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Building on the solid foundation laid in Becoming a Contagious Christian, Just Walk Across the Room signals the next era in personal evangelism. Pastor Bill Hybels's firm conviction is that the highest value in personal evangelism is being attuned to and cooperative with the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This means playing only the role you are intended to play—walking when the Spirit says to walk, talking when the Spirit says to talk, and falling silent when the Spirit ...
Building on the solid foundation laid in Becoming a Contagious Christian, Just Walk Across the Room signals the next era in personal evangelism. Pastor Bill Hybels's firm conviction is that the highest value in personal evangelism is being attuned to and cooperative with the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This means playing only the role you are intended to play—walking when the Spirit says to walk, talking when the Spirit says to talk, and falling silent when the Spirit suggests that you've already said enough.
More than two thousand years ago, Jesus himself introduced the perfect model for evangelism. He left the marvelous adoration of the angels and the perfection of heaven, and he chose to "walk" clear across the cosmos. He had no memorized script, no forced formulas. Instead, he was armed only with an offer of redemption to people just like you and me, many of whom were neck-deep in pain of their own making.
Today, the goal for every Christian is to reflect Christ's love and follow his example by taking simple walks across rooms—leaving our circles of comfort and extending hands of care, compassion, and inclusiveness to people living far from God. Hybels encourages Christ-followers to "live in 3-D"—developing friendships, discovering stories, and discerning appropriate next steps—as a means of learning to understand the Spirit's promptings.
With fresh perspectives from his own reflections and experiences collected during his most recent decade of ministry. Hybels shows with undeniable clarity the power of this approach to evangelism. The stakes are high. The implications are eternal. And you may be only a conversation away from having unparalleled impact on someone's life—if you will just walk across the 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 tablefrom 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 service, 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."
Excerpted from Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels Copyright © 2006 by Bill Hybels. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Two summers ago I experienced a serendipitous collision of circumstances while on a boating trip off the Wisconsin coast of Lake Michigan. I was alone, my heart was in a posture of worship, and I had some time on my hands. I'd pulled into a tiny harbor, tied up the boat, and was tidying up the place before relaxing for the evening. After studying my boating charts to determine where I would sail the next day, I realized I was only ten miles from the campground where I'd invited Christ to come into my life as a teenager.
I had visited that same harbor on several occasions throughout the years, but for some divine reason on that particular day, I was prompted to go stand on the hillside where I'd first met Christ. The more I thought about it, the more the idea gained steam; so I decided to hunt down transportation to get there. After finding a phone booth, I placed a call to the only cab company in town. Surely they would make the twenty-mile round-trip for me.
The dispatcher on the other end of the phone wasn't about to budge.
'Sir, it's too long of a drive out there,' she regretted to tell me. 'We just don't do that.' I haggled with her and even threw more money into the equation, but as the minutes ticked by it became obvious to me that I
wasn't getting any closer to my meaningful walk down memory lane.
'Do you know anyone who would be willing to make the trip?' I
Then, with newfound optimism, she told me she did. She knew a guy who was down on his luck and would probably do anything for money.
(Should have been my first clue.) If I were willing to take a chance with him, she'd pass along his number.
I've never been opposed to reasonable risk, so twenty-five minutes later, a thoroughly trashed Ford Explorer pulled into the marina parking lot. Its owner looked equally ragged --- not surprising, given my phone call had jolted him from a dead sleep at four o'clock in the afternoon. If I were a betting man, I'd have put money on him having more tattoo-covered flesh than not, but nothing was going to eclipse the allure of the mission for me.
I climbed in, and as we headed out, I noticed that all the things that were supposed to stay still on a car in motion were moving, rattling, shaking,
and threatening to fall off at any moment. Ironically, the things that were supposed to move wouldn't --- such as the passenger window. But the guy was nice enough, and frankly I was just glad to finally be en route.
The fuel gauge was on empty, and when I suggested we stop to let me buy him some gas, the man was incredulous. 'Really?' he asked. 'No . . .
I couldn't do that.'
'Come on, I insist,' I told him. 'You're really helping me out here, and
I'd like to return the favor.' We eased into the station, and he hopped out to start the pump.
'Two bucks. That's what I'm putting in,' he said, as if asking my permission.
'Oh, go ahead and go crazy,' I hollered toward him. 'Make it ten!'
When he joked that in the six months he had owned the vehicle, it had never had a full tank, we agreed to fill the thing up.
Back on the road, he had this huge grin on his face. 'Handles different with a full tank!'
'Just keep her on the road, my friend,' I laughed.
A few minutes later, we arrived at the camp entrance, and he asked what he was supposed to do while I handled my business. I could tell he was a little unsure about why I had hired a stranger to drive me all the way out to a deserted campground.
'I need to run up ahead for a few minutes to take care of something,' I
explained. 'Why don't you wait here in the car --- I'll only be fifteen minutes or so, and then we'll head back.' That must have seemed reasonable enough, because he gave me a quick nod as I opened the door to get out.
As soon as my feet hit the ground, I jogged away from the truck, quickly covering the three hundred yards or so to reach the exact place where I'd
encountered grace for the first time. And as I slowed down to approach that little patch of real estate on the side of that hill, the sun beating down on my face, it all came rushing back to me. This was the spot!
By age seventeen I had already packed a lot of living into life. Even then I
knew enough to recognize that the accumulation of more toys, the desperate search for approval, and the ceaseless striving for success just weren't cutting it. My spiritual experience that night at camp wasn't prompted by someone delivering a stirring message or by someone asking me three deep questions. I met Christ because while walking from a mess-hall gathering back to my cabin one night, I was suddenly penetrated by a single verse of
Scripture that I had memorized as a kid: 'Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to God's mercy he saved us.'
He saved us. He . . . saved . . . us.
Just after nine o'clock that night, the words I'd read so many times before hit me in a fresh way. Could it really be true that God cared enough about me that he would make provision to save me? Even me?
For the first time in my young life, I faced my biggest doubt head-on:
There is no way I could matter so much to God that he would make salvation available to me as a gift --- free of charge. To that point, everything about my existence could be summed up in two words: 'Earn it.' My father had built into me a monstrous work ethic and had reinforced my Earn-It mantra daily. 'You earn every penny you make,' he would tell me. 'You earn your way into the starting lineup on the basketball team. You earn good grades.