All week long, my car ran great. Here and there, across town and back, up hills and down; no problems. I turned the key, the engine fired and I was on my way. Then, suddenly, on Friday, a terrible thing happened. I was cruising along when it coughed a couple of times, sputtered, harrumphed, and then quit. Nothing. It would turn over, but not fire. I was stranded. Being the master mechanic that I am, I walked around the car and gave all four tires a firm kick. I opened the hood, jiggled a few wires, pulled and twisted stuff and burned my hand on something hot. But no matter what I did, the engine would not start.
I was at the point of despair when I noticed a large sign about a hundred yards ahead. It said “BMW” – Baptist Motor Works. Perfect, I thought. If anyone can help me, surely my Baptist Buddies can. I pushed the car over, and as I rolled it into the parking lot, a man in a loud sports coat, white shirt, and ugly tie came out, grabbed my hand, slapped my back, and welcomed me to his shop. He had me fill out a visitor’s card, popped the hood and took a look inside.
“Brother Miller,” he said. “Your car seems to be functioning below statistical standards.”
“Yes, sir,” I nodded. “I can’t argue with that.”
“I think I can help you. First, we will need to form a committee to study the statistics on this car. They will get the input of experts and others who own functioning cars of this model. We will get together, appoint a task force, write a report, then formulate a program that will get your car’s statistics up. I will give you an 800 number for the experts in Nashville and Atlanta who can help you to figure out why your numbers have slipped.”
“Thank you, sir, but…”
“Please, call me Brother Billy Bob.”
“Well, Brother Billy Bob, I appreciate all that. But can you fix my car – this car?”
“You are in luck. I have a new curriculum that just came in last week – look, here’s the box right here. A shop down in Florida has had great success in getting their cars running using this program. If it worked for them, I am sure it will work for you.
“What is it?”
“I don’t have all the details, but it has a catchy slogan and some great graphics. There’s even a website with 10 pages of FAQ’s. Just what you need.”
I thanked him and scanned the street. I am no mechanic, but I knew that my car needed something a little more than a catchy slogan and new program. I didn’t need an expert in Florida to tell me how well his car runs, I needed someone in Sioux City to get my car running.
I pushed my car back out into the street and saw another shop, just a couple of doors down. It was called the “Car Growth Strategy Mechanics Shop.” Mechanics. That’s what I needed. Maybe they could fix my car. So, I pushed it over to their shop and was invited to wait in their lush, air-conditioned lobby. As I waited, I perused some of the books and magazines. I glanced through “Experiencing Cars,” flipped through “The Purpose-Driven Car” and scanned a pamphlet called, “How to Make Your Car More Driver-Friendly.”
Before I got a chance to digest any of the advice a mechanic came out, dressed in Khakis and a golf shirt, with a neatly trimmed goatee. After I explained my problem, he smiled and said, “I think I can help you, Mr. Miller. What you need to do is take a survey of your community and find out what people feel their automotive needs are. Find out what the most popular color of paint is, and what interior style and color people like the most. Once you know what the people around you like in a car, we can totally redesign your car to fit those tastes. Then we can begin a new advertising and marketing strategy that will make your car the envy of the whole community.”
“Will that make my car run better?”
He shook his head sadly. “Mr. Miller, you will never get the right answers as long as you are asking the wrong questions.”
I could tell I was getting nowhere with him. My car did not need a survey or a new marketing strategy. It needed to be fixed. I looked up and down the street one more time. I saw another place a block away. The sign said, “CP&W Repair Shop – We can make your old car new.” Perfect! I huffed and puffed and pushed my car up the small hill to the CP&W shop. Out came a man with long, curly hair, in blue jeans and sandals with a Switchfoot t-shirt.
“Can you help me?” I asked. “My car won’t run.”
He looked inside and nodded, then turned to face me. “Mr. Miller, I have spotted your problem. Look at your sound system. You have an old AM Radio with a cassette player. That thing will only play old-fashioned, out-of-date music. We, here at Contemporary Praise and Worship Repair Shop can fix you right up. We will replace your old clunker with the newest CD/DVD surround sound studio quality satellite music system. You will be able to get all the best stations with all the newest music.”
