Have you ever wrestled an alligator? Been skydiving? Bungi jumped? Rode a bull? Tried mixed martial arts cage fighting? Been in a high-speed motorcycle race? Brought someone to faith in Christ?
If that last question doesn’t seem like it should be grouped with the rest, a lot of Christians secretly feel it ought to be. Where introverts are concerned, talking to somebody about Jesus is as “out there” as holding a friend’s pet tarantula, or eating duck brain at a Chinese restaurant—things you could live your entire life and happily never do.
We’ve all got good reasons for feeling this way about evangelism. We don’t know enough. We don’t have a strong enough Christian life. We don’t want to trigger an argument with somebody.
And so we hope church meetings will do evangelism for us. If people would show up there, maybe they’d have a “wow!” moment that changes everything. This sometimes happens, and the Bible even describes it in 1 Cor. 14.
But how often have you invited someone to a church service, and they came, had a pleasant experience—even wonderful—raved about it, and then never came back? They never gave an explanation as to why, and you didn’t ask for one, because you’re an introvert (remember?) and you didn’t want to bug them about it.
Small case in point. One of the folks in our church brought a friend to our Sunday service back in the Fall. The girl gave us two thumbs up, and said she wanted to continue attending. “Sign me up!” “I’m in!” Yada, yada. Then we never saw her again.
That’s because something else is needed, something more than sitting in a chair for an hour.
The Bible tells us God is waging spiritual war against the forces of darkness. Think of church meetings like the air war—basic B-52 carpet bombing. But the folks in the church who are personally praying for people, speaking to them, and following up with them, are the ground war.
You really can’t run a successful campaign without both air and ground. The Sunday morning experience is edifying, and deserves to be handled well, but who’s on the ground? After we drop all our ordinance—our powerful worship songs and superbly crafted sermons—who’s going to be on the ground to plant the flag?
That’s the first question hanging out there—“Are you willing to be on the ground?” My guess is that most of us would give a shaky “Yes.” But then we’d quickly add that “I’m not really cut out for starting conversations with people. I’m hardly comfortable placing an order at a drive through window, let along talking to people about eternal life.”
Suspend your self-doubts for a minute, because I’m going to present a different starting place for evangelism than your mouth. Instead, I’ll start with your eyes.
Jesus exemplified what I’m talking about.
He said of Himself, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He was God’s man on the ground, and His pattern was to seek before He saved.
Does an all-knowing person need to seek for anything? You would think not, and yet Jesus went through a true relational search process. He met people, and met people, and met people.
If you read the gospels, you’ll see Jesus at a wedding. Jesus at dinner. Jesus at a funeral. Jesus at the temple. Jesus walking on the road. He went through the gamut of human experience, interacting with people as He went, all the while looking.
Jesus gave an example of God’s searching heart by comparing it to a woman sweeping the floor for a lost coin (Luke 15). I’ve always thought of this picture involving a regular house broom with a three-foot handle. You sweep standing up. But more likely it was a whisk broom, where you get down on all fours and sweep at the baseboards.
That reflects the seeking heart of our Savior. This is how He found you—by going low to the ground and paying careful attention. You weren’t easy to find.
Some of us think since we were raised in Christian homes, it simplified the search. Not really. I’ve worked with Christian youth for a lot of years, and some of them are the hardest to “find.” The spiritual numbness there can be appalling.
Regardless of our background, Jesus had to look for all of us with a pocket broom.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, when He gives instructions to us about evangelism it also starts with the idea of looking. He said to the disciples, “ Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest (John 4:35). He gave three action items in the verse—1. Look. 2. Lift up your eyes. 3. See.
By doing this, Jesus called the disciples into a heightened state of alertness. We’re supposed to notice the harvest is ripe. A field of human souls exists around us and they are all arriving at conclusions. They’re realizing there must be something more to life. Or that their moral darkness is slowly choking the life out of them. Or that they’re headed toward the end of this life and wondering about the afterlife. Some are curious and wish they had a reliable source to answer their questions. Others have erected a defensive shield, but wish there were good reasons for dismantling it.
These folks don’t easily divulge heart-level secrets, and especially not to us, but their deep thoughts continue to percolate, nonetheless. Our number one problem is forgetting to look for them.
Some of the things we ought to notice are so obvious it’s crazy.
About a month before our big Utah family vacation, my sister called from Arizona. She told me her 13-year-old son, my nephew, had heard a sermon in church about baptism, and wanted to be baptized.
She added, “He wants you to baptize him.”
I said, “Oh, isn’t that nice” and thought, Maybe one day.
Try to understand how blind I was at that moment. My mind was busy with important things, like trying to pack fishing equipment for the trip. The airlines are such a racket. What do they expect you to fit inside one free carry-on bag? Wash rags and flip-flops?
Meanwhile the telephone conversation continued, with my sister pouring out her heart about my nephew’s spiritual development. I pinned the phone between my shoulder and ear, moving to work on church bulletins. Oh man, this printer guzzles ink.
And then my slow connection came. First, my nephew wanted to be baptized. Second, I was going to see him next month. And third, our destination was a going to be a lake, and lakes are—gasp!—filled with water!
As Christians who want to be used by God, we’re supposed to be looking for where He is working, but sometimes it’s so close you don’t notice it. Like the car keys you tore the house apart looking for when they were in your pocket the whole time. Or the cell phone you couldn’t find, and the last place you remember having it was the grocery store, so you called the grocery store looking for it.
With your cell phone.
Either this describes early on-set dementia, or simply the human habit of being so distracted we forget to look in the most obvious place—right in front of us.
There I was, thinking about the gospel for greater Columbus, while God was thinking about my teenage nephew in Arizona.
I baptized him.
Try this: the next time God, the church, the Bible, a Jesus movie, the purpose of life, sin, etc., comes up in a conversation, mentally mark it by telling yourself, “Look!”
It’s a personal wake up call, a self-directed attempt to rivet your attention on what’s happening right in front of you.