Awkward Encounters

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who wants to push a topic you find tedious or awkward? You try to change the subject. That fails. You try silence. That fails! In fact your silence gives him twice the time to talk. Finally you sigh inwardly and say you have somewhere you need to be.

Now let me confess. I can be that bore. I’ve seen eyes glaze over; and I’ve noticed the quick glances at a watch or a clock.

So please listen with the compassion of a counselor. Let me explain my problem and then you can offer advice.

Here’s my issue. The Triune God of the Bible has captured me—even though it’s obvious that I’m just getting to know him. Nothing about me suggests sainthood—all I have is a big appetite.

Each morning, for instance, I’m drawn to meet him in the Bible. I only get thirty or forty minutes before I need to move on to the rest of the day, but even that brief time brings new reminders of his surprising and captivating personality. He’s a joy to know! And the more I have, the more I want. So throughout the day I look for opportunities to have more—to read books by others who love God, and to find groups and conversations where he’s the focus.

But over time I’ve realized I’m in a minority—not everyone finds God to be so winsome. In fact—like anyone in a minority—I have to ask if I’m out of balance. So I’ve done some soul-searching and the rest of this post is my progress report. And a call for advice.

One question is obvious. Am I getting God right? I certainly hope so. But if not I hope someone is willing to correct me. That’s partly why I want to talk about him so often—I want to hear what others are learning from him.

Another question is more difficult: the matter of priorities. It goes like this: “Given that God is such a huge and controversial subject, aren’t there better things to talk about?”

I still stumble here. I know, for instance, that men can spend hours jousting over sports. And it’s easy for almost anyone to talk about a current movie. Or in professional circles some arcane topics can absorb hours: engineers, educators, truck-drivers, pilots, theologians, and accountants can talk at length with others in their field. Even politics can devour hours of talk.

So why, some may ask, do you want to talk about God, his Son, and his love for the world so often? Can’t you find more neutral, interesting, and useful topics? My problem here is that I see God as the ultimate reference point for every subject—he’s a fully engaged God.

Of course something else may need attention: the matter of who I am and how I present myself. Like someone who sings but can’t really sing, I may just be a poor conversationalist. God, in principle, is a worthy topic; so a skilled conversationalist should be able to navigate such waters. A key here is to know what issues to avoid. So maybe I need better social awareness. That could be. I know, for one, that I’m a bit too enthusiastic about Christ for most people’s tastes.

I’ve thought about that. Overstated devotion puts off those who lack a shared enthusiasm. So I may need a more detached approach—to speak of Jesus more as a curiosity, or as a historical figure. So, it would follow, if my worshipful devotion gets in the way, I need to be more dispassionate—more professional or professorial in speaking of Jesus.

It might also be important for me to be more alert to where my conversation partner is in life. If, for instance, I learn about his or her fears, doubts, and longings; or about any current pleasures and successes, I’m sure to have more success. I get that.

My problem comes when I’m alert to how well the Bible addresses human fears, doubts, longings, and successes in profound and helpful ways. So I’ll mention God and the Bible—gently and carefully, I think—but this is where the cringing begins. I mean to be helpful but it doesn’t work.

Probably the biggest problem, though, is the tendency of all of us who do know our Bibles well and who find God lovely to come off as proud. There’s nothing more awkward than to be around someone who wants to be God’s personal messenger: “I’m speaking on God’s behalf; and I’m also his local judge if you don’t listen!”

That’s a huge problem and I’m sure I’ve gone there all too often. And if I take up that stance, the conversation is over—and properly so!

Yet there’s another side to that issue. Pride can run in both directions. What if I say, simply, “I love what the Bible offers us here.” And then things go silent? Could it be that the conversation is missing a key spiritual component?

Maybe.

Paul wrote about the spiritual component of relationships in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16.

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?”

So that’s where I am: that awkward friend. I also bring a certain fragrance into any room.

I’m not alone, of course. Others like me may need some coaching too. And if a conversation stalls because we’re offering our ignorance, pride, or flawed personalities, we need to learn and grow.

But if it’s because we’ve brought the “Christ to God” aroma to our friends, that conversation may remain eternally awkward.

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2 Comments

  1. Gretchen

    Ron, for what it’s worth, I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced your love for God and His Word as off-putting. On the contrary, you’ve been like a beacon pointing hearts to Him and like a fountain from which His love poured into your heart overflows to others. You, and others like you, cause me to desire God more deeply and to long for more time to hear His heart in the Bible. I, too, have experienced the blank stares when I’ve talked about my love for God or offered a bit from the Bible which might speak into someone’s circumstances. And, like you, I pray that I won’t come across as prideful or holier than thou.

    The point you make from the 2 Corinthians passage is very important. What’s sad, though, is that the “fragrance from death to death” seems to waft in the midst of those who are believers—or at least those who would see themselves as such. John Fawcett, a 1700’s preacher, said it like this, “It is much to be lamented—that those who profess a sincere attachment to the Redeemer, should have their thoughts so little employed about Him.” I love, too, how he describes his own relationship with the Lord, “Had I a thousand lives, a thousand souls—they would all be devoted to Him! You tempting vanities of this base world; you flattering honours, you deceitful riches— Adieu! Jesus is my all! He is my light, my life, my unfailing treasure, my everlasting portion! Nothing below the skies is deserving of my love! Precious Redeemer, in You the boundless wishes of my soul are filled! I long to leave this tenement of clay, and to rest in the bosom of Your love forever!”

    Oh that our hearts would be so full of love and devotion to God!

  2. R N Frost

    You’re too kind, Gretchen! Yet I know too many of my own vulnerabilities. And I also wanted to at least warn about some common blind spots even if that’s not my own struggle. For instance, I’m not really giving thought to being more dispassionate – but I do see that option used by some evangelical academicians and even by some pastors.

    My real goal was, by the end, to focus on the contrast Paul offers in 2 Cor. 2. But if I’m not honest about the traps in play before reaching the “life-to-life” consideration I can start to build excuses for wilting when a “death-to-death” person cringes. Even if some of these people profess to know Christ.

    Paul reassures me that I should always expect to find opposed responses to a lively faith . . . and that shouldn’t discourage any of us who are captivated by Christ (as Fawcett, Sibbes, Edwards, and countless others have been).

    Thanks for your response, and for your own steady display of God’s love in Christ! You’ve been used to touch many.

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