Some years ago I was filling my car with gas when a woman stopped her car close enough to pitch a question from her window.
“Sir, can you tell me how to find First Baptist Church?”
Relieved she wasn’t asking for gas money, I responded with helpful abandon.
“The church is right around the corner,” I answered with a pointed finger to the right.
Surprised by my quick answer, she asked whether I attended the church.
“No,” I said, “I’m a chaplain, so I try to make a point of knowing where local congregations meet.”
Then she asked where I go to church. “Impact Community Church,” I said.
That’s when this stranger pitched her most loaded question. “Would you like me to teach your church how to be filled with the Holy Spirit?”
Not unlike the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” the question has no easy answer.
If I say yes, I invite this stranger into my life without knowing anything about her agenda. The only thing I know for sure is that she possesses a frighteningly fraternizing familiarity with the third person of the Christian Trinity.
If I say no, I quickly confirm the assumption that she’s likely made from my reticent stutter: that I’m not a very good Christian.
So, I took the hard way out. I smiled and said, “No, I don’t think we’d be interested.”
She reloaded and fired again, saying something like, “Aren’t you interested in the filling of the Holy Ghost and the fiery gift of tongues?”
Now, if you don’t know what “tongues” are, you should read the Book of Acts. But likely, you’ll still not know, and neither do I.
But judging by her ecclesiastical syntax, I believe she was making reference to the ecstatic and unintelligible language practiced by thousands of people in charismatic venues.
Knowing it wouldn’t likely go over well in my church, I kindly rephrased my answer. “No, I think my pastor is well-informed on the topic of being ‘filled,’ so my answer has to be ‘no thank you.’ ”
And that was that. She rolled up her electric window and drove off in the direction of First Baptist Church.
Over the years I’ve taken note of those who share their faith in much the same way this lady did. I’ve watched them as they’ve fired loaded questions at unsuspecting bystanders with drive-by verbiage.
The problem with people like my drive-by inquisitor is that they reduce spirituality to judgmental test questions such as: “Don’t you want the spirit in your life?” or “If you were to die tonight, did you know you’d go to hell?”
How do you answer questions like that?
You can’t because your love for God can’t be assessed through verbal jousting. God is best encountered though a spiritual relationship. And, like all relationships, you ask questions, you dialogue, you lose your temper, you laugh and you love.
As the woman drove off, I faced another question. What did I do with my keys? I patted my pockets. Nothing. I tried the car door. Locked. I pressed my nose to my car window to see my keys sitting on the passenger seat.
Fortunately, knowing my wife was shopping nearby, I called her for help.
A few minutes later she pulled into the same spot as my previous visitor and tossed a drive-by question of her own.
“Do you want to wait with your car while I go home for the extra keys?
I nodded in perfect agreement.
Now that was a truly helpful question, but I expected her to have a spare.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” You may leave recorded comments at 843-608-9715, or email them to email@example.com, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.