I went for a walk in our Dallas neighborhood last Saturday, encountering two unusual sites along the way.
To set the context: my weather app said it was 48 degrees outside but felt like 42. Being a native of Houston, where anything below 60 is frigid, I was wearing four layers, a knit cap, a scarf, and gloves.
As I turned a corner, I watched to my surprise as a man walked out of his house wearing khakis and a T-shirt but no shoes. He walked barefoot on the wet sidewalk, picked up his newspaper, and walked back into his house.
My first thought was what a dumb thing that was to do. Doesn’t he know how cold it is out here? I have always heard that wet feet in cold weather is a really bad idea. Doesn’t he know better?
Upon reflection, I realized that several other possible explanations exist, all of which are more plausible than my assignment of stupidity to my neighbor. Perhaps he needed something in the paper immediately and didn’t have time to find and put on his shoes. Perhaps he is from up north and considers today’s weather to be springlike. Perhaps his shoes are in another part of the house and it’s more trouble than he thinks it’s worth to find them.
What was least likely was that he did not know how cold it was. Even if he had not consulted a weather app like mine, as soon as he opened his door the winter climate became readily obvious. Nonetheless, he walked from his dry porch onto his wet sidewalk and back.
As a result, my assumption was as dumb as I assumed my neighbor to be.
On the next block, I encountered two trucks picking up what we refer to as “big trash.” Once a month, we are allowed to put items on the sidewalk that don’t fit in our trash bins. Big bags of leaves, broken furniture, toys, bikes, etc. are all regularly discarded on “big trash” week. I watched as a truck drove up to the items, then an operator manipulated a crane to reach down and pick them up. The operator deposited these items in a second truck that pulled up alongside, then they made their way together to the next house.
If I had seen either of these trucks alone, I would have wondered at the logic of their existence. Why have a crane with nowhere to put what it picks up? Why have a trash truck with no way to get the trash into it? But seen together, the role of each makes sense.
My Saturday walk illustrated the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know. In Rumsfeld’s Rules, former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld describes three categories of knowledge:
- the “known knowns” (things you know you know)
- the “known unknowns” (things you know you don’t know)
- and the “unknown unknowns” (things you don’t know you don’t know).
In his view, the third is the most dangerous, whether on the battlefield or in life.
As a result, if Christians are going to make an effective impact on our lost culture, we clearly need the Spirit’s guidance in knowing what to say and to whom we are to say it. The Lord “knows the thoughts of man” (Psalm 94:11; Matthew 9:4). His Spirit is already working in the lives of the lost to bring them to repentance and salvation. He knows what we do not and will lead us to say what we need to say to partner with him in their spiritual progress.
Think of yourself as a witness on the stand. Jesus is on trial; the Holy Spirit is the defense attorney; Satan is the prosecutor; the lost person is the jury. The Defense Attorney knows his theory of the case and strategy for persuading the jury to decide for the Defendant. If we will follow his lead, he will use our testimony as part of his work in winning the case.
If we meet with the Spirit before the day begins, he can empower and guide us as it unfolds. If we will pray and listen before we speak, he will direct our thoughts and our words. If we refuse to seek his direction, however, our witness may harm the case more than help it.
Have you submitted your mind and life to the Defense Attorney yet today?