As a follower of Jesus Christ in one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries in the history of humankind I often feel powerless when it comes to sharing the Gospel with my friends and loved ones.
Why in the world would these people want to talk about the salvation that is ours through Christ?
They are rich!
They are healthy!
They are safe!
They are free!
They are living their best life now – what could possibly motivate them to consider the state of their eternal souls?
And yet God seems to have a way of getting through to such people. Week after week, month after month – adult Canadians are professing faith in Jesus Christ.
Make no mistake – this is a work of God! No program, no strategy, no curriculum, no outreach event, no full colour brochure, no website, no decorating scheme or smoke machine deserves any credit at all for a single one of the dozens of adult conversions I have observed over the last couple of years.
This is a work of Sovereign grace from start to finish.
And while I would never deny the ability of God to move in spectacular and miraculous ways, in my experience, the hard to reach in our society are often drawn to faith through the following ordinary means:
Through their children
I’ve been having some fantastic evangelistic conversations recently with a man in our city who began coming to our church because of his desire to find a healthy community for his three kids. His plan, he told me was to drop the kids off for Children’s Ministry and then to sit unobserved and inattentive in the back row of our church.
But the Lord had other plans!
Against his will he began to be very interested in the things that he heard being taught from the Bible. It felt like God was speaking to him personally! It felt like the sermon had been written specifically for him! All of the sudden it wasn’t the kids driving the decision to come to church every week, both he and his wife were eager and even desperate to attend. They listened to the sermon in person and then they downloaded it off the internet in order to listen to it a second time. As I write this they are both contemplating baptism.
I’ve seen this pattern repeated again and again and again over the last several years.
Good children’s ministry is the best adult evangelism I can think of.
There are people in our communities who have absolutely zero spiritual interest but who will find themselves sitting in church because of their desire to find healthy role models and positive activity for their kids.
Through marital crisis
A number of years ago I received a phone call from a friend I hadn’t heard from in almost a decade. He told me that his marriage was in crisis and I was the only friend he had from High School who still loved his wife and he wanted to know what the secret was.
Talk about a gold plated invitation!
We started a conversation about Jesus that eventually ended up with him making a profession of faith at a Promise Keeper’s event about a year later.
Again – I’ve seen that basic pattern repeated on multiple occasions.
Everyone thinks they are doing fine until the relationship that matters most to them begins to come apart at the seams. All of the sudden they are willing to listen – all of the sudden they are searching for wisdom – all of the sudden they are aware of their need for grace and help from the outside.
Nothing humbles a man like the discovery that he does not have the ability to change. Nothing frightens a woman like the knowledge that her nest is about to implode and therefore few things position wealthy, middle class Canadians to hear the Gospel like a rupture in their marital relationship.
Through financial difficulty
The New Testament seems to assume that rich people will be generally indifferent to the Gospel. Jesus said:
it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:24 ESV)
It isn’t that rich people are more sinful than poor people it is simply that they are less likely to look to God for salvation. Rich people, by and large, look to their money for salvation. Who needs a miracle when you can buy your way out of trouble? No wonder Jesus said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20 ESV)
Being poor doesn’t save you but it does effectively remove the greatest barrier to your interest in the Gospel – your own self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is the opposite of Jesus-sufficiency. If you are trusting in you or your resources obviously you aren’t trusting in Jesus and his resources and therefore it is very often the shaking of our financial foundations that points us and drives us toward the riches of God in Christ.
Through social instability
Sometimes you have to see something fall apart before you are willing to admit the possibility of a faulty foundation. For years many observers have been telling North Americans that they are living in the last days of a cut flower culture. There is still some colour and beauty remaining despite our having severed the connection to the source of our life and flourishing.
It’s getting harder and harder to argue with that basic supposition.
Something is rotten in the State of Denmark – indeed something is rotten in seemingly every country in the Western world. The centre is not holding and we are coming apart.
All of the sudden, people are asking questions.
What is true?
What is good?
What is beautiful?
What is helpful?
What does it mean to be human?