“Will it make my car run?”
“Run?” he responded. “Why would you want to run when you could sit in your car and enjoy the experience of your wonderful modern sound system. That’s all this car needs – contemporary music.”
I thanked him and headed back out. I may be a mechanical moron, but I know that whatever was wrong with my car cannot be fixed by a new program, new marketing strategies, an exterior paint job or a new sound system. None of that would bring my dead car to life.
I spied one more little shop, tucked back in an old brick building. The sign read “Superior Automotive Knowledge Repair Shop.” Maybe these folks knew what to do with my car. My back was aching from pushing it around town and I needed help. But, when I rolled the car into their parking lot, no one came out to help.
I poked my head in the door. Hearing some soft organ music in the background, I walked down a hallway and opened another door. There, huddled in a small circle, was a group of men in a very intense discussion.
“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “Is this a repair shop?”
With a look of faint annoyance, one man said, “Yes, it is.”
“Well, I have a car that won’t run, and I was wondering if you could take a look at it.”
He pursed his lips. “If you are interested and able, you may join our group as we study the true Doctrines of Cars. We are just now exploring the various aspects of free wheel and carlection. We are not like some of those silly groups out there that focus on methods and manuals and such things. We seek a superior knowledge of the inner workings of cars and it provides us with a sense of awe and humility, knowing that we know more about how cars work than anyone else.”
I was a little confused. “Do you actually fix cars?”
He seemed a little irritated. “That is not our job. Only the manufacturer can fix the cars.”
I wandered back out and leaned against my car in superior frustration. I was out of options. I could not see any more shops, and I was dead tired from all the pushing. At that moment, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw an average looking man in jeans and a t-shirt.
He said, “Sir, I have watched you push your car up and down the street. I think I can help you.”
I was a little cynical now. “What are you going to do for me? Form a strategy team, call in an expert, form an elite study group, repaint my car and fix my stereo?”
“No, sir. I own that little gas station over there, the B&P Filling Station. I thought you might try something simple. Maybe your car is just out of gas. Want to give that a try?” At this point, I was willing to try anything. So we pushed the car over to the B&P Gas Station. I pumped gas into my car until the tank was full. I sat down in the front seat of my car, put in the key, turned it, it chugachugged for a second, then roared to life. Nothing was really wrong with the car; it was just out of gas!
I went inside and thanked the mechanic. Never had I been so happy to pay for a tank of gasoline.
“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Miller. It happens all the time. People drive their cars and never stop to fill them up. Then, when they go dry, everyone has a suggestion, but so often they forget to do the one thing every car needs – fill the tank.”
He handed me a receipt, I shook his hand and I went on my way. As I sat down in the driver’s seat, I started to put the receipt into my notebook. That’s when I saw the name at the top. “Bible & Prayer Filling Station.” I was sure glad I stopped there that day.
Perhaps all the experts’ advice, the marketing strategies, the new paradigms, the head knowledge, the modernization and new programs are not what we Christians and our churches need most. Each of them has value in their proper place. Maybe what we really need to get into God’s Word and seek Him until our hearts are full of our Savior’s presence. Perhaps our churches should focus on seeking God and listening to His Word.
I recently realized I was burned out, discouraged, nearing depression. I took some time off and that helped. But I also realized that as I got busy with life, as I ministered, as I blogged, as I worked, I was often forgetting to fill my tank by spending time in God’s Word, by praying, by seeking the Face of the One who sustains our souls. It is a fundamental mistake and I should have known better. You can’t drive a car without gas and you can’t succeed in Christian life or ministry without taking the time to fill your soul with the presence of Christ.
And, in our churches, maybe a new program can help. There is a lot of great new music being written for the purpose of praising God. It is possible that your church could find a new strategy that will help you be more effective in reaching your community. And undoubtedly Christians need to know more about the basic doctrines of our faith. But none of these things will fix the real problem most Christians, and their churches, have. Nothing will fill an empty tank but the Presence of God. Nothing cultivates the presence of God like the Word of God, prayer and genuine worship.
Could it be that simple?