Just Walk Across the Room: Simple Steps Pointing People to Faithby Bill Hybels
Believers universally affirm that evangelism is a vital part of what God calls them to do, but very few make a practice of doing it. They feel awkward and ill-equipped, either because they've never been trained, or because their lack of interaction with non- Christians prevents them from using and developing the skills they do have. Bill Hybels addresses these… See more details below
Believers universally affirm that evangelism is a vital part of what God calls them to do, but very few make a practice of doing it. They feel awkward and ill-equipped, either because they've never been trained, or because their lack of interaction with non- Christians prevents them from using and developing the skills they do have. Bill Hybels addresses these concerns and signals the next era in personal evangelism with Just Walk Across the Room. Drawing on fresh perspectives from the author's
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Just Walk Across the RoomSimple steps pointing people to faith
By Bill Hybels
ZondervanCopyright © 2006 Bill Hybels
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Ultimate Walk Across a Room
Ten thousand steps.
Roughly, that's the distance you travel sunrise to sunset, each and every day of your life. It adds up to about 115,000 miles in a lifetime—or more than four times around this big blue planet of ours.
With that said, just one question: Are you using your steps wisely?
Assume the average distance across most rooms is twenty feet—about ten steps. The question I hope to answer is this: What if ten steps—just one one-thousandth of your daily average—could actually impact eternity?
If so, it might well change the way you walk.
The concept surfaced many months ago after I attended a lunch in a southern state. Hundreds of us representing a variety of ethnicities gathered in a hotel ballroom, and I sensed I was in for an interesting experience. As the rest of my table convened, I would discover that our diversity went beyond race to span age, background, profession, and religion.
The moderator delivered some opening remarks and asked everyone to spend a few minutes before lunch making introductions, revealing where we lived, what we did for work, and why we'd come to the event. As we went through the exercise, I spotted a large African-American gentleman seated across the table from me. During his turn, he introduced himself with a name that was clearly Muslim. Then, halfway through the program, he caught my eye across the table and, in the midst of bustling conversations and clinking silverware, mouthed the words, "I love your books!"
Reflexively, I swiveled my head around to see if perhaps a bona fide author had approached our table from behind. Finding no one there, I turned back, dumbfounded, pointed my finger toward my chest, and mouthed, "Me?"
Grinning, he said, "Yes! Let's talk after lunch."
Yeah—a dose of intrigue ran through my mind—let's do that.
The lunch progressed while I racked my brain, searching for a rational explanation for how this Muslim man had stumbled upon my distinctly Christian books.
Afterward, he waved me over and began fitting the puzzle pieces together. "I now understand that my comment was probably a little confusing because you assume I'm a Muslim," he said.
"I try never to assume anything in situations like these," I laughed, "but yeah, I'm a little curious."
As he related his story, my heart and mind awakened afresh to the power of personal evangelism. The insight God would give me after interacting with this man would shed new light for me on how the Holy Spirit moves in the lives of Christ-followers when they commit to staying in vibrant, dynamic fellowship with God. After the encounter, I spent weeks thinking about his comments and growing increasingly awestruck by my discoveries about what must occur in the lives of Christ-followers for them to lead lives of impact.
* * *
My tablemate had been a Muslim most of his life. He pointed out that being an African-American Muslim in a southern city, coupled with his current line of work, made for an often-uncomfortable existence.
"It hasn't been an easy go," he said. "As you might imagine, I've had a lot of struggles in social settings. And in my profession we have a lot of cocktail parties and other evening events. The natural pattern for me is to show up fashionably late, graciously accept a drink and something to eat, and throw my efforts into trying to make some business connections. Inevitably, I wind up standing alone, stuck against a wall or isolated in a corner. As soon as I think I've lasted as long as social etiquette requires, I discretely plot my exit and then leave. It's just something I've learned to live with.
"One night, I was at this type of party. As usual, I noticed several small circles of people forming to chat about this or that. I wasn't included, but again, I've become accustomed to the scenario.
"At one point, I saw a man on the other side of the room engrossed in discussion with a few people of his own kind, if you will. Suddenly he looked away from that particular group and noticed me standing alone by the far wall. This is exactly how it happened, Bill. He extricated himself from his conversational clique, walked clear across the room, stuck out his hand to me, and introduced himself.
"You know, it was so easy and so natural," the Muslim man continued. "In the moments that followed, we talked about our mutual profession, about our families and business and sports. Eventually our conversation found its way to issues of faith. 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.
