Two men in their in their late 20’s walk into a coffee shop around 7:00 a.m. In college they had been good friends, but over the past few years had gotten out of touch. Having lived in the same dormitory for three of their four years at City Christian College, they still had many fond—and a few not-so-fond memories—of their time together in college. Just by accident (or so Michael thought) they had run into each other in a hardware store about three weeks before, and had set up a time to talk over breakfast. Jim thought of their accidental meeting as a divine appointment. He considered any accidental meeting to be a divine appointment.
Michael: This menu is too long for anyone to read so early in the morning.
Jim: Why don’t you order the eggs and pancakes special? It’s good.
Michael: I always feel like I have to read the entire menu, just so I don’t miss out on anything.
Jim: You always were a perfectionist.
(Waitress walks up quickly)
Waitress: May I take your order?
Michael: I need a couple more minutes.
Waitress: (impatiently) Just flag me down when you’re ready. (leaves)
Jim: How’s Betsy these days?
Michael: Oh ... is the Colossal Omelet any good here?
Jim: It’s great. I think you’ll really enjoy it.
Jim: You’re going to get it?
Michael: No. My wife is fine. I was answering your first question. I’m still trying to decide what to order.
Jim: How are the kids?
Michael: They’re fine. Joey has just entered kindergarten and Natalie is three. I never had any idea how much responsibility having a family would be.
Jim: I know how you feel. After Melissa was born I thought my world had come to an end. All I ever really wanted was enough sleep and a little free time. Those were the first to go. But I certainly am attached to little Melissa now. She’s quite a charmer. Why just the other day…
Waitress: Are you ready yet?
Michael: I think so.
Waitress: What’ll it be?
Jim: I’ll have the eggs and pancakes special.
Waitress: And how would you like those eggs?
Waitress: And for you?
Michael: Is your Colossal Omelet any good?
Michael: Oh ... I’ll have the eggs and pancakes special...eggs scrambled.
Waitress: (looking a little surprised) Two of the eggs and pancakes special. Anything to drink?
Michael: I’ll have a glass of orange juice.
Jim: Coffee for me.
Jim: How’s work at Graphics and Design?
Michael: It’s been slow recently. The big companies seem to be contracting out less frequently these days, so we have less work than usual. I’ve had a lot of time to sit around and think. How’s your work going? Aren’t you at some kind of rescue mission or something?
Jim: I’m directing a work called Love for the City. We concentrate on meeting the physical and spiritual needs of youth from low income families and broken homes. We live on the Northside of town.
Michael: That’s low income for sure. Isn’t it dangerous?
Jim: No more dangerous than driving 45 minutes to work in rush-hour traffic every day. Besides, Joan and I believe that the Lord wants us there.
Michael: Jim, you’ve changed a lot since college.
Jim: How do you mean?
Michael: You used to seem so unsure of yourself, at least as far as God and the Bible were concerned. I could never have envisioned you living and working on the Northside. You were too … too …
Michael: No, that’s not what I was thinking. You were just unsure of whether everything that God had said was true.
Jim: I think God has changed me a lot since college, though I have a long way to go.
Michael: I wish I could say the same for myself.
Jim: What do you mean?
Michael: I’ve got an awful lot of questions that are still unanswered even after all these years.
Jim: So your questions have kept you from experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised?
Michael: That’s sort of right.
Jim: Sort of?
Michael: Jim, I didn’t want to come in this morning on a low note, but I prefer to be honest. I’m not sure at all that your so-called abundant life is possible on earth. I still believe in God, the Bible, eternal life, and all, but I just don’t know—like I said before—I don’t know if it is really possible to live a life that could be described as abundant, victorious or anything nearing the various expressions people use to describe the Christian life. Maybe God never intended the “Christian life” for earth. Maybe we’ll have to wait until we get to heaven to experience that kind of life.
Jim: Why do you think that?
Michael: Do you remember the time in college that we had a week-long series on personal revival?
Jim: How could I forget it?
Michael: I remember walking outside after one of those meetings feeling very convicted about what I had experienced in that meeting. I told the Lord in no uncertain terms that I was surrendering my life to him. I told him he could do whatever he wanted with me. I guess he took me up on what I said.
Jim: In what way?
Michael: It seems that I have experienced more pain in my life since I surrendered to the Lord than I ever had before. The Apostle Paul experienced a lot of outward sufferings. No doubt, those sufferings were difficult. But inward sufferings are a little harder to work through. It’s difficult to see how God intends so much hardship to be good.
Jim: So your conclusion is that God never intended an abundant life on the earth … only a life of hardship?
Michael: That’s not really why I think it. I’ve always believed that God could use suffering in a Christian’s life. But I figured that God would always give some kind of special grace to get through any difficulty that came my way. As I’ve continued along, I’ve tried reading the Bible, but I always end up frustrated—spiritually and emotionally. Occasionally, I’ve felt deserted by God. I know he wouldn’t actually desert me, but sometimes it has felt like that. The only solution that settles my mind at all is that God never intended us to have a relationship with him while we’re on earth—at least not the same kind of relationship I could have with you.
Waitress: Here’s your order. An eggs and pancakes special for you, and an eggs and pancakes special for you. Can I get either of you anything else?
Jim: I’d like some ketchup.
Michael: And would you please warm up my coffee?
Waitress: Ketchup and a warm up. Be right back.
Jim: Yeah … for the eggs.
Waitress: Here’s your ketchup. (She pours the coffee and leaves.)
Jim: Where were we?
Michael: I think I had just opened a can of worms about the Christian life.
