Complexity and Simplicity
The task of evangelism can seem daunting and complex. The call of Jesus to preach the gospel and to make disciples can intimidate even the boldest of believers. If the Great Commission is the task, how can believers evangelize in a way that is simple and relevant to the individuals we are seeking to reach? As those who seek to proclaim this gospel message, we can take comfort in the fact that we are not alone in this endeavour. God is the ultimate evangelist and God is at work in the lives of those who don’t know Him yet.
In Luke chapter 19 we read that Jesus encountered a man named Zacchaeus, a Jewish tax collector who had sold his soul in the service of Rome. He was an unredeemable person in the eyes of the Jewish religious leaders and many of his fellow Jews. But when he encountered Jesus, Zacchaeus heard from him statements that affirmed his personhood and his worth. From that point, everything in his life changed.
However, God was at work in Zacchaeus’s life even before Jesus spoke to him. Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus, and he even climbed a tree in the hope of getting a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by. Jesus then honoured Zacchaeus by eating with him (at his house!) and Zacchaeus responded by promising to make up for the wrongs in his life. Zacchaeus found God and “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’” (Luke 19:9–10 NIV). Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and Jesus is good at his job.
God the Evangelist
Scripture highlights the evangelistic heart of God and describes God’s methodology when it says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).
The heart of God is that none would perish. The methodology is allowing time. God is giving people time to be impacted through direct intervention and through other people. In Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out, and miraculous things begin to happen. It is the dawn of a new age as God launches into evangelistic mode. God is now at work upon, with, or within, all people. God the Evangelist also partners with believers (like with Peter in this chapter) to bring in the harvest.
The Role of the Evangelist (and Our Role)
The Holy Spirit took an active role in leading the Apostle Paul to Macedonia, to the city of Philippi for the conversion of Lydia. Although Paul initially had different plans, God had in mind an exact time and an exact place for that encounter. Paul’s role was to be open, sensitive, attentive, and obedient to the Spirit’s direction.
If God’s heart is that none would perish, and if God is giving time for people to respond, our role is to be open, sensitive, attentive, and obedient to the work that God is doing. If God is the Evangelist, then our prayer for “daily bread” should include, “Lord, show me where and with whom you are working. Help me to fulfill your Great Commission by recognizing you at work in others.” God may well change our plans as the Holy Spirit directs the agenda.
As we encounter others, learning to ask simple questions and offering prayer can be effective way to engage with them. Questions like, “Has God ever tried to get your attention?” or, “If God was real, what methods would God use to connect with you?” If someone is going through a difficult time or looking for wisdom, we could respond by offering prayer (as opposed to just promising to pray for them). An offer to pray could be as simple as, “I am a believer in Jesus. Would you mind if I prayed with you right now for help in your specific circumstance?” Following up, you could then ask them what they felt God did in response to the prayer.
A New Season and a Simple Approach
One of my mentors recently stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has “ripened the harvest.” He meant that people are now open to talk about spiritual things. I decided to test his observation. Last summer I spent several days walking through a local park. As I walked, I asked the Lord to show me who needed prayer. I would walk up to various individuals and say, “Hi, my name is Steve, and I am a Christian. Is there anything that I can pray to God for you today?” To my amazement, over 50% of the people invited me to pray for something specific and had short conversations with me. Not one person all summer long was derogatory in their refusal! Those who asked me to pray shared real issues that they had been struggling with. Many had already cried out to God asking for help. Others stated that no one had ever offered to pray for them before. People were looking for God.
About ten years ago, a person phoned me with the news that her brother was in a nearby hospital. The doctors expected him to die very soon. She asked if I would go and share the gospel with him. I accepted and drove to the hospital. On the way, I rehearsed my evangelistic spiel (the Romans Road scriptural approach and the Bridge illustration of the gospel). I prayed as I entered the hospital and the Lord spoke to me very clearly. He said, “Extend forgiveness to him.” In my twenty-minute conversation with him I felt like I was prevented from sharing my gospel pitch. Finally, I shared with him the statement that God had communicated to me. On my drive home, his sister phoned me, and she was angry that I had “failed” to share the gospel. I wondered, “Lord, did I really hear from you or have I failed my mission?” Two days later I received a call from the sister, and she was in tears. Her brother had passed away, but a day earlier his daughter had come to visit him. He told his daughter that a minister had “extended forgiveness” to him the day before. They found a Gideon Bible in the hospital nightstand, read it, and both accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Needless to say, both the man’s sister and I rejoiced on the phone that God is good at evangelism and that He can work through anyone.
Who might God already be speaking to among your friends, family, and neighbours? How might God be asking you to join in His work of drawing people to himself? Let’s be people who are open, sensitive, attentive, and obedient to the work that God is doing.