He traveled light, the young man making his way from Tennessee to a town here in South Carolina where someone was keeping his “things.” A T-shirt, shorts, and pair of sandals suggested a life devoid of roots.
“I’ve been in and out of jail since I was fifteen,” he said. I twisted to get a better view of him in the backseat, and tried not to look too obvious as I scanned his body for any gun shaped bulges. “I want to get my life together, start over.”
My husband asked a few questions about family, friends, or ties that connected him to this place and then cut to the chase: “Do you know the Lord?”
He assured us he did, but his affirmation was riddled with fragmented sentences that started and ended mid-thought as another piece of an idea floated by. Talk of “it’s a relationship” was mixed with “ya gotta do good,” and “it’s crazy.” A mind short-circuited by drugs wrestled with things he’d heard about being a Christian.
My husband carefully explained God’s plan of salvation and Jesus’ power to give him the new life he sought. We rode in silence for a few minutes and then the hitchhiker asked, “How do you know? Like just because someone says something it’s true? “
The wariness in his question caught me. It bespoke a young life lived in the company of lies—lies he’d spoken, lies others said to him. He hardly dare believe this was truth, that Jesus was who he said he was, that there really was hope for a new life.
“How do you know?”
“Ask him,” Bob said.
It just didn’t seem the time for expounding proofs of Jesus’ deity. The simplest of responses struck at the heart of the matter—he had a mind full of ideas about how Christianity is relationship and yet didn’t have one.
“Ask him to show you.”
The young hitchhiker’s question made me think about the pat answers we give, the Christianese we speak. I often hear, “Christianity is about relationship, not religion,” and I wonder what a close relationship with Jesus means to people in a busy post-Christian culture. In a Southern culture where Christianity still has a face on every street corner. In a Northern culture where it doesn’t. What does having a relationship with Jesus look like to me?
Perhaps it is seeing what it looks like without Jesus that my answer is best expressed. The one thought that could pitch me over the abyss is the one the psalmist expresses in Psalm 27:13: “I would have despaired unless I believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Life without the hope I have in the presence of the Living God?
Do I look forward to seeing the Lord in heaven? Certainly. But I also look to seeing him now, daily, in this land of the living. I expect my prayer to be heard by a living God. I expect to hear his voice guiding me as I read his word, as l lift my prayer. I look for signs of his interventions and intersections with people and places. And I trust that when I step out on the farthest point of a limb, He is there.
My relationship with Jesus not only means I spend time at his feet with my concerns and requests, and worship, but that I look for Him , seek to approach my every day with the realization Hagar came to: He is the Living One Who Sees Me
And to hear Him call me as He did Mary at the empty tomb:“Marcia.”
I 'm careful about words and dreams and visions and things unseen, but relationship to me is a a street that runs both ways,and my God travels the highway from heaven to earth. What about you? I’d love to hear about what having a relationship with Jesus looks like to you.