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A Man, a Boy, and a Bible…

I love the way God shows up in ways we least expect. This morning is another McDonald’s morning. As my system is coming out of chemo effects, the stomach was asking for pancakes and my heart longed for some quiet time with the Lord. (Funny thing is, before cancer I was no fan of pancakes.) Both of my normal seats in McDonald’s were taken, so I was forced to sit in a booth behind a teenage boy. He was sitting across the table from middle-aged man, and the two seemed to be engaged in a very focused conversation.

My first thought was, that looks like me! I can’t count how many times I’ve sat in McDonald’s with a teenage boy trying to mentor, encourage, minister, or mend. As I sat down, I wasn’t exactly eavesdropping, but I couldn’t help but overhear parts of the conversation. The experience was surreal.

The man took out a Bible, opened it, and began sharing various verses and principles of wisdom. He was saying things like, “You can recover from this…” “God wants to help you change these character flaws if you will trust Him…” “Don’t wait until later in life, like I did…” The boy, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, was guarded, a bit resistant, but not completely hardened against the selfless love that was being manifested toward him. At one point he looked at the man and said, “I’m just tired of being good.” This was an all too familiar response!

At this point I realized, God is giving me an outside perspective of what I’ve tried to do hundreds of times.

I felt for the man, who probably sat there feeling utterly helpless and insufficient to the moment—grabbing and desperate for words that he felt were falling on a hardened heart. In the moment I’m sure he felt as if he were losing the battle and was accomplishing very little. Silently I was cheering him on and praying for him.

I felt for the boy who was obviously in a very foggy place in his teenage life. His body language was not that of a scorner, but perhaps more of a desperate, frustrated, sceptic—someone who was dealing with a troubled situation and not sure how to respond. I’m not sure if he had done something wrong or experienced some recent trial. I know he was in a precarious moment of evaluating whether the faith and way of Jesus Christ was really his answer for life’s big stuff or not. I imagined that ten or twenty years from now, these few moments in this McDonald’s booth would prove to be pivotal either for good or bad.

I’m not sure if the man was the boy’s dad, his step-dad, a pastor, or a youth pastor. I’m certain of one thing—he loved that boy. He poured his heart out in compassionate tones. He opened the Word of God and shared timeless truth. He gave his morning to sit in a plastic booth with a needy young man. The picture of ministry and Christ-like love was powerful.

Over the forty-five minutes that they sat there, the boy gradually softened. I doubt all the problems were solved. I doubt the man felt successful. But seeds were planted. A heart was definitely turned. God’s Spirit used God’s Word in the hands of a compassionate leader to show Christ’s love and patience.

I sat there and prayed for the man and boy. Part of me wanted to interrupt and tell this boy how much this man loved him. Part of me wanted to tell this man that he was winning the battle, even though he couldn’t see it yet. Part of me wanted to just thank the Lord for people that I don’t even know who are doing the work of Christ in all sorts of quiet, unnoticed places.

Then, the conversation wrapped up. The boy walked away first and the man followed. As he did, I caught his eye, gave him a thumbs up, and whispered, “I’m a youth pastor… I know where you’re at.” He smiled with a bit of uncertainty and said, “Hey, I’ll pray for you if you’ll pray for me.” I answered, “I have been…” We both smiled and he walked out. Part of me wanted to sit with him and share war stories.

There are a lot of take-aways from this experience, but just one that I will leave here for the sake of brevity.

In real ministry, we all find ourselves in these moments when we are sharing God’s Word, talking our hearts out to someone that we are desperate to help. In those moments, we struggle for words and fight for every bit of wisdom we can possibly call on. We never feel like we did God’s Word or God’s truth justice. We never feel like we had enough wisdom or enough “right words.” We leave these moments wondering if we made a difference at all—and we really won’t know for about a decade.

But as I sat there watching this scene, the Holy Spirit reminded me—yes, the words of the man are vital and necessary, but there’s something more powerful than the verbal art of talking or persuasion. Ten or twenty years from now, there’s little chance that this boy will remember the words this man is saying in this moment. But he will NEVER forget this moment. He will never forget the heart. He will never forget that a man loved him enough, during a difficult and confusing moment, to take him to McDonald’s one morning and encourage him with a Bible. He will never forget the selfless love expressed in the sacrifice of time, the investment of relationship, and the opening of the Word of God.

The boy may not remember the lecture, but he will never forget the love. He may not remember the conversation, but he will never forget the compassion. He will forever remember the day that a Christ-like man took a timeless Bible and pointed him the right direction in life.

What a great picture of ministry! For the rest of my life, I want to spend my life taking God’s Word, opening it with confused people, and compassionately pointing them the right direction. How about you?

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11 Comments

  • Thank you so much for your thoughts! What an encouragement!

  • I did the same thing yesterday, and I felt like nothing was accomplished through it. Your post today was a huge encouragement to me, and I look forward to seeing what God will do with the young man I dealt with in 10 or 20 years.

  • This post was a definite encouragement! Thanks for sharing…

    I can remember quite a few of those “McDonald’s Moments”. I cannot remember what was said or the immediate result. But I do remember the spirit in which it was said and the heart it reflected. I am a result of men and women being led of the spirit and taking time to see a hurting, stubborn and often rebellious young man that simply needed to see genuine love. I am so thankful for the ability to be taught, teach others, and teach others to teach….
    “The boy may not remember the lecture, but he will never forget the love.”

  • Thanks Bro. Cary for relating this story. I’ve certainly been there many times and you’re right, we often feel like the message is not getting through. Thank God for the Holy Spirit who does the REAL work in hearts! I also agree that they will never forget the love. I still have teens who were in my youth group phone me to say “thanks” for things that happened 20 years ago. The hardest thing in the world is watching helplessly as someone self-destructs. Thank God that we do reach some. God bless!

  • Great post! I have been in both “seats” of this situation. Taking the time to counsel someone from the Word of God in their time of need is essential. The devil fights hard but we must fight harder and not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit. Thank the Lord for the many battles that have been won! May we keep on the firing line!

  • In a world where everyone is clamoring for the attention of our young people I understand how hard it truly is to “get through” to the kid… Or adult for that matter! Oftentimes I wonder, “Is this really working?” Then 2 years, or 3 years down the road you see the results… Of the counsel of the Bible.

    Thanks for the encouraging words on keeping the Word of God central in every encounter we have…

  • Thanks for the post Brother Schmidt. I am so thankful for men who have taken an interest in my life! Who have given me an encouraging word or have sat down with me and taken the Bible to show me something I needed. Praise The Lord for men and women of God who take interest in young people’s lives! It truly makes a difference when you know someone cares about you.

  • I took a seat across from you at a Subway one day during my last year of high school as well. I still remember a little of our conversation, but I have definitely not forgotten any of the heart.

    Thank you for investing in my life,

    Jacques

  • This article is indeed inspiring.As i was reading it, the Holy spirit spoke to me and He said. ”Leadership is Redefining the steps of others for my purpose” God bless you sir, your ariticle has added value to me. It has made me realized that our calling as pastors, is to redefine the sterps of others for His(God) purpose.keep up the good work sir. God Bless you.

    Pastor Josiah O’lad

  • What an awesome picture of Youth Work! Thanks for the post Bro. Schmidt…

  • Our Youth Ministry has been revolutionized by the teaching of LBC and Bro. Schmidt in particular. Stories like this present a true biblical picture of ministry that, before LBC’s influence on my life and ministry, I was not familiar with. Thank you so much for your ministry, I will always promote your content and resources in any way that I can.


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