WIDENING THE CIRCLE

zebras - serengetti - tanzaniaWalk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. [Colossians 4:5-6 (ESV)]

I was attending a “Women and Wealth” seminar when we were asked to name the most important value we wished to pass on to our families. The answers were variations on the value of education, self-sufficiency, financial independence, business expertise, and a good work ethic until it came to me. When I said, “Faith in God,” my answer was met with stunned silence. Of sixteen of us, mine was the only one involving faith in God or any of the things that go along with it such as compassion, gratitude, forgiveness or generosity.

After Bible study that evening, many from our church gathered for fellowship at the nearby food court. The woman beside me confided that she didn’t know how or what to pray for her critically ill niece and we talked about prayer and faith in God. Although I don’t know her well, our shared belief made us comfortable sharing our thoughts and concerns. As I looked around the gathering, I had a pretty good idea how the rest of our group would have answered that morning’s question about values. They all recognize the importance of education, financial security, and work but they are people of faith; more likely than not, their answers would have indicated that faith.

Studies have shown that the longer one is a believer, the fewer interactions he or she has with non-believers. My experience that day told me why—when we’re with our brothers and sisters in Christ, they get “it.” Even when we don’t know one another well, we have an ease with each other that makes us family. We’re on the same wavelength; even when we disagree, we talk the same language and love the same Lord. The longer we are believers, the tighter our social group tends to become. We’re with one another during worship but also in choir practice, small groups, planning committees, service projects, or social events. Looking at the past month’s calendar, I saw that the majority of my social life centered around church activities and Christian friends; not all bad, but not all good, either.

In our last small group study (about evangelism), it was pointed out that most Christians aren’t very good about sharing the gospel, but not because we don’t want to share it. We spend so much time with other Christians that we’re rarely hanging around anyone who needs to hear it shared! It was suggested that we make a point of spending time with those outside the faith. We’re not talking about preaching on street corners or walking the beaches handing out religious tracts; we’re talking about making friends with people who aren’t believers. No one is asking us to abandon our circle of Christian friends but we should consider widening it.

Sydney Harris said that people tend to buy nonfiction books they think will agree with them. Saying they’re looking for enlightenment, they’re actually looking for confirmation of their beliefs. Pointing out that, “The stone of opposition sharpens ideas,” he adds that we’ll never truly understand our position until we understand our opponent’s. While he was writing about political opinions, his point is well taken. I know that I tend to seek out friendships with people who look, think, believe and act much the same way I do. Yet, when I think about it, some of my most rewarding friendships have been with people quite unlike me. Those are the friendships that have broadened my horizons and helped to define my faith. I hope that they’ve helped other people see Christ in a new way, as well.

Pastor Bill Hybels speaks of evangelism as simply walking across the room but we can’t do that if we’re never in a room with an unbeliever. That women’s seminar meets again next month and, while I’m not sure I have much in common with the rest of the attendees, maybe I can learn a little more about them and their beliefs and, maybe, just maybe, they’ll learn a little more about mine!

As Christ followers, we’re accountable for regularly moving in circles with people far from God, uncovering their stories with compassion and grace, and then naturally and consistently making ourselves available when God opens a door of opportunity. [Bill Hybels]

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Mark 2:15-17 (ESV)]

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