Someone out there may be smart enough to run a statistical analysis to determine how many possible directions any given conversation can go. Perhaps the answer is infinity.
At breakfast with four other people, I observed with dispassionate interest some of the dynamics of human social intercourse. By personal preference, my ideal conversation would be one in which a single question is considered with logical precision and follow-through, and no extraneous elements are allowed to derail the point. But this never happens. And that’s because there is always much more going on in any conversation than a desire for truth. There is ego, fear of man, desire for one’s own glory, lust for human approval, and desperation to be seen as an intelligent and knowledgeable person (which are all the same thing), and many a potentially salvation-imparting discussion has foundered on these rocks.
What was frustrating was that one of the persons at the table, a much younger man, evidently did not know God. And yet another person was so bent that he would hear one word of the discussion that reminded him of some arcane fact he knew and would impulsively interject his knowledge there, which kept hurling us off into new directions and guaranteeing that nothing was concluded about anything. This state of affairs may often pass for a lively conversation, but it makes me nuts.
A third person at the breakfast table had much godly insight, and was not a man driven by a desire to be thought well of, but was driven by the same love and the hunger for the kingdom of God that drove Jesus’ own conversation with a woman at the well—which the recorded exchange may at first seem random but was actually artfully led by the Spirit, as Jesus no doubt prayed under his breath while speaking and listening hard. But that insightful breakfast companion happened to be a person so thoughtful in forming his thoughts, and by constitution so slow to speak, that I feared he would surely be steamrolled by the spirit of the other who kept throwing us off the scent.
So I prayed. I prayed silently for Jesus to take over the trajectory of the conversation, and I prayed that this would be a day of salvation for the person in the group who did not know God and who no doubt was expecting this to be a discussion like hundreds of others he had had in his life in which the parties finally dispersed with nothing achieved but the stroking of egos.
And lo and behold, after the first hour-and-a-half in which things went the devil’s way and the insightful man of peaceful and nonassertive demeanor had not been able to get a word in edgewise, the Spirit somehow enabled what was humanly unlikely, and turned the rudder of this nearly shipwrecked gathering in such a way that by hour three, there were only two at the table: the young man in need of salvation, and the quiet kingdom-minded man. (I was doing dishes at this point.)
And in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I have known that young man all his life and have never once engaged him in a conversation about eternal things. But the quiet kingdom-minded man was meeting him for the first time. And I could see that his hardened resistance and stock objections to the faith were melting away, and that something like hope and joy were animating his face.