times that they thought for sure were going to change them forever--and how after a few months, or weeks, or even days, those times and experiences had faded away and the same old patterns, old habits, and old lives became their reality once again. "I wonder what happened?" one of them said as he looked off into the distance. "I even saw it happen to my kids. They would come home all fired up from a camp, or a retreat, or a mission trip, with a whole new outlook on things, a whole new perspective, but it never lasted. Before long they were the exact same as they had been before."
Now I know that that's just the nature of the spiritual life; it is clearly seen in the parable Jesus told about the sower and the seed. Sometimes the seed just doesn't take root, does last, because of the condition of the soil. But I also began to wonder if (or what) we might contribute to that process as well. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a few months earlier as we were talking about life and ministry, and about true and lasting change, as well as the lack of it. I had been speaking on a weekend camp to a group of high school kids, trying to tell them of the incredible, extravagant love of Jesus. In the midst of the weekend, as I was praying and preparing, and feeling more and more insecure about my ability to actually articulate that Love in a way that kids might actually respond to, God very clearly said to me, "Don't sell me to them. Just tell them about me the best you can, and I'll do the rest. Salvation is my responsibility, not yours." And, of course, he was right. He was not some product that they needed to buy; it's not like I was trying to sell them vinyl siding. This is the God of the universe we're talking about here. He can, and will, speak for himself. And when He does, it always has the desired effect (Isaiah 55:10-11). And unless He does, it is all for naught.
I can try to sell them God if I want to (and I might even get pretty good at it), but if I do, then that is actually all they've got in the end...something that has been sold to them. It is not their own, not a true part of them. So once the product doesn't work quite the way they want it to, they take it back for a refund. They walk away, because true salvation is something that just can't be manufactured; it is the work of the Spirit. In fact, any salvation that's manufactured would seem to be synthetic (man-made) rather than authentic (God breathed). And I'll have to admit, that I've done my fair share of trying to manufacture salvation in my lifetime.
I wonder if that might be part of the reason that so many folks don't follow through after they have first heard about (or been sold) God. It seems like a very fine line to me (and one I'm not sure I can even see) between giving a clear and compelling presentation of the Gospel and actually trying to sell God, but I think there is a big difference. And I think there is a big difference between someone that has been sold a "product" and someone that has been "seized by the power of the Great Affection." And one of the major differences seems to be that one lasts only a short time, while the other is eternal.
What does all of this mean? I'm really not sure; it just seems to be something I need to be mindful of.