Every true Jesus follower wants to share his/her faith with others, but many feel too needy to do so. They’re waiting till they have total “victory,” complete physical health, an all-star family, and a respectable middle-class (or above) lifestyle. I propose that sometimes the best witnesses are often the neediest ones. That’s Part 1. In Part 2, I’ll share how some of the most effective church planters and missionaries are ones who are the least adequately resourced and go out, as did the original apostles, with little to nothing.
My point, in both cases, is that, rather than a curse, our neediness is often a blessing, a benefit to embrace when embarking on our mission to sow kingdom seeds in our culture. I propose that some of the best witnesses and most effective apostolics are the neediest ones.
I came to Jesus when I was 17. The next day, not knowing any better, I started telling people about how he’d begun to wreck my life for the good. Since I hadn’t known the Lord long enough to acquire a spirit of superiority it was truly one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread. As I developed a more advanced spiritual sophistication my story became less effective and I had less fun in sharing it. The joy has returned in these last few years to which I attribute a more impoverished condition of my life. I think it has something to do with being divorced, cancer-ridden, and living on disability. I’m poor enough again to reach other poor folks. Please don’t feel sorry for me, I’m making a positive point here.
I never dreamed that my relative destitution would be included in my God-song repertoire. Nevertheless, my interaction with people these days is much less of a: I have something that you don’t… I’m saved and you’re lost… I’m forgiven and you’re not… While there is some truth in those statements, that’s not the temper of my friendship quest these days.
It’s likely that most people that I meet in the street assume that I’m just an old middle-class white guy who has had an easy life and that my faith in Jesus just made my already smooth life smoother. (Not true. I’m not that “old”!)
I think that beat-down people assume that Christianity only works for people whose lives already run fairly well. The fact is none of us run right; we all have broken down lives. We’ve all lost our innocence and lost our way, and we all need Jesus to find us and fix us. The life-wounds that we have in common tend to bridge the gap between my street friends and me. I can identify with their pain and they’re more apt to take notice when I share with them about mine. My loss is their gain.
A lot of my conversations these days sound more like the standard AA meeting greeting: “Hi, I’m Stan, and I’m an alcoholic.” I find myself saying things like: Yeah, I have cancer too… And I’ve been divorced also… Yeah, I know what you’re saying. I thought my life was totally over when after thirty years my marriage died, my vertebrae dissolved, and I got bone cancer. But Jesus has been so good to me. He hasn’t abandoned me. He keeps loving me in spite of me. And I’m pretty sure he loves you too!
I only recently observed the extent of the plurals of the Lord’s Prayer – “our” Father, give “us” daily bread, and forgive “us,” etc. I noticed them before, but I’ve always thought of them as exclusively referring to us Christians – us fellow followers. But lately I’ve begun to practice a more inclusive way of praying with my pre-Christian friends. I pray “with” them more than “for” them. Here’s what I mean.
After hearing his story I prayed with Tommy, a drug-addicted teenager. It was obvious to me that he had no decent father figure in his life, so I lingered on the “our Father” part of the prayer:
Lord, you’re such a good Father to us, powerful, but at the same time, understanding. You rule over heaven and earth, and yet you’ve taken notice of Tommy and me and have been following us around dropping hints of your love and leaving invitations for us to join your family. Pull Tommy and me close to you, close enough us for us to embrace you in return.
Leroy recently told me how heartsick he’s been since his ex-wife banned him from contacting their kids. He admitted to me that his alcoholism drove a wedge between them and destroyed their marriage. So, I focused on the “your will be done” part and said something like:
Lord, help us be the men you want us to be, doing your will. Make us the kind of men that our kids need us to be, men of integrity. If it’s your will to use a program to help Leroy get sober then help him find the one best for him. Your will be done in us, Lord. In Jesus’ name.
The “daily bread” part of the prayer is a staple (pun intended) while praying with my homeless friends. Ethan is psychologically incapable of being gainfully employed. I’m no psychiatrist but he’s obviously plagued with some sort of mind-bending disorder, no doubt exacerbated, if not initiated, by regular illicit drug use. Of course I pray for his mind to take a turn for the better, but in the meantime, he needs to eat.
