God’s Motivational Strategy—Splitting an “Adam”

By Keith Miller | April 23, 2009

Keith, I’m an ordained minister in a local church. I’ve tried all the programs our denomination has and almost no one in our parish is strongly motivated by them. In fact, most of my congregation seems to want only to float downstream in their canoes—without even ever picking up a paddle.  How do busy people get motivated to become interested in hearing (and living) the Christian message.

Over the years I’ve heard variations of this same question from a number of talented, hard-working ministers: How can a church leader motivate people even to come out to hear the gospel, much less to become Christians?” At one time this question seemed to be implicit in every leadership meeting I attended. I have found a single recurring answer echoing down the years. For many people there is only one universally effective way to interest them in Christianity—and that is to expose them to a person with whom they can identify, a person who is finding hope and meaning in Christ in his or her own life. For years I was a little hesitant about the idea of new Christians trying to influence other people before they really understood some of the implications of the gospel. However, some years ago now, something happened that made me rethink this whole matter.

While on a speaking trip in another state, I was feeling restless, tired and phony. I did not want to speak to this particular group. How could I possibly project hope and purpose concerning the Christian life?

Waiting my turn to speak, I looked out over those hundreds of strange faces. I wondered if anyone else had come to this meeting unwillingly . . . and could not shake loose from the slough of self-pity and the frustration of not being able to control his or her circumstances. But after I had finished speaking, I found myself still standing before the lectern, sort of hesitating.

Finally, I heard myself saying something I had never said before—and was a little embarrassed because it sounded like some kind of gimmick: “You know, I have the strangest feeling that I came all this way to talk to one of you who may be going through some of the same feelings of frustration and self-pity I am. And if you think you are the person, I would like to meet you after this session.”

As I sat down, I mentally kicked myself in the backside. “Why did you say a stupid thing like that? These people will think you are some kind of nutcase.” But it was too late.

After the program a large number of men came to greet the speakers. As the line came by, I forgot all about my closing remarks until a short, heavy-set man with glasses and black wavy hair walked up to me. He gripped my hand with great intensity and I saw a couple of tears start down his cheeks. Leaning forward, I said quietly, “Say, if you have a minute, I’d like to talk to you.” He nodded. I pointed over to a corner and said I would be there in a few minutes.

As soon as I could break loose, I went to him.“What are you doing here?” I asked him.

“This is the damnedest thing that ever happened to me.I am an attorney and travel a lot. Although we belong to this denomination,” and he nodded toward the group still clustered around the speaker’s platform, “it hasn’t really meant anything to me in years. I certainly never planned to come to this meeting. As a matter of fact . . . ,” and he stopped, looking at me a little uneasily. “As a matter of fact, I have a mistress in this town and was coming to see her—though I was supposedly on a business trip. For weeks I have been feeling very guilty. I wanted out of this relationship, but couldn’t seem to break it off.”

“Well, anyway, I got out of my car in front of her apartment, a block from this church.Who should come charging up to clap me on the back but three guys from my home church.I almost fainted as one of them asked, ‘What are you doing here, Joe?’

‘I, uh . . . I’m just passing through,’ I lied, scared to death they were going to see the guilt written all over me.

‘Hey great. We’re just going down to hear some Christian businessmen speak. You’ve gotta come with us.’ And I was afraid to say no, for fear I’d somehow give myself away.

“But as I heard you speak about a new start in life—a life with purpose and meaning, I was amazed. I had given up on having any purpose and meaning and had been filled with self-pity.I had no idea what to do.Then you stood up there and looked squarely at me and said what you did, and I knew that I was the one.” He stopped talking and looked at me.

“Listen,” I said, not really knowing what to do, since I had to catch a plane.“We haven’t much time. Would you like to commit your whole future to God, including the relationship with this woman?”

He just stood there biting his lips, and finally said, “Boy Isure would!”

“All right.There are a couple of things involved in beginning, as I understand it.One is to confess that you really don’t want your own way more than God’s; and if you can do that, then ask God, as he is revealed in Christ, to come into your inner life and show you how to live for him . . . and then give him permission to make you want to.”

