One of the most basic assumptions of the incarnational missionary is to assume God is already involved in every person’s life and is calling them to himself through his Son. Our mindset should not be the prevalent one of taking God with us wherever we might go. It must be, instead, that we join God in his mission.
This means that the missionary God has been active a long time in a person’s life. Our primary job is to try to see where and how God has been working and to partner with him in bringing people to redemption in Jesus. Understand- ing that all humans are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27), and in the deepest possible way made for God, we can assume that every human is motivated by spirituality and search for meaning. Even idolatry indicates that people are seeking to worship something beyond themselves. It is deformed spirituality to be sure, but it is spirituality nonetheless—and you can work with that. Recognize that behind many of the things not-yet-Christian people do lies a search for something else. C. S. Lewis once noted that all our vices are virtues gone wrong. If we take this as a clue, we can develop new missionary eyes to see what God is up to in people’s lives.
Let’s take a deeper look at this: consider Las Vegas, the consummate sinner’s town. And it is that—a deeply broken place where people get really messed up. But we can put aside our moral misgivings and choose to look at the gambling dens with more missional eyes. We might ask, what is the person who is sitting at the slot machines really searching for? Perhaps it is the search for redemption but in the wrong place. It is the belief that to win the jackpot means to be changed and transformed into a new life. This search might also be driven by a now pathological need to take risks because life has lost its sense of real adventure.
We can literally work our way through any type of event or activity in this way:
We can trust that because of the way God has designed us, in the end human beings are always searching (albeit in false and idolatrous ways) for real meaning, authentic relationships, to love and be loved in return.
One more dimension of this that must be mentioned is that all people have religious experiences. It is false to say that only Christians can experience God. Anyone looking at a sunset can experience an in-breaking of God-awareness. In The Color Purple, Celia recalls a time as a child walking with her mother past a field of violets when she felt that God was making a pass at her in the flowers. God is constantly “making a pass” at us in everyday experiences—we simply need to become much more aware of him. People call these experiences theophanies (God encounters), and our task as God’s sent people is to bring a meaningful interpretation to these experiences and point people to Jesus as the center of the God experience. This is what Keller means by telling people’s stories in the light of God’s story—the gospel.