When I was in my early 20s, I got a call from Bob, a childhood friend. He and his wife were in town for a conference and they wanted to buy me lunch. While we were not that close when we were younger, I was honored, so much so that I was willing to miss the Cowboy game and meet with them.
After arriving and we got through the pleasantries common to re-connecting, the reason for lunch became obvious. For the next hour, I sat through a multi-level marketing presentation, all the while I was boiling inside. The only thought going through my mind was "I'm giving up the Cowboy game for this." I wish I had had the guts to walk out of the restaurant mid-sentence. Bob and I have not talked since and honestly, that one encounter made me feel like a target instead of a friend. So I'm not sure I care to reconnect.
This experience made me think about Eli, the owner of a restaurant where our small group frequented. We would sit late at night, talking and drinking coffee. Over time, we developed a pretty good friendship with Eli, so much so that he invited Trey and I to go fishing with him in Galveston. After failing to catch anything, the three of us went to lunch. While eating shrimp, Trey proceeded to tell Eli all about Jesus. Obviously Eli was not interested in the conversation but Trey continued on with all the questions we were taught to ask when someone resists such a presentation. And the more Trey talked the more Eli squirmed. I wanted to reach over and pull Trey's tongue out, but Trey had mentored me in the past and I assumed he knew something that I did not. That day really messed up our friendship. Subsequent conversations with Eli were always met with resistance. I wonder if we made him feel like my friend Bob made me feel.
Honestly, Eli was an evangelism target. We had been taught to befriend people, share Jesus with people and to recruit them to participate in our small group. Of course no one put it in such crass terms, but I think this is the way Eli felt like we were treating him.
In retrospect, we did a lot right. We loved hanging out with Eli and his family at the restaurant. We did not try to force Jesus down his throat and then move on. We invested time into that relationship. However, it felt like we were waiting for the opening to present our sales pitch for Jesus. We had the "right" answers for Eli and he needed to hear them. Were we genuinely interested in Eli, his questions, his life and his fears? Or were we just interested in getting him to pray a prayer? We never dreamt that God might already be working in Eli's life in some way and that our job was to listen to Eli and the Spirit to see what was already happening. We assumed that we had to take God to Eli. We needed to pray for ears to hear and enter into dialogue with Eli and see what might being going on in his life. We just did not have that kind of humility.