When I was 23, I took a trip to London. I did it in the way 23-year-olds do: I bought the cheapest red-eye flight possible, landed in the UK with no sleep, and crashed with a friend: my buddy Julia, who had been living in London for several years.
Julia was like my unofficial tour guide. She taught me how to ride the tube. She explained the different neighborhoods. She took me to the best restaurants we could actually afford. She reminded me to look right before I crossed the road, not left. She told me which big, touristy things were worth my time – but she also took me out with her friends to see the little, everyday things that actual Londoners like about London.
Because of her, I saw a little piece of the U.K. in a way I never would have on my own.
Tour guides make all the difference, right? And there are certain moments in life when we know that we need one: when were going to a different country, or a historical site, or a new school, or a new place to live…
But also: when were going to new places in our faith.
Spiritually speaking, we can go through life like a tourist without a tour guide. God might be at work all around us, but without someone to point it out, we can cruise right past and completely miss it. Spiritual tour guides help us stop in the right places and recognize where God is showing up.
Today’s Scripture is a great example of how this works.
Paul’s travels take him to the city of Athens, the epicenter of Greek culture. It was a pagan culture, so there were idols to pagan gods everywhere. Paul could have looked at all those idols and gotten super mad, condemned the Athenians for worshiping false gods. But he didn’t; instead, he looked at all those idols and saw that the Athenians were searching for God. It was like they had signed up for the tour, but the tour guide hadn’t showed up.
Yet – because now, Paul is here.
“See this idol to an unknown god?” Paul says. (I’m picturing the Athenians gathering around like a tour group, with those little headsets on so they can hear Paul, their guide, and craning their necks to get a glimpse of this particular idol Paul is pointing to.) “This ‘unknown god,’ I know who that God is! It’s THE God, the God who created heaven and earth, the God who defeated death with resurrection!”
Like a good tour guide, Paul points to what they were already seeing… and explains what they’ve been missing.
We need this kind of spiritual tour guide in our lives. We are also called to be this kind of spiritual tour guide for others.
Just by reading this today, it’s like you’ve signed up for the tour, so to speak. You’re at least mildly interested in learning more about God. My hope is that this sermon will help point God out to you. And once you’ve seen even a little bit of God at work in your life, then you’ve got something that you can point out to others, to make sure others don’t miss God at work in the world.
We need spiritual tour guides; at the same time, we are called to be spiritual tour guides.
To help us get a little better in both roles I thought it might be helpful to hear from some experts. This week I got to talk to some folks who’ve spent some time as actual tour guides. In each of their stories, we get a little wisdom about how we might listen to the guides God has placed in our lives… and also be better guides to others.
From Margaret, a real estate agent, we learn that a good tour guide gets to know her clients before taking them anywhere. The same is true for spiritual tour guides. What someone needs to hear about God will depend on what’s going on in their lives – and if we don’t know them, we wont know what that is. Every now and then the Holy Spirit gives us the opportunity to share our faith with people we’ve just met… but more often, we are spiritual tour guides to folks we know really well. I know that’s true in my life: the best guides I have are people know know me in a real way.
From Catherine, we learn how important it can be to help people feel comfortable. Catherine goes the extra mile to help new students feel at ease, because going to a big, new school is uncomfortable enough. The same is true with our faith: the more we get to know God, the more God calls us out into some pretty uncomfortable territory! So we need tour guides who can put us at ease as we move out in faith, maybe by saying, “Hey, I’ve been there, too!” or by doing much more listening than talking, and certainly by giving lots of love and no judgment.
From Jen, we learn that a tour guide needs to know what she’s talking about. Jen had to study up on the Biltmore House to be ready to give her tours. For us, when sharing our faith, sometimes we can feel an unrealistic pressure to have an answer to every question. I don’t think that’s necessary; in faith, there’s always going to be unanswered questions, and its OK to say “I don’t know.” What we do need is to be intentionally working on our own faith journey, on getting to know God better. We can’t guide anyone else if we’re not on the journey ourselves. I know my best tour guides have been folks who didn’t necessarily know it all, but did take growing deeper in their faith seriously.
From Jerry, we learn how important it is to present information in a passionate, fun way. We might have all sorts of good stuff to share about God – but if we tell it to others like its boring, they’re not going to want to hear it. Sometimes we have a bad habit of talking about God as though it’s a boring academic lecture, or some kind of dreaded obligation. In reality, a life with God is a big, joy-filled, wild ride. The way we talk about God should reflect that. I remember the “tour guides” I had in youth group, and how they showed me that being a Christian didn’t have to be quietly sitting in church in uncomfortable clothes – it was supposed to be a big adventure. They lived that way, and that made me want more of what they had.
From Paul, we learn that a good tour guide tells people what to look for, so they can keep their eyes out. Sometimes, the best thing we can do as spiritual tour guides is to tell others, “Hey, God is going to show up today – keep a look out!” And then step back, and let God do the rest.
Good tour guides know the people they’re guiding, make them feel comfortable, are knowledgeable, present information in a fun way, and help others keep an eye out. When we have spiritual tour guides who do those things for us, its amazing how much more we can get out of our own faith journeys.
Maybe, during all these videos, you’ve thought of someone who’s been a spiritual tour guide for you. A great thing to do this week could be to call that person and thank them! I bet it would make their day to know the role they’ve played for you. And along those lines, after I thought a lot about my trip to London this week, I wanted to call up my friend Julia and let her know how much I appreciated what she did for me. So I did! Take a look:
Notice what Julia said: how she got a lot out of seeing London through my eyes. That might be a good inspiration for us, and encouragement to be tour guides to others. It can be a little scary to talk about God… but when we guide someone else, we get to see so much more. We get to feel their joy, reconnect with the first times we experienced God in a real way.
So this week, be sure you’re on the tour. Be on the lookout for God, and for the people God has put in your life to guide you.
But also: be ready to guide others. Don’t miss an opportunity to tell someone, “Hey, you see this part of your life you’ve labeled as “an unknown god”? I know who that is!”