Back in college, as I was trying to save people from the depths of hell, a group of buddies and I all used the same dry-cleaner. Jimmy was a Detroit native living in Birmingham. When you dropped off or picked up some shirts, you needed to make sure you had at least half an hour because Jimmy liked to talk about everything from Red Wings hockey or Tigers baseball to college life or your family. His dry cleaning skills were adequate enough, and I think we all liked the fact that this real adult seemed to take our impending adulthood seriously.
Soon enough, these conservative Christian friends and I began to discuss how we could approach Jimmy in regards to Christianity. Who would ask him if he were a Christian? If he went to church? If he knew Jesus? If he even cared?
I think we all stereotyped Jimmy based on the war stories he told of his younger days when he enjoyed heavy drinking and drug use. He liked to interlace his conversations with profanity, and we didn’t think you could be a Christian and cuss, so we were fairly certain that Jimmy hadn't been saved yet.
As my Christianity began to change, I began to enjoy conversations with Jimmy more and more. I looked forward to his stories and valued the time we spent when I picked up my clean pants. I began to care less and less about the state of Jimmy's soul or if he had recited any magic words for the sake of eternal fire insurance. No doubt some of my friends were dreaming of the day when they would go in for their starched shirts and walk out with Jimmy having just recited the Sinner's Prayer.
As graduation neared, one of the guys wanted to get Jimmy something for doing our laundry for four years. I thought something related to Detroit sports would be a nice token since that was clearly the love of his life. Instead, my pal gave Jimmy the typical, "I-don't-think-you're-a-Christian-so-please-read-this-and-learn-how-to-be-one" gift: a Bible.
I remember going into the dry cleaners the day after Jimmy got his leather-bound present. He showed it to me. I asked him if he liked it, or if he had ever read it. He said that he had read parts of it, but that he would just put it next to the others that guys in previous years had given him. I pictured Jimmy's nightstand full of thin gold-trimmed pages with the words of Christ in red. Jimmy then thanked me for never trying to shove Jesus down his throat.
Tonight at the story, we used the idea of supplies as it relates to both hiking the Appalachian Trail and living in the way of Jesus.
Along the Trail, packs can weigh in excess of thirty pounds. While one can expect that the average hiker's backpack has necessities like a sleeping bag, a tent, socks, food, a water purifier, and rain gear, oftentimes people take along things they don't need. There is a small supply store in Georgia that will do a pack audit for you, going through your stuff and picking out the things you don't need as you hike. On average, this place will save a hiker between 5 and 10 pounds. But, invariably, most hikers will keep the things they don't need, just because they think they want them.
It's the same for any of us on the journey of life. Our homes are full of things we don't need because we've bought the stuff we think we want. And very little of it is beneficial. We may be committed to justice in theory, but when it comes down to it, our bank statement says a lot more about our theology than our Bibles.
And the very things we think people need on their spiritual quest may be the last thing they want. Giving a Bible to Jimmy was like someone giving me a fully loaded 35-pound hiker's backpack. I simply have no use for it.
Inevitably, Christians will continue to give people things. Bibles will be handed out, tracks will be distributed, advice will be given, and opinions will be offered. But I think that if we are to truly live missionally, then we need to be giving things to people that they can actually use – things that are valuable in many ways. We must offer a listening ear, friendship, an open door, and a loving heart.
This week, why not do an audit of your home and see what you're caring around that you don't need? And, do the same with your Christianity. What assumptions are there that you should discard? Think deeply about this one as you walk the fine line between want and need.