This article was published in Moody magazine in October, 1992.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. Philippians 1:27-28
Although this was a business trip, it still seemed like another vacation, and part of me felt guilty. I had mixed emotions about the time and money spent on trips, and yet, I couldn’t help enjoying the warmth of the sun and the beautiful surroundings. The Southern California sun can be very warm, and hotels such as this one, the Newporter Inn, can be quite impressive.
I smiled as the woman behind the counter acknowledged the bellman who would show me, and my luggage, to my room. He wasn’t the typical stereotype of a bellman. He was in his sixties, short, but agile. He loaded my luggage with ease, as though he had been doing this for a very long time.
I felt as though I was at an amusement park instead of a hotel as I was shown to the large, gold, cart-type vehicle which we would use to find my room, somewhere on these twenty plus acres.
Not wanting to ride in silence, I commented to my guide, ” I grew up around here and so I remember when all of this was a neglected mud flat called, back bay.” He gave a typical reply to such a remark, but then added a thought about time itself.
“We, as people, believe time is passing us by when, in actuality, it is the opposite. We are passing through time. Time is stationary. Just like sitting on a train and thinking the scenery is passing us by but, really, the opposite is true, we are passing the scenery.”
As I carefully considered his answer, a maverick thought ran through my mind, why not try witnessing to this man? I call it a maverick thought because telling others about my faith in Jesus is very difficult for me, even though I’ve been a Christian for 27 years and have spent part of that time as a foreign missionary and a youth pastor’s wife. I think I’m just plain afraid of rejection, and although I know all the Bible verses which should counteract that fear, the fear still controls me. It still causes my legs to shake. But, this time, feeling relaxed, and not too shaky, I just thought, “oh well, I’ll never see this guy again, so why not?”
“I’m currently in a Bible study and we have been reading the book of Genesis where it talks about God as the creator of time. Because we live in time, it is next to impossible to comprehend that time was created. But, God was here before time and it is His creation.”
I really didn’t expect an answer, after all, talk about God usually makes people clam up real fast. However, Stan (according to his brass plated name-tag) answered with more philosophy about time. And I listened. In fact, I listened carefully and, I even prayed. “Lord, please help me to pay attention to Stan’s words. To really be able to tell what his needs are from what he says. Oh, and, please, don’t let me make a complete fool of myself!” Just the day before I had read an article about the importance of really listening to people and those words had made me very aware of how poor of a listener I really am. So I tried to concentrate and listen very carefully.
He talked on and on. We kept pausing. He unloaded my suitcases from the large cart to a smaller cart. We walked around corners and down walkways, and he kept talking. The 10 minute service turned into 20 minutes, and then 30.
I asked a few questions and made a few statements. I couldn’t believe how his statements left such wide openings for the Gospel. He mentioned an emptiness inside and I told him that he was created with an empty vacuum so God, and only God, could fill it with Himself. He talked about being thirsty for something more in life. I told him about John, Chapter Five, where Jesus had said He could give living water so one would never thirst again. Stan even said that we use words to communicate but he wanted more than words. I told him that Jesus became the Word of God and dwelt among us to show us God. And then, Stan said he didn’t want books, he wanted an experience. I was able to tell him that 27 years ago I had just such an experience. I asked Jesus Christ to come into my life and to take over, and He had.
No, he didn’t pray to receive Jesus. He wasn’t convinced that the Bible was true or that Jesus was the only way, although I told him that Jesus said He was the Way, the Truth and the Life. Stan just wasn’t convinced, but then he said something that really startled me.
“I’ve worked here almost ten years and I’ve never had a discussion with a customer like this before; nor has anyone ever listened to me as well as you have. I have really enjoyed our conversation, and I especially want to thank you for listening.”
I thanked him and he left. I was alone in the room and completely overwhelmed with the idea that someone had called me a good listener. A good listener – that phrase crashed into my consciousness. Perhaps, that is what witnessing is all about, not being so preoccupied with what I am going to say, but only occupied with what the other person is saying. It had seemed as though, as I really listened, God had given me the words to say. If all I have to do, really, is listen… well, maybe, even I could learn to “witness.”