Let me tell you about two twentysomethings I encountered around Christmas. They are a study in contrasts.
The first is the nephew of a friend of mine. He was in town briefly before the holidays and my friend asked if I would talk with him, because he was interested in helping out Katrina victims. I met with him and his traveling companion. Both young men were in their early twenties, and both were excited.
They were excited because they had both started following Jesus just a few months earlier, and were on a mission. They had scraped together all the money they had and had been driving across the country, raising money to donate to Katrina victims. Their car was literally crammed with donations they had gathered along the way. They showed me their itinerary, detailing their plan to drive from Pennsylvania to California and all the stops along the way.
I talked with them about what I was doing down there and how we could work together. I tried to give them some encouragement to continue to do this good work. We prayed together, and they headed out west. Colorado, Arizona, San Diego, Seattle. More on their story later.
The second twentysomething I encountered was attending college. We were talking about what he was going to do over the Christmas holidays. I mentioned I was going on a mission trip to Mexico, and he became interested. He considered it for a few days, and referred to it as something he’d like to do, something Jesus probably wanted him to do. However, he said that circumstances were getting in the way.
Circumstances? I asked. Yes, he replied. This mission trip cost a certain amount of money. He had the money — in fact, he had more than enough for the trip in his discretionary fund — but hesitated. He told me it was a concern about the money. The trip would also finish close to the start of the next semester. But I sensed something more.
Perhaps it was just a personality thing. Perhaps he’s the kind of guy who’s cautious, who doesn’t throw himself into things. But he hesitated. Even though Jesus, in his words, “probably” wanted him to go, and even though he himself would like to go, he looked around at his circumstances and chose to stay. Now remember, his circumstances were this: Christmas break at college, no job during that time period, enough discretionary money to pay for this mission trip and still have cash left over — how many college kids does this describe? Certainly not me when I was in college!
Contrast him with the first young man I mentioned: no career, less than $1000 in savings, no prospects. Both men had Jesus in their heart; both will go to heaven. But only one of them was willing to lay it all on the line. Only one was willing to give up earthly possessions, to avoid looking at circumstances to dictate his decisions.
Now I’m not saying that the second man was wrong to stay home, or even that the first man was right to go! I am just learning from both, and asking myself this question: am I willing? Am I willing to do something that looks insignificant and perhaps stupid, just because it’s the right thing to do? Or do I look first at my circumstances, check my bank balance, and decide it’s much better to stay at home?
Which decision will Jesus bless? Which will he agree to? I have to say that in ten years (or even 5, or perhaps 1), the first young man will look back and remember how Jesus met him as he went out. The second young man will be a thousand dollars richer than the first, but will have no such testimony, no history of how he encountered God. I daresay that in reality, he is the poor man.
Oh, about the first man. They ended up getting so much stuff given to them that U-Haul donated the use of a trailer. A radio station heard about them and they were interviewed on the air. Their friends followed their adventures as they posted updates on myspace. He called me a couple of times, just for advice and encouragement. Through the ups and down, through good times and bad, he was walking on water.
Erwin McManus says, “If Jesus has come to dwell within you, you are no longer suited to a normal life.” God, save me from the normal life.