The Man on the Amtrak Ride and the God Who Changed My Heart
I sat down in my Amtrak train seat, elated that I had a 3-hour ride with time to myself. I had just pulled out the Bible I had brought along with a study book when I heard the man. He was about 10 rows up, speaking angrily to the train conductor. I sighed, very annoyed that there was an interruption to my intended time of peaceful study.
After the man continued to speak loudly to the conductor for several minutes, I leaned out from the side of my seat to get a better look at the man. The compassion that came over me from noticing he was in weathered and worn clothes that mirrored his face, quickly dissipated when I saw how rudely he was speaking to the conductor.
Realizing there was nothing I could do, I turned back to my Bible study, irked at how much this man was ruining my train ride. He quickly became my enemy to the peace and quiet I had planned on. After my anger simmered for a bit I turned back to my study and the first question included looking up Jeremiah 17:9. And my breath caught in my throat.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Humility and conviction rushed over me like a wave. Indeed my heart was deceitful, leading me into anger toward this man and quite frankly, I had made him the enemy to what I wanted. But the true enemy was not this man, it was the deceit and sickness in my heart. And quite frankly, making him an enemy in my heart only lassoed my neck with the burden of annoyance and anger.
I smiled as I realized that God was lovingly inviting me into freedom. I prayed, asking God to help me to truly love this man, to free my heart from these burdens. He was my neighbor, and God called me to love my neighbor as myself. I finished praying and resumed my Bible study.
Five minutes later I noticed the man walking down the aisle, headed in my direction. Although I was still looking down I could sense when he stopped and loomed over me, his anger palpable. I looked up at him and with rage in his voice, pointing to my Bible, he said to me,
“You know what that book says in Jeremiah 17:9? It says that the heart is evil above anything else. AND CHRISTIANS ARE THE WORST!!!”
My mouth dropped open. Unless he was Superman with x-ray vision, there was no way he saw that I had written down Jeremiah 17:9 that was now completely hidden by the pages I had turned. I said to him with an awe-struck smile on my face,
“Oh my goodness. I just read that verse! And you know what, sometimes that’s the truth!”
Even he couldn’t prevent the shock that crossed his face, first by me sharing I had read the verse, and second because I didn’t argue back. But his surprise quickly switched back to rage.
I could tell he felt conflicted until he finally gruffly and reluctantly asked,
“Can I sit down?”
“You sure can!” I replied with a smile. How could I not smile? God was clearly doing a work and I would have been foolish to turn down this interruption.
And there we were for the next hour and a half, an unlikely pair, sitting across from each other on the train. He was indeed angry. Angry at the church, Christians, anyone who said they loved the Bible. The irony was he knew more Scripture than most Christians I interacted with. I listened attentively, asking questions, not flinching with his insults. I gently replied to many of his complaints, lovingly pointing out his own contradictions to his arguments and encouraging him to look at the full context of Scripture that he rattled off. I sympathized with him regarding his hurt from Christians, sharing that I too had many of those…but that I sadly was also the cause of some.
All the while during our conversation the man carried a hardness to him that a jackhammer couldn’t break. But you know what? I loved that man. I loved him with a deep, this-clearly-did-not-come-from-me kind of brotherly love.
And then something happened. He accused me of being a Christian because I had “nothing hard in my life”. And that’s when I rose up with boldness. I rattled off my sufferings, not mincing any words, sharing things that only those closest to me knew. No one would tell me I hadn’t suffered. Because it was often in the depths of my suffering that God was the most intimate, His presence the most real, and His comfort greater than anything in the world. My God had been good in sufferings, and my faith was made stronger through them.
I expected him to bite back, to blow up with more volatile anger. Instead, his face softened and his mouth fell slightly open. It was the first time he replied with only one word,
I then told him he was partially right. Christians can sometimes seem “the worst”. We do things completely contradictory to what the Bible tells us to do, and we demonstrate anything other than the fruits of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control-at times. I didn’t mention it, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own heart toward him when I initially heard him. It was anything other than loving!
But as Christians, we bring our brokenness to God. As Christians we want, and we know we need, a Savior. We need saving from our bitterness, despair, impatience, criticalness, fear…so much more…my goodness we admit we need saving from OURSELVES! I had proved that. So in that sense, I, in of myself could admit I can be “worst”. But for as much as I admit that, I also know I have a Savior that is drawing me closer to Himself every day, changing me and conforming me to become more like Him. And I see God working things in me that I never could have done on my own. I could never have loved that man without God changing my heart.
Our conversation that started with rage, ended with tenderness. This man even agreed to let me pray for him. I still think of him often, wondering if we will meet again. I thanked him, he begrudgingly thanked me, and I could tell it was difficult for him to express it.
And no sooner than three minutes after he exited the train and I had returned to my Bible Study when I heard another voice,
“Excuse me? May I sit down?”
I looked up to see a college-aged student looking down at me.
“Absolutely!” I said.
The college student then proceeded to tell me how they had heard my entire conversation with the man, and they were struggling in their faith.
“I guess I was just hoping for some encouragement in my faith, can we talk?”
I smiled, because again I knew that God had better and more fulfilling plans that day than my own peace and quiet, and it was to display His power through the transformation of our lives.