Do you try to avoid situations that test your patience? A tough one for me is standing in line at stores, especially the grocery, wondering why once again I’m in the slowest moving queue. So, in order to avoid that fuse-getting-short feeling, I’ve made it a habit to go on shopping trips only when stores are not so busy.
But I have received a bit of a mindset change regarding my phobia of bustling grocery stores. In fact, now when I’m headed to the checkout, I find myself hoping I don’t sail through too quickly. What’s changed? I’ve been looking at lines in the wrong way. Busy aisles and long checkout lines have always represented an impedance against my smooth, quick, and efficient progress toward the goal of selecting groceries, making the purchase, and rolling out the door: mission accomplished. But lines are not made up of inanimate objects like orange barrels on the highway. Grocery store lines are comprised of human beings, people with eternal souls who need to hear the Gospel. They aren’t barriers; they’re image-bearers.
I’m now beginning to view lines as mission fields. What used to seem like punishment now looks like an opportunity. Even before arriving there, I remind myself that my primary mission on any shopping trip is not to buy stuff for my family, as important as that is. No, my primary mission in life is to make disciples of Jesus, even if I’m just making my way around a store or standing in line. “Mission accomplished” is not rolling the cart full of stuff out the door; it’s rolling out the red carpet to the Holy Spirit for God’s mission. My focus is shifting toward the souls that walk by me instead of the other carts ahead. I’m still efficiently knocking out my list, but my contemplation of others’ life-paths has increased.
Recently, waiting behind me in line was a young girl with someone whom I assumed was her mom. I could tell they were from central Asia because of the mom’s traditional attire. I decided to comment on their cart laden with rice and coconut milk. I asked what they were planning to create with those ingredients. The girl spoke English without an accent and said the ingredients were for a dessert which I couldn’t pronounce; her mom spoke little English. They were from Nepal (via Phoenix). We chatted a bit, and I learned that the girl would rather be back home because she considered life in North America to be boring compared to Nepal. The mom smiled, mostly not understanding us, and then the line moved and I checked out.
Who knew standing in line could be such an adventure? And who knows when and where God has laid out appointments for us with those who don’t know Jesus? I didn’t share the Gospel with the two from Nepal that day, but I did walk out to my car delighting in the privilege of meeting them, completely unaware of how much time the line took. The relationship had trumped the transaction, and people were more important than time.
God’s purpose for Christians is to make disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:19). That should effervesce in every believer, moving us all to treat every interaction with others as an opportunity to be on mission. Every interaction. I need to be more aware that brief, seemingly chance and unplanned conversations are actually not random at all but superintended by God, because in the moment I seem to forget that.
I made some progress just the other day, though, as I talked with a man whom I never saw before and perhaps will never see again. He recounted many personal details of his 36 years of life and his nine children with three partners. Halfway through our conversation a lightbulb clicked on in my head and I remembered that I was on mission — this was a possible disciple-making event — and it changed the way I responded to him. I interjected some biblical comments based on what he was saying, and at the end invited him and his family to join us for church. I could feel God’s love and compassion for him as he commented that he didn’t know how he got on a roll telling me his life story. But I know this was no chance conversation; it was a disciple-making opportunity.
Disciple makers can rejoice because every interaction they have with others is an opportunity to be unashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is God’s gift and power “that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Do you “grade” your interactions like these, unhappy that you could have done better, disappointed the conversation didn’t go far or deep enough about Jesus? Or do you prayerfully leave it in God’s hands, relying on Him to bring the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6)? Do we think everything depends on our preaching prowess, or do we trust that God is still freely giving faith (Ephesians 2:8)?
Perhaps rather than pursuing prowess, we should pray perpetually. Paul was on the lookout for prayer partners regarding making disciples of Jesus: “Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1b). He knew believers would grow, and their ranks would multiply, as they continued to broadcast the Gospel. He also knew God would honor believers’ prayers as they base their hope in God and depend on Him alone (Psalm 62:5).
Here is my prayer: “Lord, You are sovereign and in control of everything, including the encounters Your followers have every day. You plan all the disciple-making moments on my horizon, but I recognize how shortsighted I can be regarding Your preparations. Therefore, I ask You to transform my awareness of Your power to spread the Gospel to the nations, starting with the people standing right in front of me today, and I ask for Your guidance as You bring others into my sphere. Please forgive me for my impatience in the past, and for my paltry awareness of lost image-bearers who are neither barriers nor obstacles, but are souls for whom Jesus died. Amen.”
Spreading the Gospel catalyzes new life, new happiness, and new focus because its author and finisher “is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Rather than just waiting for the “big” events, I am waiting no longer. Every interaction is significant when it’s conducted in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17), because the stakes involve eternal life and the glory of God. The mission is ours; the outcome is God’s business.
How is God fanning a flame in you, transforming an old mindset, and renewing you for His purpose of making disciples of Jesus?
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