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Posted by on May 19, 2015 in Culture | 2 comments

A Pitiful Man in the Coffee Shop

A Pitiful Man in the Coffee Shop

There was a pitiful man in the coffee shop this morning.

I had turned around with my Americano as he slid off his bike and mounted it on the bike rack. I didn’t think much of it. He walked in the coffee shop door as I was setting my bag down on a table in the corner.

He did not begin perusing the chalkboard menu or ogling the pastry counter. Rather he took the middle seat at an empty row of chairs facing out large glass windows that overlooked the parking lot.

From my vantage point in the corner, I had a good (though peripheral) view of the man. When I noticed his intention was not to get food or coffee, I began to watch him all the more.  He looked relatively normal, but the overstuffed pockets, the layered shorts and jackets, and the thin look of his face told me the man was likely in some kind of need.

I wondered about his back-story. Was he a druggy? Was he homeless? Merely eccentric? Either way, as I got up to get some napkins, my pace was quickened by the thought of both my computer and phone sitting out unprotected and well within his reach.

As I walked past him, I noticed the Wal-Mart sacks tied around his feet. What was inside? I don’t know. Maybe he was protecting new shoes from the recent rain. Maybe he had no shoes. Maybe he sold them for drugs. Maybe he was just eccentric.

As I sat back down, he was hunched over something he had pulled out of his pocket. Actually, it was a stack of somethings – small papers held tightly, yet chaotically in his determined grasp.

Lottery tickets.

The man was hunched over a stack of lottery tickets I assumed he had recently purchased at the gas station near by. He was scratching the tickets feverishly with his keys, and then reading the back. He would scratch one, read it, and then set it aside…

Scratch…read…set aside…

Scratch…read…set aside…

You could smell the addiction from a mile away.

I thought I should buy him some coffee. I pitied him because I knew those tickets cost money – something he likely couldn’t spare and shouldn’t be spending on such frivolity. I wanted him to win because it looked like he hadn’t seen good news in awhile. I wanted him to lose because I didn’t want his addiction to keep being fed. I wanted him to see the fruitlessness of his hope.

Scratch…read…set aside.

He was looking for a savior.

At least 10 times in my mind, I bought him coffee, walked over and sat next to him and said something coy, yet significant like, “You’re not going to find your salvation there” as I placed the coffee next to him. In my mind, I then shared the Gospel with him. Half the time he got saved and set his life on a new course of life with a flourishing testimony to the changing nature of the gospel. The other half of the time it got messy and he returned to his futile habits.

Scratch…read…set aside.

I weighed my options.

My coffee was getting lukewarm as I noticed him get up, walk to the door, and throw the tickets in a crumpled pile to be soaked with old coffee and muffin crumbs. Wasted.

He got back on his bike and feverishly rode back in the direction of the gas station.

I didn’t see him again.

I don’t know how many times this same scenario has played out. The people and places are different, but the action (or inaction) is the same.

I see someone searching for a savior – reaching for water in a well I know is both dry and likely dangerous. I pity them.

I know the Gospel. I know exactly what they need, what they are looking for, and how they can find it.

Yet I remain silent.

I can’t help but think somewhere in that coffee shop, there may have been someone watching me in their peripheral vision. They may have seen my Bible, my mac, my espresso, and made assumptions about me that were likely true.  They may have seen me stuck in my sin of inaction and greed as I watched a man struggle.

They may have seen me run scenarios in my mind, wondering if I would actually offer hope or whether my faith would just be crumpled up and thrown in the trash with old coffee, crumbs and lottery tickets. Wasted.

“Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” – James 4:17

There was a pitiful man in the coffee shop this morning, and it was me.

About The Author

Ryan Smith

Ryan is associate pastor at Eagle Heights Baptist Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He is the author of Not That God.

Ryan Smith has blogged 121 posts at

2 responses to “A Pitiful Man in the Coffee Shop”

  1. Brodie Smith says:

    Someone saw you. And that same Someone who saw you, saw him. And thankfully, that Someone is full of a ridiculous amount of grace for the both of you (and all of us). We should not allow the sinfulness of our silence to be our primary motivator for action but the glorious grace afforded us and others through the gospel of Christ. We were/are no better, but we know the One who redeems. I am encouraged by your introspective post and in some similar measure discouraged by my own silence on too many occasions, most recently by the gentlemen sitting near me in another coffee shop loudly sharing stories of their own recent adventures in shooting up. Thanks for the reminder, Ryan.

  2. Love your honesty! Thanks for sharing! There will be more chances as nothing is wasted in the Lord’s economy.