25 April 2008

This Sidewalk

As I exited my office building yesterday after work, I found myself walking beside a guy named Gary. After about a step and a half, he looked at me and, I guess after sensing that I was willing to listen, told me that he was a little scared because he was having throat surgery on Monday. We stopped at the next corner and he briefly explained his condition and further fear about the possibility of cancer.

He then asked if I was a Christian, to which I replied that I was.

He was also a Christian.

“When I was a child, I did childish things,” he told me. “But now that I’m an adult, I do adult things,” he added, loosely quoting scripture.

He asked what denomination I belonged to. I expressed that I don’t belong to any denomination, but consider myself a Bible-believing follower of Christ.

He was the same.

He shared that he preaches the gospel on the streets of Harrisburg, and then showed me the two scratches on the lens of his bent up, wire-framed glasses – his “battle scars” from an encounter with a non-believer who pushed him down and spit on him. After which, he thanked the man and relayed that “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” Only to have the man do a complete 180, offer him money (Gary rejected because he didn’t want to “sell” the Lord’s blessing to him) and then sit and pray with him for some time.

I didn’t say a whole lot during any of this – it was strictly Gary’s show. So after he was done, and it seemed we were about to part ways, I asked if I could pray for him. He said I could. So I put my hand on his shoulder (I was thinking about putting it on his throat, but that just didn’t feel right) and prayed.

When I had finished, he thanked me and we started to walk down the street together (he was heading in the same direction as me). Before we even took our second step, he asked if I could give him some money for milk and some other food item that I can’t remember.


The request totally threw me off. Actually, that’s an understatement. I was completely stunned. I had just taken part in an encounter I believed to be God-ordained. Gary had blessed me with his story and I was able to bless him with prayer.

But with this request, the entire encounter replayed in my mind at light speed and I questioned whether anything he shared with me was true. I wondered if he “belonged” to whatever denomination the person who he was talking to belonged to. I wondered whether he was really having surgery on Monday. Or even if he had been pushed and spat upon.

Because my brain was processing the seemingly God-ordained encounter, it simply didn’t have time to come up with a logical reply. So I quickly blurted out a lie, “Oh…I don’t have any cash on me. Sorry.” In retrospect, I’m not sure that was best thing to do, but it’s what happened in the moment. I guess I should have probably just told him that his request kinda shocked me -- straight up told him the truth and then talked through that with him. Maybe next time I will.

Gary, having no idea any of this was running through my head, quickly retorted: “If you have a card, there’s a MAC machine at the bank on the corner.”

“Oh…I don’t do that kinda stuff,” I replied.

He understood and thanked me again for praying for him and I relayed that I wanted to know how his surgery went and told him I walk down this sidewalk everyday at 4:30.

And that was it.

As I walked away I began to think about the moment after his request for money. It occurred to me that that was all about me – not wanting to be taken advantage of and not wanting to look na├»ve in front of Gary or others passing by on the streets.

My first thought when Gary loosely quoted Paul in the beginning of our encounter was that I’m an adult but I still do childish things from time to time. That’s where the whole grace thing comes in. Maybe not giving Gary the $5 bill that was in my wallet was my childish act yesterday. I’m not exactly sure what Jesus would have done upon being asked for money by Gary, but I do believe that scripture teaches that he wouldn’t have been thinking about himself or looking foolish to others. That’s probably the most important thing for me to take away from this encounter.

I mean, just a few years ago I most likely wouldn’t have given Gary my ear, or ever have been brave enough to actually pray with him on a public sidewalk in a busy metro area. And that’s not anything on me -- that’s Christ working in this hard heart of mine. That’s His glory shining through me.

Father God, I pray that your peace would cover Gary in this moment and on Monday, whatever that day may hold for him. Provide for his physical, mental and spiritual needs as only You can. And I pray that you would continue to mix the colors of my heart so that they would more closely resemble those that shine from Your own heart. Amen.


miller said...


trust the Spirit that lives in you. many of these opportunities come and go and you'll not know what the right thing is in most if not all of them.

i trust that the Spirit reacted in you.

the next one may be different...

i love you man!

and i trust you...


Tim said...

thanks for sharing this experience with us all. i didn't really know how to respond... i think because i've been there... there's a skeptic inside all of us... that may or may not cause us to miss out on 'ordinary attempts' or something. on the other hand. you engaged in conversation. that was an opportunity in and of itself.

i hope and pray that this experience will prepare you for future mission ops.

Anonymous said...

Funny...some things make more sense in the aftermath.
Peace be with you.