Jim: Worms never were very good with eggs.
Michael: Neither is ketchup.
Jim: You might be surprised to know that I’ve asked many of the same questions you’re asking, only in a little different way. Actually, those were some of the questions I was struggling with back at college. My questions kept coming back to me as I thought about my friendships with my college buddies—especially you—along with a couple other friends.
Michael: I don’t understand.
Jim: I felt like I knew you. You seemed to understand me. We could do almost anything together—eat popcorn, study, pull pranks … If I remember right, we even cried once together. We were like brothers. You sometimes said what I was thinking before I had a chance to say it. It was a close relationship.
Michael: That’s for sure.
Jim: But then we would go to class or chapel services and hear about a relationship with the Lord. Everyone talked about it. Yet I often wondered if anyone really understood it. I knew what a relationship with a friend was about. You were my friend. I could see you, talk to you, touch you, smell you … (Michael smiles). But I couldn’t see, touch, smell, or talk to God—at least not the way I could with you. I found myself asking, “Is a relationship with God possible at all?” Soon, though, I realized I was asking the wrong question.
Michael: Well, I certainly would like to know the right question. The question you just asked is one question I’ve been asking for a long time.
Jim: Instead of asking: Is it possible at all?—I needed to ask about the nature of a relationship with the Lord. I needed to find out what it is really like. Certainly if you can’t see God, you can’t have a relationship with him in exactly the same way you have with another human being. What you really need to ask is: Are there any ways that a relationship with God is worse than a relationship with another human being and are there any ways that it is better? Asking this question helps clarify the issue.
Michael: That seems fair enough.
Jim: Then let’s look at it. Can you think of any ways that a relationship with the Lord is worse than a relationship, say, with me?
Michael: That’s easy. I can see you. I can’t see God. I can talk to you and you respond. It’s true that I can talk to God. But he doesn’t talk back. I can read the Bible, but that’s not as good as talking with someone.
Jim: The Bible itself agrees that it’s easier in some ways to have a relationship with a person than with God.
Michael: It does?
Jim: 1 John 4:20 says, “For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” A relationship based on love is easier when you can see the person you’re trying to love. At least that’s what this verse implies.
Michael: I understand that well enough.
Jim: Then let’s try to answer the second part of the question. Are there any ways that a relationship with God is better?
Michael: You tell me.
Jim: First of all, where is God? Is he only in heaven? Doesn’t the Holy Spirit live inside every true believer?
Jim: That’s how it’s better! When you know another human being as an intimate friend, you almost know what he’s thinking before he speaks. But God does know. He knows everything about us and loves us anyway. A friend will walk away from you; God never will. A friend might be busy when you need to talk; God is always there. You might ask a friend to help you, but your friend might not have the ability to help. God is always strong enough to help and wise enough to know the kind of help you need. If you need comfort, a friend might be able to help a little, but only the Holy Spirit can really comfort you.
Michael: But he doesn’t talk to me!
Jim: If your friend lives in a different city, yet you continue to communicate with each other, does that mean you’re not friends anymore?
Jim: … does that mean you don’t have a relationship anymore?
Jim: … does that mean that your relationship doesn’t grow anymore?
Jim: It simply means that the relationship is different than if you were in the same location. Our relationship with God is different now than it will be when we’re able to look into his face in glory. Sometimes it is painful to not be able to see him. But that’s part of a life of faith.
Michael: So a relationship with the Lord is like communicating with a friend in another city?
Jim: No. It’s not exactly the same. Letter-writing simply illustrates the truth that a relationship is actually still in progress. In fact, a relationship with the Lord is much better than that. You can read his letters to you in the Bible and you can dial him directly any time you want through prayer. I also think that the Holy Spirit sometimes speaks messages directly to our hearts, but many times we’re not on his frequency and don’t hear him. The point is that it is a relationship that can grow every day throughout your life. When your life is done, you will be able to carry on with the Lord face to face. A relationship with the Lord does contrast with a relationship that you have with another human being, but it certainly is not inferior. It’s just in some ways different. No one is closer in proximity or in understanding of your situation than God is. No one loves you more or looks out for your best interests more than God does. No one desires all of your affections more than God. No one is more available to you than God. Although he is far greater than we are, he certainly can be our best friend.
(Waitress walks up.)
Waitress: Can I take your plate?
Jim : Are you done with your breakfast, Michael? You haven’t eaten much.
Michael: Sure, I wasn’t really hungry anyway.
(Waitress adds the numbers on the bill and leaves it on the table.)
Michael: Jim, I understand a little better now some of the issues you were wrestling with in college. Maybe if I hang around you a little longer I might be able to understand my own issues better. It may be partially that I’m asking the wrong questions. I’ll think about it more during the week and get back to you soon. Let’s renew our friendship, Jim. Would you like to make meeting for breakfast once-a-week something regular for a while?
Jim: I’d like that. Hey, before our next breakfast, why don’t you and Betsy come over to our apartment for dinner, and I’ll show you some of what we are doing down at Love for the City.
Michael: Sounds great. Is Friday good? Six o’clock?
Jim: You’re on.
(Michael picks up the bill.)
Jim: Wait a minute, I’m paying for the breakfast.
Michael: No, I’ll pay for it.
Jim: Please let me.
Michael: No, let me.
(They both smile.)
Jim: We really have changed a lot since college. At that time we would have tried to get the other person to pay for the food, when neither of us could really afford our own.
Michael: We’ll split it.
Jim: I’ll get the tip …
 John 10:10