As the world begins to shake and fall our stability is becoming a compelling argument. More and more people are going to look at the people of Christ and see something healthy, attractive and enduring. If Christians remain committed to the teaching of the Bible on matters of sexuality, ethics, justice and personal holiness we have an opportunity to be salt and light again in a rapidly decaying culture.
There is a sense in which sickness is a gift from God. It seems like not a month goes by in our church without someone coming to Christ through the ministry of hospital visitation. People who never had time or the inclination to consider their need of salvation when healthy and in their prime often find themselves searching for grace and mercy in times of sickness.
Sickness has a way of removing common barriers to the Gospel.
Sickness is extraordinarily effective at stripping away the barrier of human pride.
Sickness is extraordinarily effective at stripping away the barrier of self-sufficiency.
Sickness is extraordinarily effective at stripping away the barrier of apathy and indifference.
I’ve met some defiant people in the hospital but I have yet to meet an indifferent person.
Sickness and disease are part of the curse of God but they are also a demonstration of the kindness of God. It is as if God has strategically poisoned the wells out in the desert of destruction in order to point us back toward home.
When the mirage of human strength and vitality is stripped away and revealed as the false hope and vain idol that it is, the thoughts of many people return to Eden. Surely there is something more out there – something good and beautiful that was intended in some way for us. Surely we were made for more than this? There must be a way home and perhaps there is still time to find it.
I have seen many people turn to Christ in their final days – some even in their final hours – perhaps some even came to Christ after they stopped being able to respond visibly to the things that I was saying. If the thief on the cross could be welcomed into eternity than we mustn’t ever disparage the reality of death-bed confessions. Better late than never. Better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God then to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
I have never found wedding sermons to be an effective means of sharing the Gospel with unsaved people. The Bride and Groom are standing and sweating and praying silently for you to be finished as soon as possible. The guests are feeling put upon and the photographer is being a distraction.
But funerals are a different matter all together.
There is a commercial for life insurance that I used to hear fairly often while driving about town in my car. The voice on the ad said that the average Canadian spends less than 5 minutes a year thinking about death and those 5 minutes generally take place at the funeral of a loved one.
It certainly feels as if that’s true.
When I am preaching the Gospel at a funeral I feel like people are open and interested in unique and particular way. Death has the ability to remind us of certain things that we are normally very good at ignoring. Death shakes us and causes us to question all of our doubts and certainties.
What if there is a God after all?
What if there is a heaven?
What if there is a hell?
What if I get hit by a bus on my way home from this funeral?
Where will I go?
How should I prepare?
Why have I never thought of this before now?
People at a funeral are thinking about things and they are open to hearing answers from the Bible.
I was speaking just today to a woman in our church who came to Christ as the result of a funeral. The funeral was for her nephew and it made her think about life and death and where the little ones go when they leave this earth. She wondered whether she would ever see her nephew again and she realized that she needed to rediscover the Jesus she had been introduced to as a youth.
Death has a way of bringing those sorts of things back to the forefront of our minds – thanks be to God!
The people who appear beyond the reach of normal outreach and evangelistic appeal are never beyond the reach of prayer. When you can’t get through to people directly, you shouldn’t give up on them, you should just go around them; or rather, you should go above them.
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
Be aware however, that in praying to God for a stubborn and disinterested loved one you are likely praying for God to make use of one of the previously mentioned ordinary means.
You are asking God to get at them through their kids.
You are asking God to get at them through their marriage.
You are asking God to get at them through their finances.
You are asking God to get at them through their fears and insecurities.
You are asking God to get at them through their health.
You are asking God to get at them through the death of a loved one.
That’s not a reason not to do it, it’s just a warning so that you know what to expect.
Expect your friends and loved ones to be rattled. Expect them to be humbled. Expect them to be driven to their knees. But don’t despair because that’s exactly where God wants them:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 ESV)
The doggy door to eternity is only visible to people on their knees.
That’s the narrow gate!
That’s the eye of the needle!
And this is the kindness of the Lord.
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.