In a prayer, standing in the corner of that huge church, Joe made a new beginning. I pointed out that Christianity was not a “ticket to heaven” but a way of life that starts now and transcends death, and that all he had done with me was to make a bare beginning—now he had to begin to learn to live again.

I heard my name called and noticed that the people who were to drive me to the airport were looking at their watches.

Hating to leave this man, I said, “Hey, listen, Joe, I’ll make a deal with you.I’ll pray for you every morning for a month, if you will pray for me.If you want to go on after that, write me a card and say,‘You’re on for another month,’ and I’ll stay with you a month at a time from now on.”

Joe was in tears as he shook my hand. I hated to leave but had to. Glancing at my watch, I saw that my time with this man had lasted about twelve minutes.

When I got home from that trip, at the end of the month there was a letter from Joe.He had begun to live for God.Things looked great.He had started by breaking off the relationship with his mistress.Already it was hard, but he was going to try for another month, if I would stick with him.

Well, I knew old Joe was in for some real adjustments. And as the months went by, I was amazed at the way God was getting hold of this man.He began reading the scriptures and all the books he could get his hands on about living his whole life for God, and he began going to his churchand having long talks with his minister. Joe began to see his self-centeredness and changed his behavior towards his family and friends in the little southwestern town of a few thousand in which he lived. During all this time I had not seen Joe or talked to him. All he knew was that someone he had met one day was praying for him at 6:30 every morning.

About a year later Joe wrote and said he had told a few people about what was happening to him, but he didn’t feel they understood him. If I would come to his church, he said he would get these people together for a discussion about living for Christ as a person in business.

This was a very busy time in my life. But I had gotten Joe into this, and the circumstances were so unusual that I thought the least I could do would be to go and visit with the little group to which he was trying to witness. So I went.

I got in just in time for the meeting.Joe met my plane and was very excited as we drove to his church. He said he was sure glad I was there, because several people in town had come right out and asked him what had happened in his life. Since I had never written any books or articles at that time, his friends would know me only as “a friend of Joe’s.”

As we arrived at the church, the minister said that he was glad I’d come and that Joe had really helped him personally.By this time we were a few minutes late.We went through a door at one end of the church to meet the friends who were curious about Joe’s life.I stopped for several seconds . . . looking into the faces of over 800 people crowded into every corner and aisle of that church and adjoining rooms.

I realized in that moment that all of the promoted programs and Christian education plans in the world will be virtually worthless to motivate people to become Christians.People are generally not very interested in hearing about Christianity unless they see some ordinary person like Joe who is actually finding hope and a new way to live in Christ.And then many of them may listen.

The most pragmatic of reasons for seeing that Christ is the most dependable of realities is that of changed human lives.When we consider Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, we are in the realm of the empirical as contrasted with the merely speculativeve.Saul said it was the Living Christ who had met him, and the person who seeks to deny this is confronted with the face of a permanent change in Saul’s character.We cannot, of course, know whether a man is lying when he says “I believe,” because belief is intrinsically internal and personal, but the evidence of changed lives is something which other people can observe.In Saul’s case the change was so radical that it led to the production of some of the finest literature of the world, a literature which would not have been produced apart from the crucial encounter.

The evidence of lives changed by contact with Christ is so abundant that the full story can never be told; it is, indeed, of a kind not matched anywhere in any culture. The changed lives have come about, not primarily by a set of ideas or by acceptance of a doctrine, but by commitment to a Person.
D. Elton Trueblood, A Placeto Stand

Lord, we have somehow lost the art oflivingfor you in our attempts to educate people into the Kingdom of God. Sometimes I have reduced your Way into a study program “about” the faith of the church. At other times I havetried the emotional techniques of psychology and industry to motivate people to participate in the life of your church. Help me, Lord, to spend personal time with individuals, time in which we can discover together how to live our days and nights for you. Help me to learn again the amazing motivating power of lives which are in the process of discovery and change.  Amen

And as he [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.But he refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in theDecapolishow much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled. Mark 5:18-20

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