Through whatever means you choose, Lord, please give my friend Ethan and me enough food to eat today – our daily bread. Please provide for us and we’ll give you thanks for it when it comes and acknowledge how it shows how much you love us and care about us and our needs.
Edgar opened his life up a bit to me the other day. I tried to look calm when he told me that twenty years ago when he was dealing dope he murdered two people! In spite of the state of his heart at the time, he was conscience stricken, turned himself in, and did twelve years in a federal prison. Since getting out he’s spent years in another prison called, “guilt and shame.” He said he’s asked God many times to forgive him but he’s had no relief from the relentless shame of taking those lives.
We talked for quite some time about how Jesus was willing to carry our shame and cleanse us from its stench. I told him how that even after God washes us, we can sometimes still smell the stink of shame in our smeller. I told him about some of my own nagging regrets, none of which quite belong in the murder category. I said that we can’t change the past but we can be unchained from it. Freedom from the shame of the past is called, “forgiveness.” God doesn’t rewrite history, but changes our relationship to it. Jesus inserted himself between us and our shame, and took the brunt of it on himself when he died. Then I prayed the “forgive us” prayer along the lines of:
Father, forgive me and Edgar for all the times we’ve trespassed on property that we had no business being on and did destructive things we had no right to do. You died for murderers as well as for thieves and liars. Whatever we’ve done, Lord, forgive us and help us grab hold of your full and free forgiveness. Deliver us from the shame of our past and give us the ability to forgive ourselves in Jesus’ name.
Tanisha and I sat under a tree in the park drinking coffee and eating pancakes when after a while she spewed out an appalling saga of abuse, abandonment, and addiction. I thought my heart was going to beat right out of my chest. I wouldn’t normally rush to the subject of someone’s need to forgive their enemies, but I didn’t know if I’d get another chance to talk to her. “Tanisha, I know something about forgiveness in my own life…” and then unwrapped some of my childhood and divorce stories and told her about how liberating it’s been to forgive those who’ve hurt me. The prayer we obviously needed to pray was the “as we forgive” part.
Lord, Tanisha and I have both been wounded by people – a lot! Help us to forgive those who’ve hurt us, to unhook ourselves from them and put them in your hands for you to do whatever it is you want to do. This is too hard for us to do on our own, so because you’re the best forgiver in the world, please teach us how to do it and give us your strength.
“Lead us not into temptation…” is always something relevant to pray among my drug and alcohol addicted friends. Jason had been clean from his Meth habit for two months but still lived in an SRO (a Single Room Occupancy hotel) in the Tenderloin where temptation to use again lurks on every corner – literally. Meth seems to have more of an insidious relapse attraction than any other street drug of which I’m aware. I related some of my own temptations to Jason and how God had been helping me and then I put my hand on his shoulder and prayed with him something like:
Jesus, we’re tempted to do stuff that we know is self-destructive, poison to our relationships, and definitely not pleasing to you. Help Jason and me to stay out of trouble with drugs, alcohol, and anything else that makes us less human. Give my friend and me the power to resist our temptations. In Jesus’ name.
Jesus must have had me and my friends in mind when he taught us to pray, “Deliver us from evil (or the evil one)…” With all the drug use among the spiritually confused homeless traveller community in Golden Gate Park it’s easier to find a demon on the job than a park ranger. The air there is rife with the odor of dope smoke and there’s a palpable sense of evil spiritual powers dragging God’s beloved down into their dark lairs.
Leaf had that look like someone else was using his eyes as lenses through which to look at the world and interpret it to its victim. I asked him if he’d pray with me. Though I usually like to put my hand on people when I pray and often ask them if that’s OK, with someone who appears to be carrying a spirit like this, my habit is to forego the touching part unless clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth, you died and rose again in our place to set us free from sin, Satan, and the system. And for this, Leaf and I thank you. Deliver us from the evil one that wants to steal from us, kill us and completely destroy us. Set us free from anything and anyone that would hold us captive. In Jesus’ demon-defeating name. Amen!
He didn’t fall down or froth at the mouth or anything, but I trust that my prayer made a difference in chipping away at the lock on his cell door – and mine.
Some of the best prayers are said by the poorest people.
Next time we’ll look at neediness and the church planter/missionary.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this not entirely typical spirit of faith sharing.