Recently I was on an airplane, sitting in an aisle seat in a row all to myself. I had been traveling and playing shows with my band the previous several days and we had had like three hours sleep total in as many days. Now we were finished with our work, exhausted, with only one long flight standing between us and home. Needless to say this open aisle next to me was like a chunk of gold. At this point in time it was my greatest treasure, as if God himself had lowered a bed straight form the heavens itself. I sat there, alone praising Jesus for this gift that he had bestowed upon me.
As I secured my belongings and plotted my nap, I watched as the flight attendants prepared to shut the cabin doors. I glanced to the side of me, visualizing how amazing it was going to feel when my head was nestled against the side of the aircraft, my body stretched across all three seats in the row. All I needed to do was get through the takeoff and I would be in dreamland. I closed my eyes, sitting, waiting…
All of a sudden I heard a noise. My eyes flew open like window shades. Just as the flight attendant was about to shut the door, a man shoved himself through the opening. Panting, he spoke in a loud voice, thanking the somewhat annoyed attendants for holding the door. Good for him, I thought. Iâ€™ve been there many times. I closed my eyes again, not being able to hide the smile on my face, still taking in the beauty of my empty row.
The next thing I knew my eyes were flying open for a second time.
And the same guy was standing right next to me with a huge grin on his face.
â€œCan I sit in the window seat?â€ He asked me.
Inside me, my stomach fell like an anvil in a Wiley Coyote/Roadrunner cartoon.
â€œSure,â€ I replied, getting up, smiling, trying desperately to hide how I truly felt.
I felt like I had just been stabbed in my spine with a large Ginsu knife, and I was ready to go on the warpath. I looked to the rear of the aircraft and there plenty of other places for the guy to sit. Yet, he chose to spoil, no, to absolutely annihilate my chances at lying down and sleeping.
Yet, at that moment I started feeling heavy inside. I started feeling the weight of conviction gnawing at my gut. I heard Godâ€™s voice in my head, spurning me on toward being friendly, cordial, and accommodating to this thief of a man, this criminal. I asked him, silently, What are you doing, Lord? I was just in the middle of thanking you for what seemed like a gift…
He began speaking to me almost immediately. He told me his name, and asked mine. I shook his hand, begrudgingly, again hiding the fact that I was fighting an epic battle behind my eyes between my conscience and my emotions. We began exchanging small talk, he, asking questions, me, responding. I actually would have cooled down faster if he had just sat down in silence and left me alone. After all, this happens on every flight in the world, every day. It was just that…I had gotten my hopes up so high.
I tried to cling to the hope that when we took off I could still sleep sitting up in my aisle seat. I mean, hey, it was better than a middle seat, right? Yet, the guy kept talking to me. I began to throw subtle hints that I didnâ€™t want to make this a long conversation, like giving short answers, or grabbing a magazine from the seatback in front of me. Every time I did so, silence would ensue for like seven seconds, at which point he would begin talking again. This happened over and over again. But as this cycle continued, the Holy Spirit began to calm me, and I remembered who I was. I remembered why I was put here on Earth. What if this was a divine appointment? What if this was an opportunity to share, to witness, to win a soul?
As the flight took off I resigned myself to the conversation and engaged the guy. His name was Larry. We discussed football, politics, music. He was actually a nice guy, around my age, with many of the same interests. We spoke for a good majority of the flight, and it wasnâ€™t bad at all. I was pretty tired the whole time, but as we were flying home, I did have the hope of rest in my own bed a just a couple of hours. I successfully beat the selfishness out of myself and did my best to show him kindness and love. We laughed frequently. I was building the backdrop, the setup, for sharing something more meaningful with him, though. My plan was to bring up the idea of church and ask him what he believed. towards the end of the flight. Perhaps God would open the door for me to lead this guy to salvation. I prayed that heaven would help me to choose my words carefully.
I began to feel warm and fuzzy as the plane began to descend, satisfied that I had persevered in patience. I thought to myself, I almost missed this opportunity. Had I consented to my shallowness, I would have forfeited this appointment. I felt like an insightful, obedient, Son. Like my dad was proud of me for understanding a lesson he was trying to teach me. I spent the last few minutes of the flight planning how I might best work God into the conversation. But the right moment had yet to present itself. In fact, it never would.
We touched down and gathered my things. Larry did the same, and we exchanged some more small talk as we began to exit the plane. I prayed again, but it just didnâ€™t seem like it was in the cards for me to bring up my faith. I didnâ€™t want to force it because I didnâ€™t want the subject to come off as trite. Perhaps I could get the guyâ€™s e-mail address and we could start a new conversation later on down the line. As I was about to ask him for his information, he said it:
â€œAndrew do you go to church?â€
The question was completely forced, blunt, and awkward. Needless to say I was a taken aback. The irony of the moment was just a little too weird. So I responded, trying to hide my reaction:
â€œI do…Why do you ask?â€ I replied, curious.
He then went through a very rehearsed invitation to attend a meeting with a group that he was a part of. It was an invite to attend a Christian cult gathering with an organization known for heretical teaching, manipulative tactics, harassment, and coercion. I politely declined his invitation and went on my way, thanking him for the talk.
The whole thing had been a setup.
I felt like I had just been tricked into attending an Amway seminar.
It turned out he had targeted me when he entered the plane and our entire conversation was pre-planned. This group actually trained one another to spot potential â€œvictimsâ€ and walk them through a very specific set of questions and conversational strategies to secure the â€œvictimâ€™sâ€ attendance to said meeting. At that meeting they would obtain my phone number, address, and other personal information, at which point they would begin a series of blackmail tactics to secure my commitment to the group. I knew all this because I had had several encounters with these people over the years (in similar fashion to Larry, always declining the invitation of course) and had studied this particular group quite extensively in the past.
At first, I felt ripped off yet again. Again! Twice in one day, by the same dude! If he had just been up front with me I could have taken a nap!! UGH!!! I stopped walking and dropped my head.
Then, I started laughing because of the irony of the situation.
One of the biggest complaints I hear consistently from people wo do not profess faith in God is that “Christians always seem to have a hidden agenda.” In other words, the world views many of us as frauds, as shallow, as inauthentic. This is why I cannot overemphasize the importance of what I like to call â€œthe agenda-less faith.â€ I believe that we are not called, as Christians, to sermonize or attempt to convert every single person we meet. We aren’t commanded to make a shallow pitch, a clever presentation, or a witty speech. Nor are we meant to be proud bearers of “bumper-sticker christianity,” complete with tactless t-shirts, tracts, and tokens which advertise spiritual slogans. God doesn’t want telemarketers. Why?
Because no one likes salesmen.
I believe we are called to love, through all things. Jesus said this was the greatest commandment. True, lasting life change through salvation was meant to be modeled against the backdrop of the genuine. And genuine relationship can only take place when the motive behind our actions is love. Love as an end in and of itself. What will separate us from the false and the shallow? An authenticity that says we have nothing hidden behind our eyes, nothing to sell, nothing to coerce people into.
Just a real faith that translates into everything we do.
We donâ€™t need to do anything beyond naturally allowing Him to be displayed in all we do. Then people will gravitate toward what we have hidden inside of us, and we will not need to plot or manipulate.
When we are authentic in our love our fruit will be lasting, and those who are affected by us will be affected profoundly. That is faith without an agenda.