1. A person with whom no formal acquaintance has been made and who is probably creepy, weird or will talk my ear off if I start a conversation with them.
2. An outsider or newcomer to a place or city who doesn’t belong because they “ain’t from ’round here.”
I hate strangers. They are everywhere; at the grocery store, at the restaurant, at the airport, on the basketball court, at the DMV, everywhere. It’s an epidemic and it has to stop.
Do I actually hate a person whom I do not know? Of course not. I am fully aware of the sensitivity in our culture regarding the word hate. It is a heavy word with heavy implications. I do not emotionally or physically hate any person or group of people.
But, do I hate the idea of a stranger? Well, yeah. Perhaps this is a more accurate statement. Here are a couple reasons why.
I hate the idea of a stranger because I love Christ.
The definitions above were humorous, but one serious definition of a stranger is someone who is unaccustomed to something or is not a part of something like a community or group. So, a stranger to God is someone who does not follow Christ. Or, more specifically, a stranger to God is someone who chooses sin and rejects Christ.
Scripture commands an active faith. Biblical authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit in their writings, are clear in how we should be active in sharing our faith. We are not to sit idle and watch. We are to participate. For each believer out there, there are likely many people behind them that prayed for their salvation, shared their faith with them or handed them a Bible with encouragement to read God’s Word. People have certainly made decisions to accept Christ after reading the Bible on their own (by the prompting of the Holy Spirit) or by flipping through a tract given to them, but far more people have become Christ followers because of a personal relationship with a believer.
In order to live life as a Christ-follower and Bible-believer, we must have an understanding of hell. No, this is not a blog post to scare people in to accepting Christ. This is a statement to remind us that hell is a real place. Scripture describes hell as a “second death” (Rev. 21:8), “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46) and place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12 among other places). Since we believe hell is real, we have to hate that people will reject Christ and be in hell eternally. We have to physically hate this notion with a stomach-souring, emotionally-devastating, bodily-weakening response that first drops us to our knees in prayer and second results in action.
I hate the idea of a stranger because I love my brothers.
I want to be a disciple-making disciple. In other words, I want to be the kind of Christian who invests his time and energy in helping other people grow closer to Christ. I cannot accomplish this if I am surrounded by strangers. I have to reject my own selfishness and risk being uncomfortable by talking to people I do not know.
I travel a lot. I’m on planes a lot. When I get on a plane my first instinct is to sit quietly, plug in my headphones and zone out for the duration of the flight. It is against my nature to want to sit and talk to a stranger for two, four or ten hours on a flight. If I am going to hate the idea of a stranger going to hell, I have to hate the idea that I could be missing an opportunity to tell someone about Jesus and how he changed my life. I cannot simply launch into a theological presentation of God’s plan of salvation from election to glorification. I cannot simply use my Jedi mind tricks to will them to want to talk to me about Jesus. I have to earn the privilege of entering that communication. That privilege only comes by trust established through relationships.
I cannot enter a relationship with a stranger by sitting in a bubble playing games on my iPad on a plane, checking Facebook on my phone in the checkout line or staring at the ground in a waiting room. I have to speak to strangers and engage them in conversation. I have to be willing to have other people overhear our discussion. I have to be willing to be turned down. I have to be willing to have the stranger reject me. I have to be willing for them to actually want to talk to me! And, most importantly, I have to be willing to openly share my faith with the stranger when the time arises.
Hating the idea of a stranger and developing the desire within to break down walls, make friends and engage with people we do not know does not happen over night. I am an extrovert. I am outgoing, opinionated and energetic. Despite my openness to new people and situations, I still struggle to initiate conversation with strangers. I have learned that it is a developed habit and spiritual discipline. Here are some ways to get started.
- Pray about it.
- First, ask God to provide opportunities for you to interact with a stranger. (*Disclaimer: he will provide these for you…often more quickly than you might be ready for.) I challenged a small group of high schoolers to do this one Sunday morning. The next day I got a text message from one of the students who was presented with an opportunity to buy groceries for someone who ran out of money at the store. He was amazed at how quickly his prayer was answered.
- Second, ask God to equip you with the sensitivity to recognize the opportunity. My friend could have easily shrugged off the event taking place in front of him at the cashier. He could have gotten antsy and impatient thinking, “Who comes to the store for food and runs out of money,” or “I’ve got somewhere to be! Don’t you know who I am!” But, instead he was sensitive to the reason for the event and with knots in his stomach, he stepped in, engaged and helped.
- Prepare for it. Now that you know an opportunity is lurking in the near future, what are you going to say when it happens? There are some questions you can ask yourself when searching for a way to start a conversation.
- Do you and the person have anything in common? Is he wearing a shirt of your favorite sports team? Are you reading the same book?
- Is there anything humorous going on? I’m the kind of person who can have fun anywhere and find humor in most situations. Usually, humor is a great icebreaker.
- What are the basics to building any relationship? Ask them what they do for work, if they have kids or a spouse, ask them what they are listening to, where they are going or simply start by volunteering your name and asking for theirs.
- Practice it. Just like going to the gym for the first time in a long time, starting a conversation with a stranger is going to hurt a little at first. Your palms will be sweaty. Your heart will race. You’ll stumble over your words. In fact, it would be pretty rare if you don’t do things. After each conversation, assess what you did well and what you could improve on. Did you have an opportunity to start talking about Jesus or present the Gospel message to them?
Funny things happen when you make yourself available to talk to strangers. Frequently, they want to talk back. Often, you make an acquaintance. Occasionally, you make a friend. And, sometimes you even make a disciple.