If you blog on WordPress, sooner or later you’ll notice that – if people haven’t elected to hide them – you can sometimes see what search terms led people to your blog.
Sometimes this is pretty predictable. A lot of people find my blog while looking for things like “Christian introverts” or “introvert small group” or “childfree Christian” – or once, memorably, “childfree introvert Christian.” But some other sets of search terms, far less predictable, catch my eye and make me pause:
“prodigal son so unfair”
“tired of hiding from God”
“God mercy forever”
And this isn’t unusual. Increasingly, people turn to the internet and to Google for help on everything from how to bake a pie to how to build a house, so why not ask about faith, too? Typing in “Does God…” on Google and waiting for Google to fill in the blanks based on the most popular sentences with those words nets the following:
does God exist
does God love me
does God change his mind
does God hate me
And typing in “Can God…” produces these:
can God change the past
can God help me
can God hear me
While I’m sure the nature of the questions asked about God change day to day (in accordance with Google’s algorithms), what’s telling to me is that people are asking the Internet questions about God at all. And it’s telling because…well, because I know why I ask the Internet questions: I ask because I perceive that my questions are either too trivial or too embarrassing to ask a real live person, or because I need an answer that the people I know cannot provide.
My internet search history is peppered with the inane (how many tbsps in one cup) to the random (what is the precise dictionary definition of fen?) to the instrumental (how to grow an herb garden). And it makes sense that I wouldn’t ask people around me these things; if I asked my mother how many tablespoons made a cup as many times as I needed to know it and forgot it, we’d both go crazy. I’m not sure my husband can produce the precise definition of “fen” with the speed and accuracy of an online dictionary. Finally, while my dad knows all about gardening, when I needed to know about herbs he was at work and I didn’t want to wait.
But it breaks my heart that there are people who, beset with questions about God, turn to the Internet. Because that tells me one of two things: there’s either no one around for them to ask, or they don’t feel comfortable asking the people around them. That truth leaves me uncomfortable, because frankly, the Internet is a crap shoot as far as information goes: some good, some bad, some accurate, some inaccurate, and some entirely bizarre.
All of this just convicts me more that one of the biggest services and ministries believers can be provide is to be available and accessible to our communities – really, to anyone around us at any time. We should strive to be the Local Friendly Christian: the person who’s always willing and able to help answer questions or give information or simply ponder aloud, without demanding that people surmount the barriers of our church walls and two small groups just to gain an audience with us. Here are four ways to do this:
- Be known as someone who listens. Maybe, if you’re like me, you attract people who feel compelled – frequently! – to tell you their whole life stories and sometimes a lot of other stuff besides. People are going to feel like you’re accessible if you’re willing to listen to them, but not if you’re always checking your watch, putting them off, interrupting, or lecturing. Just listening to people can give them the space they need to get their questions out.
- Make time. You can’t be accessible – not to anyone, including your family – if you’re never around. Make time for people when they need it. Make some time to just hang around. Give your neighbor those five minutes to chat over the drone of lawnmowers. Don’t huff when the cashier talks as she bags up your groceries. Pay attention to your hair stylist instead of getting lost in your phone. When you give people time, they feel valued – and when they feel valued, and like you care, they trust you enough to ask you the questions that bother them.
- Serve in love. People are only going to know if you are their local friendly Christian if they know you are a Christian. Doesn’t mean you have to wear a name badge or that you need to blurt out “I’m a believer!” at the beginning of every conversation, but they are going to notice something distinctly different about you if you are behaving as Christ asked you to behave. Your generosity, your patience, your attention and care, your willingness to help and to be present when there is nothing but inconvenience in it for you – all of these things will give you space to show where your heart for others comes from.
- Seek wisdom. This is a little more intangible, but I do believe that people are drawn to those whom they sense, instinctively, have the answers they need. I’m sure you know and I know a handful of people that we consider to be wise, to give consistently good advice, to understand life and how to handle it. Most often these people are believers, and they have the gift of wisdom – it blesses those who receive it. Fortunately, wisdom is a gift that any believer can possess, but it means pursuing God consistently and daily, and reading and living out His word daily. If you seek to cultivate wisdom, people will notice, because it’s going to make a difference in the way you live your own life – and it creates an opportunity for others to ask for answers they might be in the midst of pursuing.
As you can see, none of this stuff is very hard. But in our super-connected world, where we run from gadget to task and back again, it can be easy to neglect. I often hear people complain that no one is drawn to God any more, but in search queries and Internet questions I see the opposite: many people in a lot of places have questions they’re desperate to have answered, and they simply have no one to ask or discuss these matters with. It’s up to us to hold the space for questioners, to be the sort of person who is available and accessible and trustworthy and willing to share.
It’s one of the reasons we’re here.