Day 26: The Perfect Stranger

Today’s mission is . .

the perfect stranger.

Unless you live on a farm, you probably walk by strangers every day.

They push their cart past you at Wal-Mart and they refill their drinks alongside you at Taco Bell.  They change the oil in your car at Jiffy Lube and they take your trash bags every Friday.  They wave a wand over you at the airport and they sit across from you in the hospital waiting room.  Their children play with your children at the MacDonald’s Playplace, and their dogs bark at your dogs at the park.  They don’t have the correct change for the vending machine and are taking forever fumbling around in their pockets.  They’re yakking on their cellphone in the middle of your nice dinner date.  They ask for directions to a place you’ve never heard of.  Their kids interrupt your movie experience at the theater.  They sit two rows in front of you at church.  They live in your neighborhood.  They flip you off when you accidentally pull out in front of them.  They walk through the mall holding their pants up with one hand.  They have a second cousin who is your best friend; they load your furniture on their moving van; they try to ‘sell’ you credit cards over the phone; they run their shopping cart into your car and then leave without so much as a note; they find your lost wallet and turn it in; they butt in front of you in the customer service line; they’re walking into their parent teacher conference the minute you’re walking out; they turn their head as they walk by you on the street; they offer you some of their peanuts at the baseball game.

They are everywhere . .

. . and we miss them.

They are everywhere . .

. . but we don’t see them.  Not really.

They are not just strangers, though.  They are perfect strangers.

Perfect to pray for.  Perfect to smile at.  Perfect to strike up a conversation with.  Perfect, even, to lead to Christ.

As you walk by them, they might be scheming how they can convince their parents to get them that candy bar they want; studying for their driver’s ed test, planning for the dress they will wear to prom, how they will get to Planned Parenthood to have an abortion without anybody knowing, what they will do after graduation, how to pay off their college debt, how many to invite to their wedding, what wishlist to make for their baby shower, how to cope with the death of a parent, what the process is for a divorce, which Pinterest ideas are the best for their grandbaby’s nursery, where to move after retirement, or how to cope with the death of a spouse.

We don’t have any idea what they are going through, but that’s not the point.  The point is, God does, and they need to know that God does.

Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17, KJV)

We can pray for them the instant their life–for however brief a moment–twines in with ours.

Praying for strangers is a gift.  A secret gift.  Like a mystery package at the front door with no name or address, we give strangers an unknown gift when we pray for them.  Pray that they will believe in Christ.  Listen to what God would have you pray as you pass them by.  Look at them and ask a personal prayer.

Here’s an example.  Most of us had rough teenage years and did things we regret.  When you pass by a teenager in the mall, you might pray, God, please draw this teenager to Your salvation.  Help him not make lifelong regrets in this early part of life.  Give him the courage to stand up against the crowd.

As you walk by people, or as they serve you or you serve them, or as they help you or curse you, ask God to help you pray for them.  In a crowd, ask God to draw you to the one person to pray for and how to pray for them.

When God providentially gives you the opportunity (and that doesn’t mean you wait for a banner in the sky–a providential opportunity could be when you talk to the bank teller in the drive-thru line), strike up a conversation.  I have discovered that many people are very open to talking to strangers.

I have also discovered that some people are not open.  I can usually tell in an initial comment whether the conversation is going to lead somewhere or dead-end.  For example, if I say, “Can you believe this weather?  It’s the last part of March and there’s still snow on the ground!” and the stranger responds, “Mm-hm” without making eye contact, this probably isn’t going to lead somewhere.  But if the stranger responds, “Yeah–I’m usually wearing shorts right now.  I had to go to my son’s football game in a coat last night.” I have an idea that the conversation will go somewhere.  But either way, I always have to be listening to God’s direction, and refining my sensitivity to hear that direction by staying in His Word, obeying Him, fellowshipping with His community of believers, and asking for help through the Lord Jesus Christ.

A word to the wise: be ready to witness when you talk to perfect strangers.  God finds perfect opportunities for you to share your faith and all we have to do is honor Him.  It’s that simple.  You don’t have to push for doors that aren’t open.  But if a door is open to share–whether it’s a casual comment about your faith or a serious conversation on apologetics–be “on guard” as William Lane Craig puts it.

. . in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (from 1 Peter 3:15, NIV)

Suggestions for how to pray for and talk to perfect strangers:

  • Read God’s Word every morning and throughout the day.  You might listen to His Word in your car or iPod.  If you aren’t prepared, God will find less opportunities to use you.  We could accidentally discourage someone from receiving Christ if our lives aren’t on track with Him.  The more we read the Bible, the more we will be ready–and looking for–God to give us moments to witness.
  • Pray for strangers as they walk by you.  If you’re in a crowd, ask God to help you choose one stranger to pray for and how to pray for them.
  • Strike up a conversation with a simple, unintimidating question or comment.
  • Don’t avoid someone because they look too “anti-Christian” to you.  You don’t know where God’s got their heart.
  • Don’t get distracted by how someone is dressed, how foul their language is, what bad habits they have, or how immoral their way of thinking is.  Remember, you are witnessing.  There isn’t much point in witnessing to a Christian, now is there?  😉  And since everyone is equally lost, you need to be patient with them.  You are not trying to change who they are.  You are trying to change Who they know.  (And He will change who they are!)
  • If someone isn’t open to conversation, pray for them.  If you’re going to be around them for a while (like on a bus or plane trip or in a doctor’s office), ask God if you should try to start up a conversation again later.
  • Understand your faith.  No one has all the answers except God.  On the other hand, God doesn’t call us to ignorance.  We are to know the Truth because He is the Truth!  Ask God to help you become wise as you read the Scriptures.  Consider visiting websites, buying books, watching videos, and engaging with other Christians about apologetics issues.  Go to a Sunday school or small group at your church to delve deeper into God’s Word and learn from other believers’ wisdom.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5, NLT)