The Single Greatest Gift – Part 1 of 4 of our Just Walk Across the Room sermon series

jwatr-graphicMaking a difference in a person’s life sometimes only takes a walk across the room.

The question is, “Are you willing to take that walk?”  If the length of a room where people gather is about twenty feet, that’s maybe 10 steps, less if you take bigger strides, but about 10 steps.  The average person is said to walk 10,000 steps in a day so that’s only 1/1000th of your daily average[1].  Now, I don’t know how this “average” person is who takes 10,000 steps because my average is about half that, but even still, consider that it might take only as many as 1/500th of one day’s worth of steps to make a difference in the world.  Over the course of the next few weeks, we are going to explore this concept of walking across the room and how this simple act can radically and eternally change someone’s life.  Maybe even your own. But only if you’re willing to do it.

Bill Hybels told a story about this in his book Just Walk Across the Room.

He met an African-American man whose whole life was changed simply because someone took the time to cross that distance.  The man, who was Muslim at the time, was at an evening function for work.  Being an African-American Muslim often made him stand out in these kinds of things and made him feel awkward.  He’d often end up alone in some corner or against the wall by himself.  At this particular function, another man noticed him standing alone and disengaged from his little group to come over to the Muslim man and introduce himself.  Pretty soon, they began talking about all sorts of topics – work, family, sports – when eventually the topic turned to faith.  The African-American man told Bill, “I took a risk in telling him that I was Muslim – I was a little hesitant about how he’d respond. He told me he was a Christ-follower but that, truth be told, he knew almost nothing about Islam. You can imagine my surprise when he asked if I would do him the courtesy of explaining the basics of Islam over a cup of coffee sometime. Can you believe that? He said he was a curious type and genuinely wanted to understand my faith system and why I’d devoted my life to it. The next time we met, whatever doubts I had about him truly wanting to hear my beliefs were quickly dispelled. He really sought to understand my life and faith. We began meeting almost weekly, and each time I sat across from him, I was stunned by what an engaged and compassionate listener he was.”  Eventually the tables were turned and the African-American gentleman asked his Christian friend about his faith in Jesus.  And over time, his Christian friend explained why he had devoted his life to Christ answering the questions of the other man, not always having all the answers, but being respectful and honest.  One day, this Muslim man just felt compelled to pray to God and gave his life over to Jesus Christ.  The man became a leader in his local church and his own faith had begun to influence the faith of his family.[2]  All from one simple walk across the room.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well

Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

We don’t know when and we don’t know how, but sometimes the power of reaching out to someone can have that kind of effect.  John, one of the disciples, tells about a time when this happened with Jesus and a Samaritan woman at the well.  If you want to follow along in your Bibles, you can find this passage in John chapter 4 beginning with verse 4.  John 4:4.  Now this passage is pretty well known if you’ve been reading the Bible for any length of time.  If you’ve been a Christian for a while you’ve probably heard at least some other preacher sharing this text, but in case you didn’t know one thing that’s really important to understand is that Samaritans and Jews just didn’t like each other.  They were bitter toward each other even though they were technically related.  They all came from the original twelve tribes of Israel.  But like so many other religious divisions, this one caused bitterness and tension on all sides.  So much so that Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with one another.  But as we’ll hear about in this passage from John, Jesus crosses that gap between the two and begins a dialogue with this Samaritan woman.

Now he (Jesus) had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus bridges the gap with a simple request, “Will you give me a drink?”

Sometimes it’s as simple as that.  Jesus takes the time to ask this woman for a favor.  Now already she has two things going against her – 1.) she’s a Samaritan and 2.) she’s a woman.  And that’s just on the surface.  This woman is coming to the well at the peak of day, noon, when most people would come either early in the morning or in the evening.  So why was she there at noon?  Because she was an outcast even in her own society.  Her sexual immorality made her rejected by the other women so she came when no one else was around.[3]  So now she has three things against her and yet Jesus still reaches out to her with a simple request.  “Will you give me a drink?”  And that opens up a door for conversation to take place.  The woman responds in surprise, but this gives Jesus just more opportunity to talk to her and he introduces her to the promise of eternal life.  As we read the entire story, we find out that Jesus reveals to her that he really knows her and accepts her anyway and they come to faith in Christ.  But it started with a simple gesture.  An offer of company when others wouldn’t give her the time of day.  Just like the Muslim man who was befriended by the Christian, so too does this woman enter a relationship with Christ himself and comes to recognize him as Lord.

