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?