A few years ago, I heard a sermon that really struck me. The pastor told a story in which he had been traveling at night in the rain and was cross and tired. A motel owner treated him more kindly than he felt he deserved, and it brought out better behavior in him and an apology. He said the motel owner “reminded me of Jesus.”
The pastor went on to challenge us to look for “something we associate with Jesus, that makes us think of him, in those we love and in those we barely know.” He has been attempting to practice this attitude for many years, and says it will transform our perceptions of people.
My mind went in a second direction. What if this became a new way of evangelism? What if, instead of looking for ways to share what we know of Jesus with others, we looked for the ways we can find glimpses of Jesus in them, and then affirmed and encouraged those glimpses?
We have a deeply ingrained idea, reinforced by written and spoken words, of “taking Jesus to people,” or of “bringing people to Jesus.” These are valid viewpoints, of course. They come from the Bible—Jairus taking Jesus to his daughter (Mark 5), the paralytic’s friend taking him to Jesus (Matt. 9). Mothers bringing their children for blessing (Mark 10). Even the 72 (or 70, depending on the translation) disciples being sent by Jesus “ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come” (Luke 10:1, NASB). The thing is, Jesus was one human being then. Even then, if we really believe in God, we must believe that God was already and always with those people before any human came to encourage them to listen to God.
What if we really believed that, and assumed that the Holy Spirit was always working with every person we met, long before we met them? What if we looked for and expected that Presence, that smile or word or act that “reminds us of Jesus,” like family resemblance in a child? What if that was what we tried to connect with, in the expectation that such connection would bless both the other and ourselves?
In some people that would be simple. Some people overflow with God’s love. Other times…well, you know. What if we still tried, even with that person? What if we searched hard for any hint of that Presence that we could find, and sought ways to affirm and encourage that? In the worst soul, by human standards, there is still a spark of the Breath of Life that God put in there—(unless the person has once and for all turned from God, and we can’t know that.) What if the angriest young person we know could be encouraged in, say, the ability to see clearly to the heart of troubling issues? Might that person begin to be less angry if someone actually heard him or her?
What if we really committed ourselves to looking for Jesus in everyone we met?
First, we’d gain in unimaginable ways. Lots of people have more of Jesus in them than I do, and that would remind me of that, and short circuit any tendency to think of myself as the Great Evangelist. Then, in cases where people aren’t aware of God in their lives, the ones we’d most want to share with, isn’t it possible we’d end up sharing more of Jesus than we could have imagined, and without their feeling like we had a hidden agenda?