This post was written by Downline Institute teacher, Garrett Kell and originally posted on The Gospel Coalition.
It was early in my junior year at Virginia Tech, and everywhere I turned it felt like God was following me.
It all began a few months before, when a friend talked to me about Jesus at a Halloween party. Since that night, I couldn’t shake his words. I believed God was real, but I wasn’t ready to surrender my life of dating, drinking, and drugs. Yet I couldn’t escape the sneaking suspicion my friend had told me the truth.
Several times that semester I found myself smoking a blunt, only to be compelled to flush it and pick up the Bible. One early morning I became so overwhelmed that I printed out portions of Revelation and nailed it to the door of “the white devil” who’d long been my cocaine dealer (yes, that freaked him out). On the weekends I’d party hard but somehow attend a church on Sunday, no matter how strung out I was from the night before.
My soul was conflicted. Though I loved the fleeting pleasures of sin, I felt as if I was being pursued by the One I later heard called “The Hound of Heaven.”
In the middle of this soul-searching, my buddy Adam suggested we go to Panama City Beach for spring break. It didn’t take much convincing for me to agree I needed a little fun in the sun to help clear my mind.
Redemptive Road Trip
As we drove with windows down and music blaring, we talked about life and school and girls—and about what I’d been reading in the Bible. I told Adam I was seeing things in a new light and felt God was showing himself to me everywhere I went. Adam was a good friend and he listened, but I’m sure he thought I was crazy.
As we neared Panama City Beach I noticed a plane flying overhead pulling a banner behind it. As it drew closer, I read: “Jesus Loves You—John 3:16.”
I pointed my arm out the window and told Adam, “Look, God is following me around.”
Once we arrived at the hotel, we dropped off our bags and headed to the beach. We anchored our chairs in the sand and cracked open a pair of cold ones. After a while I noticed a small herd of students talking to people and handing out little booklets. A couple guys gave me a pamphlet and told me God had a wonderful plan for my life. After they made their way down the beach, I turned to Adam and said, “See, God is following me around.”
We laughed it off and headed back to the room. That evening we went to a club. When we made our way out to the curb to call a cab, three vans pulled up with holy roller graffiti on the side that read “God loves you! Believe the gospel! Jesus saves!” The drivers got out, offering free rides for anybody who needed one. We declined, but as we walked away I said, “Adam, I’m not making this stuff up.”
The next day was rainy, so we decided to lay low. I found some weed and smoked myself hungry. So I found Adam and we made our way to the Waffle House across the street. I told him I felt God was making me feel bad for the way I was living, and I didn’t know what to do. As we scarfed down our waffles he looked at me and said, “Bro, think you need to stop doing drugs. They’re messing with your mind.”
Within minutes, the doors flung open and a flood of 30 loud and laughing people carrying Bibles walked in and took seats all around us. One guy walked straight up to us and said, “Hey, my name is Shelby. Do you go to Virginia Tech?” After we said yes, he asked me, “Have I ever seen you at a church in Blacksburg?” I told him I’d visited a few and that it was possible.
Shelby explained he was with a group called Campus Crusade for Christ and that he’d like to meet with me when we got back to school to talk about God and the Bible. We exchanged information and he headed off.
After Shelby left, Adam stared at me and said, “Dude, God really is following you around!”
Line in the Sand
The next day I took a walk on the beach before dusk and saw a girl sitting by herself staring at the ocean. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt I needed to talk to her. I said hello and asked if she’d been in the water. The water was a little too cold for her, she said.
I said something stupid like, “Yeah, I’d have to have a case of beer before I got in there.” She looked at me and replied, “I don’t know about that, but God has taught me Jesus is all I need to be happy.” It was a pretty serious Jesus Juke, but it didn’t surprise me. I told her I’d been thinking a lot about God and asked her to pray for me.
As I walked toward the hotel, a lady in a beach wheelchair and another guy my age signaled for me to come over. I figured this was another divine setup, but I felt it would be bad to run from a woman in a wheelchair, so I made my way over.
The lady’s name was Stacy James, and after a few get-to-know-you questions she said, “Garrett, what do you know about Jesus?” I don’t remember much else she said except that God wanted me to know I had to choose to be for him or against him. I couldn’t be both (Matt. 12:30).
That beach trip proved to be a true line in the sand for me.
When I returned to school, I began meeting with Shelby. He helped me understand the basics of walking with Jesus. And since that trip, I have been. Not because of something wise or wonderful in me, but because the King of glory set his affection on me and never stopped pursuing.
I tried to run, to hide, and to explain away his pursuit, but in the end his grace prevailed.
Why God Pursues
Why does God run after those who want nothing to do with him? Here are two thoughts.
1. God follows you because he loves you.
If you’re reading this and know God’s been following you around, stop running. He’s chasing you in order to rescue you, not to harm you.
The prophet Isaiah describes our running like this: “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). Following our own way seems like it leads to life, but it doesn’t. As Scripture elsewhere observes, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). Running from God leads only to judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
Yet because God loves running rebels, he sent his Son on a rescue mission to seek and save the lost. He is the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep (John 10:10–11).
That means Jesus came to earth to die on a cross, absorbing the judgment we deserve, and then to get up from the grave. And he now calls all people—including you—to turn from sin and receive forgiveness (Acts 2:38, 17:30–31). God follows you because he loves you. So stop running and surrender to the One who watches over your soul (1 Pet. 2:25).
2. God uses you to follow those he loves.
Don’t underestimate the significance of scattering gospel seed wherever you go. Whether you’re on a plane, on a beach, in a Waffle House, driving drunks home, or doing normal life, God is working to call his lost sheep to himself—and he’s using you to do it.
As my wife regularly reminds me, “Every brief encounter is from the Lord.” It may be a full gospel conversation on a mission trip or simply asking that cashier how you can pray for them. God uses all sorts of “brief encounters” to awaken gospel interest in the hearts of his elect.
Are you actively seeking ways to help others hear the good news of the Savior?
One Great Evangelist
The year after my trip to Panama City Beach, I went back—but this time it wasn’t to party. In fact, I went with the group God had used to reach me the year before. He sure loves to use the unlikeliest of people for his purposes.
So if you feel inadequate to share the gospel with others, don’t let that stop you. Remember, God is the great evangelist; he’s simply allowing you to share in the joy of helping others come to love him.