Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"How Do You Find People To Witness To?"

Sam writes, “I have shared the gospel with all my relatives. People at work, know that I’m a Christian. How can I find people who are open to hearing about Jesus?”

Instead of running around looking for people to witness to, I think we are rather to diligently let people out there, come to us. I know, that sounds like a contradiction. How can one “diligently” let others “come” to them? "Diligently" implies that we’re trying. “Letting others come to us,” sounds like we are being passive about evangelism. God’s idea of evangelism may not be ours. When we ask God “why,” we get:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways, “ declares the Lord.”

Isaiah 55:8

But we in Christ know, that all of His ways are ultimately better than ours. So we give in to Him and let Him change our thinking:

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9

Logic tells us to go out there and get things done just right. But when it comes to His family, God has a higher plan. While we may try to convince people to follow Jesus, Jesus says to us,

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:44

I’m not at all advocating complacency. When it comes to evangelism, we are to be diligent. When it comes to the lost souls of this world, we are to be passionate until all have heard the gospel message. But it isn’t about you and I being effective. It is about being available and eager for God’s opportunities, in response to our prayers, expectations and obedience. It was Jesus who said:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Matthew 28:16

But it was also Jesus who said:

“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
John 12:32

While Jesus was saying this to indicate His crucifixion, He was also saying how people would come to Him. For us to “lift Jesus up” is to boast on Him with those we meet. Is Christ so important in your life that His dealings with you are more exciting for you to discuss than the weather, this week’s game, or your vacation plans? It takes getting into the habit; but once you start “lifting Jesus up,” you’ll meet those being drawn to Him. God will be able to trust sending these dear souls to you; knowing you'll tell them about Him. Hudson Taylor wrote:

“If we want to be soulwinners and build up the church, which is His temple, let us note this: not by discussion or by argument, but by lifting up Christ will we draw men to Him.”

Ann and I were in Xinjiang for months, and hadn’t made anything like a friend. We’d met lots of wonderful people. Everyone seemed to be either friendly, or interested in the “foreign guests.” People were so nice to us, and I was reading friendship into every gesture. People there were warmer and less reserved than I’d grown up around. Also, hospitality is very important there. A friendly countenance and gesture there is simply a way to be neighborly. So it was going to take discernment if I were to ever sort out who wanted friendship, and who was only being friendly.

God also had to change my conception of evangelism. I believed that to share Christ, I first had to earn the right by first becoming friends with people we wanted to reach. I must have misunderstood some book that talked about, “friendship evangelism.” It sounds loving doesn’t it? It sounds like I’m respecting them by wanting to win their friendship before I told them they needed Jesus. That's proper. That's the polite thing.

Forget the logical obvious. Would I want someone to treat me that way? Would I like someone to befriend me simply for the purpose of gaining my trust, so they can lower the spiritual boom on me? I would think that this person was being sneaky. If someone didn’t really want my friendship, it would be pretty lousy of them to seem like my friend just so that they can tell me something they assume I’m too stiff-necked to listen to otherwise. How judgmental that would seem! I was cut to the heart when I saw myself doing this very thing. Okay, I repent! But now what?

One day, I was trying to visit a particular man at school, who I had hoped to befriend. Friends yes, and then of course I hoped that he would believe and be saved. My motive here was sincere. But how exhausting! I hunted for this guy’s dorm room. Men in each “wrong” room whose door I knocked on, invited me in for tea, but I passed each invitation up in the search of this one potential friend. "Friend" was still step one in my evangelism plan. I just had to be sincere about the friendship.

When I finally got to the right room, he wasn’t home. Disappointed, I had passed up at least five friendly invitations by people I didn’t know, in pursuit of this one “potential friend.” Muslim students and teachers knew I was studying their language, and were inviting me into their dorm rooms. Aghast at my own blindness, I went out to sit on a long bench by the river that ran through campus. I began to vent out prayers of frustration to God.

“God,” I said. “I’ve been fishing all day and nothing! I can’t understand these people! What I call a friend they don’t even seem to have a word for! But this guy seems different and I think we could become friends. But when I try to reach out, You don’t bless my effort! God, I came here for You, to make friends and introduce them to Jesus. Help me out here, will You please?!?”

Having vented, I sat by the river, waiting. It was a nice river. I opened my Bible and started reading. As lunch hour was ending, students were walking about, and soon several were sitting on the bench with me, asking what I was reading. I said that God loved them, and that this book I was reading, was about that. I said that the book talked about how to be forgiven of all our sins and how to receive God’s love. Even as I was talking, I felt forgiven afresh, having blamed God instead of trusting Him. I still didn’t see what He was doing. But my smile was back on.

As I began to close the book so as to converse, one man asked me to read some to them. "Would I!?!" I read the account of Jesus telling the fishermen to let down their nets. I read slowly, translating as best I could while they corrected and coached, till we got the meaning of the story. Then God suddenly put a picture in my mind. I saw myself fishing. How frustrated I looked! That, and I was not fishing the way that Jesus’ disciples fished! I held a spear. I was spear fishing!

Chasing down that one or two was tiring me out something awful! (Not to mention I was a lousy shot!) I’d been left wondering where God was, and why I was there at all! As we said “see you later” and rose to leave for the next class, I realized that these folk had just heard more eternal truth about Jesus, than they had ever heard before. By sitting on that bench and holding out my Bible for anyone to see, I’d perhaps just let down my net for the first time in a long time. Filled with joy; God had responded even to my frustrated prayers!

I sat again marveling at God's ways; now watching the quiet flow of the river. Then He said to me, “My boy, I didn’t bring you to China to make friends. I brought you here to meet My friends.” Though actually a rebuke, what love there was in His voice! I knew God was starting something new in both my heart and so, in our lives there.

Later that week we were singing, ”majesty, Kingdom authority; flows from His thrown, unto His own, His anthem raise.” Jesus said all authority had been given to Him. He then authorized us to go out and proclaim Him. If for any reason I didn’t obey Him, then I was shirking my Jesus given authority.

It’s God’s love we share! No government or social custom, whether overseas or here, that says it is “wrong” to present Christ, can take away our Jesus given authority. Of course we don’t want to offend. But there is a point when we can be so careful not to offend, that we do in fact, stop extending God’s love to those in great need.

So let’s be available and eager for people to know Jesus. Where are the fish? Let your net down! Permit God to bring any fish into your net that He’d draw in. Don’t go bass fishing. Don’t go salmon fishing. Just fish. The only bait is Jesus in you. Lift Him up! Talk Him up! I like how Paul describes the active and happy Christian: that we…

“may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which we shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life..”
Philippians 2:15

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