"We must be thankful for each person and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us."
I love the conversations and prayers I have with church members and visitors after the worship service, so I was glad to see Star (not her real name) coming toward me. It would be one of my most unique post-service encounters in all my years of ministry.
Star introduced herself and launched into a passionate plea for prayer. She was hurting, felt abandoned, and while she explained her prayer need, she dropped the “F-Bomb” nine times! And she was not talking in hushed tones. As I listened, three thoughts ran through my mind. First, I am so glad Star is here; there is no better place she could be today. Second, This young woman is really reaching out for truth, help and ultimately Jesus. Third, Star has no idea that her language might be a bit more “colorful” than is normal while giving a prayer request. I prayed for her. She grabbed me, gave me a big hug and said, “I’ll be back again!”
My experience with Star that day and in the ensuing months made clear four important lessons as we encounter nonbelievers and try to help them connect with Jesus.
Lesson 1: Don’t be shocked, taken back or offended when a nonbeliever acts like a nonbeliever. Just love and embrace them.
For the next six months, Star was in church almost every Sunday, sitting in the same area so she could connect with new friends. She even began inviting her friends to church. She came up for prayer often, and her language was still “colorful” but growing less explicit and loud.
Lesson 2: Don’t be afraid to tell the truth, but do it with a loving, humble and gentle spirit.
One Sunday, Star expressed a great openness to Jesus and said, “I am open to anything and everything spiritual!” She went on to tell me about her friend who was “channeling Jesus.”
I gently said, “You know, Star, that is not really good.” We had a frank conversation about how Jesus is exclusive, and only Jesus can cleanse us from sin and give us new life now and forever. She was not offended, but listened intently.
Three months later, Star came forward to receive Jesus after a service. I asked her a few questions to make sure she really understood the Gospel and the exclusive claims of Jesus. She did. Star had embraced Jesus as her Savior, friend and the leader of her life.
Lesson 3: Salvation and sanctification are different things. When someone enters a life-giving relationship with Jesus, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit begins.
Two weeks later, Star came to a midweek believers service for the first time. We had open microphones and invited people to come forward and lift up a prayer of praise and adoration. Star was the first person to pop out of her chair and hurry to the mic. I found myself thinking, This could go anywhere, and I have no idea what kind of language she might use in her prayer. She was saved, but just 14 days into the sanctification process.
Lesson 4: We need to be ready for and embrace the messes new believers still can make, but sometimes they surprise us.
Star lifted up a passionate, beautiful, profanity-free prayer—in the name of Jesus. I breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Amen!”
Sometimes people act or talk in ways that surprise us or may make us uncomfortable, especially in a church setting. We must remember they are simply joining a journey we all are on; we just are at different stages along the way. The journey can be messy, but we must be thankful for each person and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us in love, grace and truth to lead them to Jesus.