Can the gospel be shared effectively in the most unideal of circumstances? I recently heard a story about a new believer in an unreached group that blew my mind and made me smile.
There was a guy who left his faith and started following Jesus. Naturally his wife and wider family would be upset, hurt, confused, and even angry. But he still told happily told his wife about the good news he believed, and she rejected it time and time again.
Until one day…
It was their anniversary, and sadly this guy completey forgot. Not a good move, forgetting an anniversary in the wake of bringing massive scandal and shame on the family. His wife would not be too happy. So what did he do? (wincing…)
He told her that he had the ultimate present for her. And then instead of pulling out some jewlery he had stashed away, or pressing go on some elaborate surpise plan, he told her the gospel. I know, not exactly the best way to get back in her good books, and definately not the best timing.
But she believed and was saved, right then!
There’s something something so right about the childlike faith and enthusiasm this guy had for the good news. Remember, in his culture the gospel is considered offensive, even blasphemous, and his new faith would have been the ultimate source of shame and grief for his wife. But he knew that it was good, good enough even to tell her on the day he forgot her anniversary!
In spite of everything that was messed up about that situation, he could stand there like an excited little kid and say, “Honey, I know I messed up and you’re upset, but I have the absolutely best thing for you!” He could say this because he knew how good the gospel is, and he knew the joy and peace it would bring.
We can share the gospel with people who hate us, with people who don’t trust us, with people who are prejudiced against us, even with people we’ve dissapointed. The gospel doesn’t need a perfect set of circumstances to come across with power. It’s good enough to save people who are angry with us, or suspicious of us, or are obsessed with their religion, or enthralled by their sin.
I know another guy who shared the gospel with someone who had vowed to kill him in revenge… and he believed too! But that’s another story.
The other night I was out in a park, wandering around and hoping to talk to some people from one of the most unreached people groups in the world.
I said a word or two to a guy next to me at a little canteen stand, and he kindly insisted on paying for my water I was buying. Then he invited me over to their 15 other friends sitting in a circle on the grass. I sat down with them and they welcomed me like an old friend. We all sat and talked for a long time, their faces beaming with a deep respect, interest, and excitement. We joked and talked about life, about funny, and serious things. They didn’t mind that I was some random dude they just met. They also didn’t mind that my language was faltering and weak. They were just happy to sit there and patiently talk with me.
These are also the kind of people who probably never get to meet a Christian ever in their lives. They’re from a people group that might have only 1 believer in every 250,000 people. And yes, they’re that easy to talk to.
We just need people to let go of their plans and take the time to sit with these people, learn their language, and share the words of life. Anyone up for this?
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2)
But not the kind of training that most people think of.
It takes a lot of training to learn how to live and move, and then speak and pass on the words of Jesus in a foreign land. There’s a million little things someone has to learn about how to ride the bus, say hello to people, sit down and stand up, go to the bathroom, let alone learning to talk, make conversation, and make yourself understood. And the only way to do this is by spending all kinds of time figuring things out, ie. ‘living’ in a new foreign land.
This is not a training that any school can give. It’s a training you get in the streets, living rooms, and everyday conversations you have in the land you’re wanting to reach. And it does take a lot of time.
Without doing this though, without getting active and accustomed in the new language and flow of life, a person can’t do much without becoming quickly exhausted or giving up.
I believe this is one of the more critical tasks that often gets overlooked.
When we live out in these far-flung corners of the world, we can get into some pretty tricky and stressful situations.
This could be difficulty in finding housing, or some rumor that you can’t control, or a whole host of other things…
Whatever it is, the enemy works to paralyze us with anxiety or despair.
But no matter how bleak or overwhelming any situation may look, we need to remember that our heavenly Father isn’t phased at all. In fact, he’s never phased by anything.
Think about that for a second.
He cares way more about preserving your life and opening the right doors… and now situation or trial, no matter how messy or un-solvable it may seem is beyond his power.
So we just need to look to him, pray, and then take whatever 1 or 2 steps you can. Relax. He’s got it and he’s not freaking out. Trust him.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Learning a language is kind of like un-blocking a river. You remove bits of mud, take out stones, and pull away logs that would be obstructing (or diverting) the flow of the river.
Sometimes it’s a tough and tedious process, and sometimes it might feel like you’re not really getting anywhere.
But the pressure of the river is always ardently surging forward. At first it’s an ever increasing trickle. Then it turns into a firmer flow that tugs at your ankles, and then finally it lets loose into a constant rushing current that carries you away.
The pressure of the river makes the un-blocking easier.
For some, this river (this motivation) might be the desire to talk to some people or some special someone. For others it might be a desire to make money, or to get ahead in the world.
But for us, this current, this forward-propelling, obstacle-removing force, is the very living waters of life springing up from within us. We long to talk to people and pass on the good news. We bubble with excitement when we start to be able to have little conversations with these people that God loves. And we’re propelled forward by his desire to be able to speak and get the gospel in every last corner of the earth.
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’“(John 7:38)
If we can just take the time to remove the obstacles (the language we don’t know), then this living water can naturally flow forward and spill out onto very, very thirsty, dry ground.
Some people are afraid of becoming a missionary because they’re worried that things might not pan out, or they’ll be stuck without a way to earn money later, or they’ll have nothing to ‘fall back on’ years from now.
The logic is simple: If this doesn’t work out, or when I’m done doing this, I’ll be snookered for life.
Riiight… Let’s think about how reasonable of a thought that is for a second:
The God of the universe has been longing for all eternity to fill the earth with his Good News and glory. He’s been aching for all the poor lost souls trapped in darkness. If there’s one task he’s determined to get done before the end of the world, it’s to have the good news of Jesus spread everywhere.
Now you’re thinking of letting go of your other plans and devoting yourself to this task.
Do you think that God would just leave you–one of his precious workers–high and dry? Do you think he would just schluff you off and leave you to figure out your failed life on your own?!
Come on, let’s be realistic.
We need to remember:
God is a very good, loving Father.
God is super eager to strongly back anyone devoted to what he is passionate about.
Look at how he filled Moses’ life with miracles, provision, and rumbling fire. And our job is more glorious than even his!
“If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!” (2 Cor 3:9)
So maybe you’re thinking of prying your hands of your current pursuits and ruining your life to go carry the Good News to the darkest places on earth. I’m pretty sure God is infinately stoked about that and he’ll take very good care of you.
It can seem so long, so trying, and even counter-productive or irresponsible.
I mean after all, Jacob was just hidden away, toiling for 7 years, and then 7 more, just to get some girl!? Wasn’t there something more productive he could have done with his time? Or couldn’t he have found someone else and gotten married sooner?
In the same way, there are so many other good, productive things that could be done by a young servant trying to break into the language of some far-away people. Spending 2 years doing that means 2 years not doing some other great thing. And the language learning process can be so trying, frustrating, and even humiliating.
But like Jacob, the cross-cultural messenger is driven by a love and passion that makes the months and years melt away. He’s working for a beautiful bride. And so he’s determined to turn away from other opportunities, to bunker down, and to put in the necessary labor.