Last week was our first full week spending time with students at the University of Sheffield. Walking up to random people is probably one of the most terrifying things for me, but after the initial awkward tension (usually) a friendly conversation develops. It is this way with most of the students here in Sheffield. Once they get over how weird it is to talk to a random stranger, they open up quite quickly. Willing to talk about the weather, their lives, politics, and (of course) religion. I don’t think I expected people to talk so freely about religion. If you bring up Christianity or God at the University of Minnesota, people usually greet it with hostility because a lot of the time they have been personally hurt by the church, or grew up with it and don’t want anything to do with it. In Sheffield, church or religion is so far removed from their lives that they are able to talk about it as easily as one would politics. But it often doesn’t make a personal connection to their own lives. I think we are learning that a way to get personal is not by talking about religion, but by asking questions about what they believe, whether it be success, happiness, purpose or whatever. It’s finding out what what people are putting their hope in.
But, once you ask them a personal question of what they believe, they begin to get more closed off. This can be hard when the God we believe in is such a personal God. A God who sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15), has a plan for our future (Jer 29:11), loves us even when we don’t love him (1 John 4:10), and knows us deeply (John 10:14-15). This is the God of the Bible. He is not an intellectual concept that can be solved, He is a personal God who loves us in ways that we cannot understand. This is something that has been so hard in talking to students; they don’t want to believe something unless it can be understood fully. But, we as believers know that we will never understand God. And yes, we could have conversations for hours debating whether God really exists, why evil is in the world, or why there are other religions. All of which are good things to talk about, but those things are not getting at the heart. And the God we believe in gets at the heart of things and that is what the gospel does and is. It is God loving us so much that even while we were still sinners (and continue to be sinners) He sent His son to us to take on that sin so that we could be united into a relationship with Him. It is so much better to know God through that relationship, then to fully understand him.
God Still Works
One thing that can be hard with all of these conversations is feeling like we are not getting anywhere. It can feel discouraging to talk to someone for an hour and walk away feeling like nothing was “accomplished”. But, God is accomplishing something so much bigger than we could ever imagine. He is a very creative story teller and is drawing people to Himself in ways we could never understand. 2 Corinthians 3:6-7 says “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” It is important for us to remember that in our time here, we are not the ones saving people; God is. God is the one who changes hearts, but He is gracious in honoring our feeble attempts to make his name known. So even if we walk away from a conversation that went really well; able to ask lots of questions about what people believe and articulate the gospel in a personal way, God can work in their hearts. Or, if we have a bad conversation; we didn’t talk about God, or didn’t get their phone number to follow up, God can work in that too. We cannot see into God’s ultimate plan for people, or the story He is telling. All we can do is be faithful to what He has called us to do. Whether that is by loving them by listening, or loving them by telling them the best news in the world. God is still working in both the surface level conversations, and the deeply personal conversations.