"One week, I even took the opportunity to ask him about his beliefs. I'd been a Christian as a kid but had left God, left the faith, left it all because the church my family attended was so racially prejudiced. I wanted no part of that Christianity. When the tables turned and I was on the receiving end of his faith story, he patiently described why he'd given his whole life to this person named Jesus Christ. I couldn't believe how easily the conversations evolved—and how respectfully and sensitively he conveyed his love of God. Despite our deep-seated religious differences, we were becoming fast friends.
"It went on this way for some time as we'd meet to hash through nuances of our faith experiences. Sometimes he would ask for a couple of days to find answers to my questions; other times, he knew exactly where I was struggling and seemed to have the perfect words to untangle my confusion. There finally came a day—I remember being home alone when this happened—that I felt totally compelled to pray to God. I kneeled beside my bed, told God everything I was feeling, and in the end gave my life to Jesus Christ. And in the space of about a week, that single decision changed everything in my world! Every single thing."
* * *
My heart was so full as his testimony washed over me. What a gripping story! I discovered that he'd recently become part of the leadership in his local church, which is where he had come across some of my books. And his steps of faith had already impacted his family, several of whom had begun making strides toward Christ. He really had begun a completely new life—one immersed in the companionship, power, and saving grace of Jesus Christ.
As I stood in the emptying ballroom of a sterile hotel on a muggy afternoon in the Deep South, I held my own private worship ser vice, thanking God for redeeming this man, thanking God for changing his forever and for changing, very likely, the forevers of his immediate family.
All because of one man's walk across the room.
ENTERING THE ZONE OF THE UNKNOWN
Friends, I must hear a dozen salvation stories a week while traveling and ministering on behalf of Willow Creek. They come in various forms from all sorts of men, women, and children, and I celebrate each and every one of them! But on that day, as I sat on the airplane flying me to the next city, an interesting thought raced through my mind, warranting special reflection: What if redirecting a person's forever really is as simple as walking across a room?
There was something about that story that God wanted to sear into me, and it dealt with far more than the end result of a man coming to faith in Christ. It was as if God himself said, "If you'll invest some energy thinking about this story, I'll give you an image that will fire you up for a long, long time."
And as I mulled it over, what came into focus was a clear picture of what things must have been like for the Christ-follower during that cocktail party. He'd found himself in a social setting, engaged in what I have always deemed to be a "circle of conversational comfort." He was involved with a group in which it was easy for him to relate and effortless for him to engage. There was zero threat of anything risky or unsafe unfolding, which is why he had every reason to stay within the boundaries of that little Circle of Comfort, a place we've all enjoyed on one occasion or another.
Yet drawn by the fact that one man stood unintentionally and uncomfortably alone, he left that circle and walked stride by stride across the room. It was as though in a flash of insight, he heard a word of encouragement directly from the Holy Spirit: "Why don't you go over and extend a hand of friendship to that guy? Go see if he may need a little conversation or encouragement—who knows what might happen?"
As I chewed on the thought, I realized that not only did he see something and hear something as the Spirit guided him; he also felt something worthy of acting upon. The Spirit living inside him caused him to feel such compassion for the man standing alone that he excused himself from his Circle of Comfort, made the turn to the other side of the room, and started walking in the direction of a place I call the "Zone of the Unknown."
It's foreign territory, this zone. He had no clue what would happen when he stuck out his hand to the tall Muslim man. He knew nothing about where the conversation would go or if there would be any conversation at all. He was uncertain what this individual's reaction to him would be. But he was already committed. He had left his Circle of Comfort, he had walked by faith all the way across the room, and he had resolved in his heart, probably praying every step of the way, to enter into the Zone of the Unknown and see what God might do. (In my opinion, it's within this zone that God does his very best work.)
I couldn't think of another life-change story that had had as much impact on me. But why? I kept pestering God. What is it about this one?
The power of it, I concluded, was that it gave me a framework for something I'd been thinking about since my own salvation experience more than thirty years earlier: personal evangelism really can be as simple as a walk across a room—just a few ordinary Spirit-guided steps can have truly extraordinary outcomes.
CHRIST'S WALK ACROSS THE ROOM
There was an intriguing subplot to what God was revealing. It's as if he were saying to me, "Now you grasp with a fresh grip what my Son did."
Track with me along metaphorical lines, and I think you'll agree that the original (and consummate) work of personal evangelism began with a walk across a "room"—a very large room, in fact. At a certain point in history, Jesus Christ himself left the marvelous fellowship of the Trinity and the worship and adoration of the angels; he wrapped himself in human flesh, and he walked across the cosmos in order to stretch out a hand to people like you and me—many of whom were right in the middle of wrecking their lives.