But it takes our willingness to leave our Circle of Comfort and enter into the Zone of the Unknown.

That’s what Bill Hybels calls it, the Zone of the Unknown.  And it’s this zone that often trips us up.  It’s the Zone that makes us worried or fearful of failure.  But God often calls us into this zone.  The question is do we respond?  Come on, let’s be honest.  Haven’t you felt at one time or another God calling you to do something you didn’t really want to do.  Not because it was painful or would hurt you, but just pulled you out of your comfort zone?  You knew it was the right thing to do, but you resisted anyway.  Maybe God was telling you to go and talk to your next-door neighbor or introduce yourself to the new kid in class or ask one of your co-workers to go to lunch, and you just didn’t want to do it.  But if you do, if you cross that room, the rewards can be tremendous.  When you get to take part in bringing someone into a relationship with God that is truly the single greatest gift there is.  Bringing someone into a relationship with God is the single greatest gift there is.  One of the great privileges of being a pastor is getting to hear people’s baptism stories, especially if they get baptized when they are older.  One of the most remarkable was about a man I got to baptize a couple of years ago.  In his youth, he had known about God and even went to church, but he was never baptized.  And as happens to a lot of young people, he drifted away from his faith.  He lived that way most of his life.  But one day a friend of his was talking on the phone with him and mentioned that maybe he would get a lot out of reading the Bible.  And that thought kept bothering him.  This little seed his friend planted made him ponder thoughts about God he hadn’t thought about in decades.  Yet there it was.  He started attending church and soon became a regular and one day he came up to me and said, “I’d like to be baptized.”  His mother’s long time wish was that her son would eventually be baptized.  She had waited so long for that day.  She passed away just a couple of weeks afterward and I wonder to myself if she was simply waiting to know her son had come around.  I think often of that unnamed friend of his, too and wonder if she knows that the seed she planted eventually blossomed.  A man who had been far from God had found his way home because a friend was willing to walk across the room.

The thing is that even if you venture into the Zone of the Unknown, there is no guarantee of success.

It’s probably one of the reasons why you hesitate at times.  Because you’ve tried in the past and nothing happened.  But where the seeds fall is not up to us, but to God.  For every story of success, there are probably dozens of stories of failure.  But does that mean you had no impact?  Maybe and maybe not.  We have no idea of how to judge the cumulative effect of our faithfulness.  Sometimes we’re called to simply break ground on someone’s spiritual journey.  Sometimes we’re just the one who pushes them a little further on the journey.  And sometimes, like the African-American Muslim man and his Christian friend, we’re called to walk with them all the way.  You just never know.  But just because you don’t see the result doesn’t mean you didn’t make a difference.  As Bill wrote, “I believe many people begin their spiritual quest at a negative ten and that my role is to facilitate their movement to a negative eight. That’s it. Two points on the spectrum, and a result that is still in negative territory! It used to discourage me, but at some point I began to accept the fact that the role I am supposed to play is … well, the role I’m supposed to play.” [4]   What role are you supposed to play?  I want to challenge you today to open yourself up to the movement of the spirit.  Begin by simply writing down a list of five people you know who don’t have a deep relationship with Christ.  Whether they profess to be Christians or not, we all know people who need to be closer to God.  Just five people.  Write it down and then pray for them. Pray for them everyday for the next week at least and see where God leads you next.  Be open to the movement of the Spirit.  You never know.  You may be that friend on the phone that plants a seed that blossoms into commitment.  Or you may be the guy who walks across the room to lead someone to Christ.  So be open to it and let it begin with prayer.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Bill Hybels, Just Walk Across the Room, location 275 Kindle version.

[2] Ibid, location 322-330.

[4] Ibid, location 720-723.

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