In ninth grade, my brother Andy’s locker partner (the school drug supplier) had a bad trip on LSD. The bad trip continued in a small series of scary flashbacks, and Kevin asked Andy if God had anything to say about it.
My brother had just had a Sunday school lesson about the Four Spiritual Laws. He even had a copy of the tract. Together Andy and Kevin read the pamphlet, and Kevin prayed the prayer on the last page: Lord, I want to know you personally … Take control of the throne of my life.
Kevin’s life abruptly changed. He told everybody at school that Andy had just introduced him to God. Kevin’s old customers came to Andy to meet God, and Andy took them through the pamphlet, and they met God. Soon they asked Andy questions, like: how do you pray? how do you read Scripture? how do you handle temptation?
Andy didn’t know how to respond, so he asked my parents. My parents made suggestions which Andy repeated to his new friends, and their lives changed even more.
One day someone asked a question he couldn’t answer. On the way home from school, Andy slipped into a telephone booth (you can find an example in the Smithsonian History Museum), and he really prayed for the first time in his life.
And Andy met God. And his life totally changed. I’m his little brother, and I’m a witness.
Fruit Is a Bad Litmus Test
My brother Andy is not the first person to bear fruit without a relationship with God. God used him to convert dozens of students before he himself was a true disciple. It is so tempting to measure our spiritual stature by our converts, followers, or Facebook likes. But Scripture forbids us to trust our headlines:
- A donkey prophesied to Balaam, but nobody has ever suggested the donkey was anything other than an ass.
- Jonah’s sermon convicts 120,000 people who repent, but Jonah himself is an intolerant, grace-lacking bigot; he probably would have disdained St. Francis too.
- Scripture say “many” will prophesy, cast out demons, and do mighty miracles, and Jesus himself will declare, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
- Paul says, we can speak in tongues, exercise great prophetic gifts, understand spiritual mysteries, and even die as martyrs, all for naught.
If we minister to thousands of followers, or if our kids are perfect or our marriages exemplary, it might be all for naught; we’re looking at faulty report cards. God is merciful, so he gives rain to both the just and the unjust. And since he sees the neediness of this world, he also works through both the just and the unjust.
We Need Simpler Technology
When the disciples return from a mission trip, they rejoice at all the miracles they performed. Jesus tells them to rejoice rather in the relationship they have with him. We injure God’s work in us through our conscious focus on the work he does through us.
God often works mightily through us, but in his mercy, he also pursues us with mysteries that drive us to him. He sends each of us on detours, to a phonebooth, where our headlines are stripped away, and we stand naked before him. Jonah had the puzzle of the mystifying love of God, and my brother Andy had the spiritual question he couldn’t answer.
We can enter that phonebooth as humble Clark Kent and emerge with the super-natural power of God that glorifies his name (not ours), or we can enter the phonebooth carrying our superman headlines.
And emerge as an ass.
P. S. Jesus stirs up mysteries so we bring them to him; so we can grow in intimacy with him. So we can hear his voice.
To grow in that divine dialogue, please watch the video bel0w (Is that all there is?), and read, Hearing God in Conversation.
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Wonderful writing, analogy, and truth Sam! Excellent!
Love this post. The title reminds me of business wisdom I heard once from an experienced Sales VP: “Companies get into trouble when they start to believe their own bs.”
There’s just no substitute for getting before God in complete honesty.
John P DeWitt
Wow! I actually read your meditation the same day I received it. I don’t know if I have ever read any of your mediations that have not convicted me in some way, shape, or form. Today no different. My tendancy is to keep track (not really…yes really) of how many people I have prayed over or ministered to in the last day, week, etc. If they expericned God’s love, bonus! So I am kind of standing here naked, without a phonebooth to be had, once again asking for God’s mercy…that he can transform this noisy gong/clanging cymbol more into the likeness of his Son. Thanks, again, Sam, for speaking the Word of God to me. John
Thanks again for “Hearing God in Conversation.” We in American evangelicalism often do get diverted into looking for fruit, whether converts or speaking with the tongues of men and angels, as evidence of relationship, rather than focusing on the relationship. Jesus was onto something.
Great article! Thanks Sam
Your story about Andy reminded me of something that happened to me about 15 years ago—an illustration of how hard it can be for me to accept that God is happy to use those who don’t know Him (your example) or hypocrites (my example) to grow others in their relationship with Him.
A couple in my church filed for divorce. As time went by, it became clear that the husband was far from being the godly man that he pretended to be. His treatment of his wife and children bordered on abuse.
A couple of months after word of the split came out, the husband taught a lesson in my Sunday school class. It was phenomenal. One of the best lessons I’d ever heard.
I was angry.
How could God give such great talent to someone who blatantly defied Him in his behavior toward his family? How could this man be used to cultivate fruit in others when his own relationship with God was mostly a lie?
Like the workers in the parable in Matthew 20, I had a hard time accepting that God could be as gracious to those who didn’t deserve it as to those of us who had obviously earned it.
Grace is never based on deserving or earning it. The point of the parable is that He is generous to all, even those who don’t bear “the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
Love the “wrap up” of the phone booth story and the choice of outcomes for each of us. I was recently counseling with a woman who expressed joy in the fact that Psalm 91 invited her to seek rest “in the shadow of the almighty… that He would cover her with his feathers. That he would shelter her with His wings”
The phone booth analogy for your brother’s private meeting with God, seemed very much like Psalm 91, to me. a private quiet and sheltered place where we could meet with the almighty and not feel condemnation nor anything but His love for us.