"Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel...To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law...that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law...that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might will the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some."
1 Corinthians 9:16, 20-22
The snow that has inundated our city for the last few days is melting, slowly. People are coming out of their weekend hibernation and starting to move around again.The snow is turning to slush which will turn to streams sometime soon. At some point I'll be able to dig my car out and brave the hill by our house that has recently been used more for sleds than cars.
Walking is my main mode of transportation while the snow is on the ground and I noticed something interesting as I walked out of our house to meet a friend for lunch: raccoon footprints. They were clearly the footprints of a nocturnal neighbor looking for something to eat at our front door. Poor guy. Nothing to eat here.
But what was more interesting is that it made me notice other footprints...where people had walked. Most (non snow) days we can't tell if someone came up to our door to scavenge some discarded food, but when the snow is carpeting the sidewalks and driveways those footfalls are obvious.
What I Don’t Notice
As I walked to the pizza place we planned to meet at, I noticed people's footsteps like I had never had before. I could see where people had been and, because of the direction of their shoe prints, could tell which way they were going.
Normally, I don't notice. But, I want to.
The more I spend time with friends who are not-yet-believers in Jesus, I realize again a truth I need to hold on to: I need to watch their path of life in order to walk with them.
When We Never Cross Paths
The reality is that most of our friends who haven't yet trusted Jesus are not going to walk my path; their footfalls will not go the same direction as mine for the most part, metaphorically speaking.
If we are going to have a meaningful conversation about meaningful things (i.e. Jesus and the gospel) then I cannot expect them to follow the way I am going, I need to walk with them.
I must look to see where their feet fall and go with them.
There are some sinful places I won't go, but most of the time that's not the real issue...the real issue in walking with someone is how much it interrupts my life.
Jesus lived a life interrupted. I imagine that he would start off going one direction during the day and then see someone who the Father had appointed for Him to meet with. Jesus "heard" the heart of the one's around him and responded to that person and that response was not a canned response. There is a sense in which Jesus' life was full of interruptions and changes of plans, but all of it planned by the Father before the beginning of time to draw people in and be enamored with his glory.
Jesus learned our (human) languages. Jesus learned (and joined in on!) human customs. Jesus followed a woman at a well down a path of discussion that went from literal thirst, to her scandalous love life, to who the Messiah should be, to- the heart of it all- who she treasured the most. (See John 4) Jesus became all things to all people pleasing them- not for his own advantage- but to disadvantage himself for them in love.
Or maybe better said "Disadvantaging himself for US in love."
Love that Compels to Walk a New Path
That very same love compels me...even if it is a weak love. I look at my friend whose salvation is ahead of them (God willing) and wonder what will it take for them to hear the gospel in their own language- to get the truth even if they don't receive the truth. What will we have to rearrange or rethink in order to make the gospel accessible to people through play dates, lunch meetings, baseball games, and neighborhood work projects? Those are the places their feet are already falling.
Oh, I want my friend to follow my footsteps and go with me along my path of life, but, if they won't, I have to ask myself "Am I enamored with Jesus so much that I will walk where I have to so that they will be enamored with Jesus?"
There is joy in seeing the paths in which are friends are walking, but it takes courage to reorient life to walk with them- a courage I often wonder if I have. But what if the path they are walking is the very same path that Jesus is walking in order to both win their heart, and strengthen our faith?
Tomorrow, the snow will be gone (I hope anyway) and people's footfalls won't be as easy to notice. God, please help us to learn our friend's "paths of life" by being with them, asking questions, and letting the Spirit help us see their heart questions.