Most of our friends and acquaintances in Golden Gate Park have street names – Monkey, Four-Twenty, Felony, Chaos, Animal, and the like. One day I was talking to “Sheriff,” a twenty-something park dweller with a bright red Mohawk – it looked to me like he’d cut it himself, with neither mirror nor particularly sharp scissors. While we were sitting on the ground eating pancakes and talking, in his artist’s pad Sheriff was drawing a picture of a goat head inside a pentagram (typical Satanist symbols). He showed me the rest of his pad full of similar images – quite elaborate all. I complimented him on his obvious talent and asked him what he thought about Jesus, and off we went to the races.
He told me he was a Satanist and made it clear that he wasn’t the least bit interested in Jesus. His main objection to Christianity was that it seemed to him that any father who required his own son’s excruciating death for other people was not anyone he cared to know, let alone trust. His was a perfectly understandable objection, and I was only too happy to respond to it. But when I attempted to explain the concept of why Jesus was willing to lay his life down in our sinful place, I found that I was less than my normally lucid(ish) self. I had a perfectly biblical and, to for my money, logical response in my mind, but my usual propensity to explain why Jesus did what he did was uncharacteristically muddled. I thought to myself, “This is weird. I can usually give a rational and coherent explanation for this.” It’s not like I’m “Mr. Apologetics” or anything, but normally I can defend the basic message of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice. I love sharing Christ with people, and have been known to be able to boil it down in pretty graspable terms. But this time I couldn’t quite get it out!
It would’ve been easy at that point to get frustrated (sort of a default of mine), rely on clichés, take on a preachy tone, or become condescendingly spiritual superior. Does any of that sound familiar? Instead, without any forethought, as though it wasn’t even me speaking, I eked out an apology – “I’m really sorry that I’m not explaining this very well.”
At that point, Sheriff paused from his drawing and looked up from his pad. He seemed as surprised by what I’d said as I was, softened his tone, and replied almost sympathetically, “That’s OK. It must be hard to explain.” Still kind of dazed by it myself, and after a pensive pause of my own, I went on to tell him about how much I love Jesus even if I couldn’t explain him very well, soon after which the conversation faded and we parted ways.
It wasn’t until I was driving home afterward musing about that particular exchange when I realized there was definitely something “spiritual” going on there. Duh! To put it bluntly, I think Sheriff had more than a philosophical problem with Christianity that could be solved with good apologetics. His problem (which became my problem) was that there was a demonic force that obstructed my telling of the good news about Jesus. And just so you know, I don’t just say that because he was drawing pictures of Satan. Not everyone who has a fascination with darkness is captive to the prince of darkness, and conversely, not every captive possesses the fascination. But I didn’t come to this opinion that a spiritual distraction was at fault because of his art, but because of how his spirit affected mine.
The more I thought about it I the more I realized that Sheriff was more saturated with demonic spirits than I was with the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t as full of mine as he was of his. As a result, Sheriff’s spiritual influence limited me more than the Spirit of God was able to liberate him – and that’s not a particularly good thing!
When I first heard the term, “Apologetics,” I assumed it had something to do with the skill of apologizing. With all the practice I’ve had at saying I’m sorry, I could teach classes on it. But then somebody told me that it had to do with taking a reasonable approach to our faith and not about making an apology for it. Yet on this day I saw that a sincere apology could actually be evangelistic.
Think about it, how many things could/should we Christians apologize about? You name it – the Crusades, toxic churches, hypocrisy, spiritual pretension – there’s never a shortage of things for which we should be sorry and tell people so. I do think that it goes a long way when we display genuine remorse for our own failures and that of our larger family of supposed believers. I’m not suggesting some new evangelistic device, a sure-fire formula for soul winning; but I just wonder how much better our testimony would be if we toned down the condescension and approached people with genuine humility.
At that particular moment “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” didn’t seem as operative as it usually did. I know it’s always true theoretically, but it isn’t always a reality for me because I’m only partially full of the Spirit. We have a responsibility to be as full and stay as full as we can, so that in our interactions with people who need Jesus, the influence goes in the right direction. That day, because I wasn’t as Spirit-saturated as I should’ve been, an evil spirit inhibited me more than the Holy Spirit impacted him.
Here’s where I discovered something about sharing Christ and spiritual influence. My guess is that when I apologized, a barrier dropped and Sheriff’s surliness shrank, making the last part of our interaction seem more cogent than the first. You could come to the conclusion that my show of anti-arrogance* reduced his social defenses, and while a case could be made for that, I deduced that it was more than that.
Demons, whose leader is the most conceited being in the world, seem to feed on pride. “Pride,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “is the complete anti-God state of mind.” The devil’s way is the opposite of the way of Jesus, so the best way to defeat the wrong way and advance the right way is to supply what’s lacking in the wrong way with what is provided in the right way! I’m being a little preachy here, but what I mean is, the enemy creates a vacuum and the Lord counteracts it by filling it. When I quite unintentionally displayed humility, I think it disarmed the spirit of pride and momentarily neutralized the adversary’s efforts to keep Sheriff’s heart and head in that dark place. It slightly lifted the spiritual barrier like venetian blinds and let a little sunshine in.
Maybe next time, I’ll start with: “Please forgive me if I don’t explain this very well, but…”
*I’m certainly not claiming to own a great number of shares of humility or any expertise on the subject. If I’m humble at all it’s incomplete and fleeting. I like it when it comes and hate it when it goes.
[An excerpt from my book: The Other End of the Dark (A Memoir About Divorce, Cancer, and Things God Does Anyway)]
3 Replies to “A Little Humility Goes a Long Way”
An amazing message here! We must be full of the Holy Spirit at all times.
This statement of yours rang so true;
“Not everyone who has a fascination with darkness is captive to the prince of darkness, and conversely, not every captive possesses the fascination.”
Very refreshing and funny….”I’m not like Mr. Apologetics…” made me laugh…I like what Kay Tollman says….We are conduits for the heart of Jesus…to help people see Him through us …..how we act what we say and how we apologize and especially how we listen….
Lord, may we al be conduits for your heart.