August 9, 2023
I begin this week by reflecting on a thought from my last DeacoNote that I think bears repeating. In the warmth of summer when our days are filled with the chores, joys and distractions of the season, it is easy to find ourselves conflicted when it comes to the "church stuff." Part of this conflict arises from the view that they are different things, and we think we have to choose one or the other at any given time. A related thought comes from Os Guinness in his book, The Dust Of Death. He observes that we do not often stop to realize, that the heroes of our faith are not "great" men. Rather, they are "ordinary" men, who manage to do great things because God is working through them. He goes on to say,
They have no time for the prevalent mentality of "All or Nothing." Better the significant "something" than the illusory "All," or the frustrated "Nothing."
It speaks to the fact that too often we settle for "nothing," because we know that achieving the "all" is well beyond us.
Not long ago, I had an opportunity to preach. After the service, a guest came up and introduced himself. He said that it was good to put a face to the name, because he had heard about me through a mutual acquaintance. Then he jokingly said, "of course the recommendation did not mean much, considering where it came from." To which I retorted, "Yes, but he piqued your interest just enough to get you to come and check me out for yourself, didn't he?" While this exchange was intended to be just for fun, the more I thought about it, I think it serves as a wonderful model for evangelism. Instead of thinking that every encounter has to result in a conversion to a lifetime of service to Christ, maybe we should concentrate on offering up our recommendation, poor as it is, with the objective of piquing their interest in God, just enough to get them to to come and check Him out for themselves. Matthew recorded what we now call the Great Commission as
Matthew 28: 19 Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
A good friend of mine once suggested that we read this verse all wrong. We often interpret this verse as telling us to "Go" somewhere, and then when we "Get There," then we teach and baptize. He made a convincing argument that it is much more consistent with the rest of the gospel to read this verse as if it said, "In Going. ..."
The key distinction is that it is not a destination, like a school. It is a journey, like real life. We are to be teaching and baptizing "As We Go Along" about our everyday life. It is not to be thought of as a task separate from everything else we do in life, but as the manner, the way, the attitude, the process by which we go about everything else we do in life. Our life is not intended to be separate from Christ, but rather, it is to be so infused with Christ, that the manner in which that life is lived, teaches others about Christ.
In the context of the whole church body, each doing their part in its way, no one does it all; many do their part - their significant something. Paul described it to the Corinthians,
I Corinthians 3: 5-9 ... the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers, you are God's field, God's building.
Interestingly, one of the most "significant somethings" you can do to spread the gospel is, as one of my former pastors put it, to be a friend. In the communication of any idea there are two important parts. The first is the transmission, or telling, of the idea, The second is the reception, or the listening and accepting, of the idea, It takes both parts for the idea to make a successful transfer from one person to another. In the case of spiritual things, it is rare for a person to "accept" heartfelt eternal advice from someone they do not know and trust. Effective evangelism often begins by first being their friend and gaining their trust. Perhaps, this is why Jesus also advised His disciples,
John 13: 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Bill Hybels tells a story in his book, Just Walk Across The Room, of contributing to the conversion of a neighbor by ... being a neighbor. Their relationship began as neighbors, who only spoke when they happened to meet while putting their garbage cans out for collection. Over a period measured in years they became friends. At some point Bill invited his friend to attend church. A few years later, his friend shared with Bill that he had finally accepted Christ as his Lord. But Bill was not the one who got to pray that prayer with him - someone else had watered that initial seed and saw it bear fruit. Our role in someone else's spiritual journey may be different from person to person and situation to situation. The key is discernment and the leading of the Holy Spirit. I like the approach offered by Bill Hybels - he writes,
These days, I try to wake up each morning declaring, "My life is in your hands, God. Use me to point someone toward you today - I promise to cooperate in any way I can. If you want me to say a word for you today, I'll do that. If you want me to keep quiet but demonstrate love and servanthood, by your Spirit's power I will. I'm fully available to you today, so guide me by your Spirit." Sometimes the end result of praying this prayer is that the Spirit allows me to have a spiritual conversation, that tells of a loving and righteous God who created all things, who has a purpose in mind for all people, and who is actually hoping to relate with them as they walk through life. Other times, the Spirit simply prompts me to serve and love and listen to the needs of those who are far from God.
The key is this: my objective is not to contrive ways to "get someone saved"; rather, my objective is to walk when He prompts me to walk, talk when He says to talk, fall silent when I'm at risk of saying too much, and to stay put when He leads me to stay put. If I can lay my head on the pillow at night knowing that I have cooperated with the promptings of the Spirit that day, I sleep like a baby.
He goes on to write,
I don't know about you, but when I am relating in a healthy manner with Jesus, there's vitality and openness in my spirit to the promptings of his Spirit. Staying attuned to the Spirit means I have a heightened awareness of the things going on around me. In the midst of a circle of comfort I find myself able to keep one eye open and roving to watch for someone I am supposed to see. I'm able to keep one ear open for the Spirit's whisper. Even though my spiritual senses are far from perfect, in those "attuned" moments, I am incredibly alert to God pointing me toward someone across a room, his voice saying, "Just walk ..." If I'm serious about being transformed by God's Spirit, then I can't shy away from the discomfort and awkwardness and ambiguity that exist when I abandon my safe circle of comfort. The upside is too great for that, because when I feel a Spirit-led prompting to walk across a room for the first time, it's like live voltage coursing through my veins. As I put one foot in front of the other to reach out to someone, who may be twenty feet away from me, but who's living light-years away from God, I am part of something immeasurably greater than myself. This is what it's like to experience God's supernatural power at work in an otherwise ordinary day. And the Bible says that this is what real living is all about - walking through every moment plugged into the Holy Spirit. Imagine what would happen if every single morning every one of us prayed fervently, like Paul, that God would open doors for us that day! But Paul doesn't stop at praying for open doors. He also prays for all that will unfold after he steps through that open door.
Colossians 4: 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should
In other words, Paul says, "If God should open the door, then more than anything else, pray that I will make the message clear!" Don't miss the most fascinating aspect of his request: Paul does not request prayers for him to be clever, or likable, or impressive. Just clear!
Let this be our prayer as well. Amen. Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend, or post a related thought on the Comments below.
Warren J. Ayer, Jr.
Chairperson, Board of Deacons
United Church of Colchester