Romans 5:8 summarizes Christ's redemptive strides: it was when we were helplessly in the throes of sin that Christ extracted himself from the ultimate Circle of Comfort—heaven itself—to step across time and space to rescue us. Jesus took a decided step toward the ungodly, embracing the worst this planet had to offer with acceptance and love and forgiveness. Miraculously, Christ's death for rebellious and sin-scarred people declared amnesty for everyone.
Think about it: giving your life for a noble person is one thing, but laying it all down for vagrants like us? It was an undeserved and unexpected move, to say the least. And the correlation is revolutionary to Christ-followers: we take walks across rooms because he took the ultimate walk across a room.
If you've ever wondered why God would go to such lengths to prove his love, you're in good company. To clear up any confusion his first-century audience might have had about why he came, Christ said, "I came to seek and to save what was lost."
That's it. People were Jesus' One Thing. And they still are. People who are sick. People who are lonely. People who are wandering, depressed, and hopeless. People who have gotten themselves tangled up in suffocating habits and destructive relationships.
I think of the story from John 8 when Christ appears in the temple courts, all set to teach the crowd that has gathered there. A group of Pharisees arrive on the scene, dragging with them a woman with a checkered moral past who's just been caught in the act of adultery. Imagine the horror of being thrust into such a public place, your worst sins on display for the masses to see. Adultery is a serious offense, the Pharisees argue, and in keeping with God's Law from the days of Moses, Jesus will surely agree to have this woman stoned to death because of her ghastly sin.
The Pharisees know that Jesus is in a bind, and you sense from the text that they enjoy, with a sort of morbid delight, forcing the self-proclaimed Messiah into the middle of a moral dilemma: If he lets the woman off the hook, he'll be denying the validity of the law. But if he allows her to be stoned, he might be accused of being unmerciful—or even of being an enemy of the Roman government, which was the only group allowed to carry out capital punishment.
Jesus' reaction is fascinating. "I assume you're going to stone her," he begins. "So if that's true, then let's at least bring some order to the process. Go ahead and stone her, but let's just form a line, and those of you with no sin, you get to be at the front of the line. You throw your rocks first."
Obviously, Christ's plan wrecks the Pharisees' whole day. And understandably, the law-loving Pharisees have no reply. One by one, their rocks thump to the sand and they walk away.
Jesus finds himself alone with this woman who has tasted forgiveness and mercy for the first time. Although he has every right to get in her face and criticize her poor life choices, the Bible says he chooses a different course. His travel-weary knees softly creak as he crouches down beside her, his eyes wet with tears. "I don't condemn you—really. That's not why I came. I came to redeem your failures, not to punish you for your mistakes. Now go—don't sin anymore. Start living a brand-new life today! Don't fall back into your same sinful habits. I will help you live a new life starting right here, right now."
Friends, is there a better picture of God's heart than this—the heart that invites someone to freedom instead of indictment? Without excusing the woman's sinful indiscretions, Jesus said, "Everyone has taken some wrong turns. Everyone is in need of forgiveness and redemption and healing. Everyone needs to know the love that only my Father can provide. That is why I've come." And with customary tenacity, he left the temple courts that day, unwavering in his belief that his restorative vision would one day be reality.
Still today, as you love people, serve people, point people toward faith in Christ, redirect wayward people, restore broken people, and develop people into the peak of their spiritual potential, you reaffirm your understanding of your primary mission in the world.
TUNING IN TO HEAVEN
Several years ago, I was copiloting a private aircraft that was headed back to Chicago from the West Coast. Piloting the plane was a gentleman I'd flown with several times before. On each occasion, once we reached cruising altitude and switched on the autopilot, we'd enjoy open conversations about any number of issues.
On that particular night, our dialogue was generally about the task at hand. We discussed flight patterns and weather conditions and altitude assessments, mostly prompted by air traffic controllers on the ground who were feeding updates to us. But with about ninety minutes left in the flight, I silently pleaded for God's intervention. Help me direct things to more substantive issues.
After the next intercom update, I ventured into the Zone of the Unknown and asked my pilot friend if he would ever make a flight like this without listening to air traffic control. Would he ever consider—even for a moment—silencing the radio and directing the flight alone?
He didn't waste any time answering. "Of course not!" he laughed. "It'd be crazy—I need all the information and assistance I can get my hands on ... especially in dicey weather."
I prayed for a boost of confidence and then said, "If you can believe it, some people fly through their entire life with the radio to heaven turned off. They receive zero input from God. They get no guidance, no wisdom, and no counsel. A lot of times, they fly blindly into bad weather and end up crashing and burning. You'd be surprised how many people do that."
Excerpted from Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels Copyright © 2006 by Bill Hybels. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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