Trout, much like the cutthroat in the pic above (by usgs.gov), have taught me much about the finer aspects of the spiritual life. Honest. When fishing for the hatchery-raised idiots in California’s roadside streams, Power Bait works well with fish who don’t recognize genuine trout food. Scientific research has blended the scent trout love with a consistency that will stick on a hook, yet with no nutritive value.
But I most love hiking into the backcountry to find creeks that lake fishermen move right past. Long ago, I gave up on Power Bait here. These trout like real food: grasshoppers or worms, or flies that at least mimic real food. Ironically, I catch more here than the “easy” places.
One of my favorite communication theorists in the college courses I teach is James Engel, famous for the line, “The audience is sovereign.” Or, when we communicate, our audience teaches us how to communicate if we want to touch them. Trout also teach me that: what they most want, depending on their wildness, the time of year, their type, their size, the fishing pressure, and more.
Now, pardon the pun, but here’s the spiritual formation hook. Few experiences thrill me more than talking with an interested person about Jesus. Those encounters consistently heighten my connection with Jesus. They keep me thinking; they make me study and pray. But that person is sovereign, and determines the how the event unfolds. So, if it goes poorly, I lose spiritually as well. Here’s an example of missing it.
Last week, an associate pastor at our church talked about how to tell a secular, postmodern world about the gospel—that Jesus died for our sins. However, most in our secular, postmodern world don’t believe in absolute values enough to believe in sin. If sin doesn’t exist, then we don’t need anyone to pay the penalty for our sins. Sin talk worked well in a world that accepted the Judeo-Christian ethic. For most, those days are past.
So maybe, if we want to buff up our spiritual formation by sharing our joy, we should listen to our audience. Before we share the Four Spiritual Laws, maybe we should ask them what they believe or don’t believe about God. Maybe we should ask them what about God most intrigues them. Maybe we can tell our story about why God matters to us.
Do you get the concept, though? If you want to “catch” them, then you need to give them the type of information that means the most to them. Not to soft soap discipleship, not to compromise key convictions. Rather, we discover what motivates them, and then accurately tell about how God touches that area. Wild trout care little about Power Bait. Let’s give them the food they desire, OK? And as we do, our faith will grow a bit more. And that’s all good.
Kick Starting the Application
Do you have someone you’ve been praying for lately? If not, think of a family member, friend or neighbor that doesn’t yet know Jesus and begin praying for an opportunity. The next one that arises, begin by asking open-ended questions. Don’t lead them. Find out about any spiritual interests they might have. Listen carefully. Learn about them. What is their biggest spiritual question or need or concern? Then, graciously, tell your story. Tell Jesus’ story.