You can't give your faith to anyone else. Otherwise, they have faith in your faith, not faith in your God, and that's not a position I'd like to be in. How about you? You can't even convince someone to have your faith if you have what seem like the same experiences. This struck me not long ago as I was reading in the book of Acts.
Most of us know the story of Paul, then Saul, who was blinded by God in a powerful experience along Persecution Road. He was headed toward Damascus to carry about his mission of finding, imprisoning, executing Christians when suddenly, a bright light from heaven came and blinded him as the voice of God spoke. (You can read that story in Acts 9.) The part of the story that's had me thinking recently, however, is not until Acts 22 when Paul recounts part of this experience.
But as I was on my way and approaching the city of Damascus about noon, a bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice asking me, 'Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?' ...The men who were with me saw the light but didn't understand what the person who was speaking to me said. ...I was blind because the light had been so bright. So the men who were with me led me into the city of Damascus. (22:6, 9, 11)
There's a lot here, and it's easy to miss. (I missed it for many years.) Here we have a bunch of guys who, when you read this passage, had much the same experience of God along that road. The men who were with me saw the light. They saw the flash from heaven. They saw the brightness, the blinding light. They even heard the voice of the One that was speaking to Paul, although they didn't hear it intelligibly. (We'll get to that in a minute.) So there's a whole group of men who experience precisely the same thing - a bright, blinding light from Heaven, a voice. And they are all, we can assume, engaged in the same mission at the time. They're traveling together along Damascus Road, so this is Saul's posse. These are the men who persecute alongside him. They're all going to hunt down those horrible, evil, subversive Christians and show them what-for. They all see a light.
Only one of them is blinded.
I don't know how many times I've read this story and missed that. All these men, Paul says, saw the same light; it only blinded one of them. We know that because he says as much - I was blind...so the men who were with me (who saw the light, see two verses ago) led me into the city. I was blind, Paul says, although the other men who saw the same light were not.
These guys had the same experience as Paul, but it wasn't meaningful in the same way for them. This is the trap we fall into when we think if we could just give everyone a taste of God as we savor Him, they would clearly see why faith is the answer. They would come to believe just as we did, and perhaps come to believe just as we do. We try so hard to share our faith thinking everyone needs this experience, that this is the way to convince a man, but this story from Paul's life shows us just how wrong we are. These men had Paul's experience of God. They saw the same light, heard the same voice. None of them, so far as we know, became the greatest missionary to the Gentiles to ever walk this planet. None of them, so far as we know, became such a fervent believer in God. Just Paul.
Because it was his experience. It was his moment. Others were there. They experienced it, too. They knew what was going on. But it wasn't meaningful for them because it wasn't meant for them. It wasn't theirs. They heard God, but they didn't understand Him. They heard Him speak, but He wasn't speaking to them, so it was just gibberish. It was just noise. That's how people feel when we try to use God's words for us as God's words for them. It's gibberish! It's just noise.
We try to share our faith, and that's never going to work. That's never going to be how we bring people to Christ. We could give another man every bit of our experience, but if it's not meant for him, it's not meaningful to him. If that's not what God is doing in his life, it doesn't matter. He can see the same light. He can hear the same voice. But it's gibberish. It's noise.
Which is why, I think, we have such a great example in Paul here, too. In all his preaching, Paul never tries to bring people into that moment with him. He uses it only to show his own transformation, but never expects it to transform someone else. The transformational power, he knows, is in Christ manifest now. It's in God present now. It's not about taking someone back to a place where God was in the moment; it's about bringing God into this moment and introducing a couple of friends. We can't share our faith through our moments; they were our moments. They're never going to mean so much to anyone else. We have to share our Father through our faith and let Him make new moments with those who would come.
And we hang around, a veritable posse, because chances are that when someone sees the light that's meant for them, they're going to need someone to lead them for awhile. They're going to need someone to show them the way closer, to guide them where God's calling them, to bring them into Damascus. This is the task of the faithful.