Seizing Opportunities to Shine the Light to Strangers
Benjamin Franklin said, “If you want to be remembered after you’re dead, write something worth reading, or do something worth writing about.” Are you currently doing something worth writing about? Marcus Aurelius Antoninus said, “The true worth of a man is to be measured by the objects he pursues.” What object will we pursue this day—a paycheck, a win, a pleasure, an accolade, or a pat on the back? Perhaps all of these and others. But isn’t there something more exciting, more important, more significant, and more permanent?
Yes, we can pursue a soul today!
The word gospel begins with “go.” It ends with “el,” which could stand for “everlasting life” (cf. John 3:16). What stands between the “go” and the “el”? “SP”. What stands between a sinner and heaven? Some Person. Will you be that person?
- If so, you will be one of God’s “stars.” Daniel wrote, “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).
- If so, you will be counted a wise man (Proverbs 11:30).
- If so, you will be like Jesus (Luke 19:10), for Jesus loved to tell the story. Study His life and follow His footsteps as He traveled throughout all Galilee, “teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). According to Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, at the time that Christ lived on the earth, there were about 240 villages in Galilee, so reaching every location there was no small undertaking. Watch Him cover that same territory a second time (Luke 8:1). Read again as He made a third journey throughout all Galilee (Matthew 9:35).[popover title=”Source” title_bg_color=”” content=”THE REMINDER (a blog) for September 27, 2009.” content_bg_color=”” bordercolor=”” textcolor=”” trigger=”hover” placement=”” class=”” id=””]*[/popover]
- If so, you will bring great joy into someone’s life (Acts 8:39).
- If so, you will start a celebration in heaven (Luke 15:4-7).
- If so, you will lay up for yourself great treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Who is going to receive a warmer welcome in heaven than one who has sent another ahead?
WHAT CHARACTERISTICS ARE NEEDED TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN SEIZING OPPORTUNITIES TO TEACH STRANGERS?
WE MUST BE WATCHFUL (JOHN 4:35).
Jesus said, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16). Knowledge that there is a God in heaven whose providence is at work on earth makes the Christian’s life exceedingly interesting (Romans 8:28; Esther 4:14). God knows what is going on in the hearts of earthlings (Proverbs 15:11; John 2:25; Hebrews 4:13). “The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men” (Psalm 11:4). He can arrange meetings between sinners interested in knowing the truth and Christians interested in teaching it. God brought Onesimus and Paul together (Philemon 1:15). God brought Philip and Candace’s treasurer together (Acts 8:26, Acts 8:30).
Expectant might be a better word than watchful. If we pray at the beginning of the day for God to give us an opportunity to teach someone the gospel, we should expect an answer to that prayer. Jesus said, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:22). Yet if we do not have our spiritual eyes open, we might miss the answer to prayer. An English proverb says, “Some men go through a forest and see no firewood.” Like this, some Christians go through the day and see no prospects. They might let the person God arranged for them to meet pass by without even giving him or her a glance or greeting. A management axiom illustrates this point:
To look is one thing.
To see what you look at is another.
To understand what you see is a third.
To learn from what you understand is something else.
But to act on what you learn is all that really matters.[popover title=”Source” title_bg_color=”” content=”http://ebooks.gmpsoft.com/ebook_excerpt/a1/ThSpeakesQuotBoo.html.” content_bg_color=”” bordercolor=”” textcolor=”” trigger=”hover” placement=”” class=”” id=””]*[/popover]
WE MUST BE FLEXIBLE.
Most of us have full schedules—agendas, to-do lists, and appointments. Many of our opportunities to teach others will come at inopportune times. We have to be flexible enough to say whenever possible, “This is my priority right now. I’ll make time for this conversation, study, and soul.” One man said, “I have a sign on my mirror that I see every morning when I first wake up. It reads, ‘What have you got going today, God? I’d like to be a part of it. Thanks for loving me.’”[popover title=”Source” title_bg_color=”” content=”Powell.” content_bg_color=”” bordercolor=”” textcolor=”” trigger=”hover” placement=”” class=”” id=””]*[/popover]
Philip closed down a successful gospel meeting to go teach one man from Ethiopia (Acts 8:12, Acts 8:26-27). The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable delayed his trip to help a man in need (Luke 10:33-35). This Samaritan stopped to help, and dirtied his hands by dressing the man’s wounds. He put the man on his own beast, which meant that he had to walk. He took him to an inn, stayed the night, and left money to care for him in the days to come. He was flexible; he was unselfish (Matthew 16:24; Galatians 2:20).
For contrast, consider the priest and the Levite. The robbed man would have died just as much from their neglect as from the robber’s wounds. They were not flexible. They did not want to get involved. Perhaps they had good excuses.
- “If I touch a dead man, I will be unclean and can’t lead in worship.”
- “I left late and I’m in a big hurry.”
- “There are important matters which require my immediate attention.”
- “My family is expecting me home soon.”
- “There is nothing I can do; he’ll probably die anyway.”
We might call these characters the passing priest, the looking Levite, and the sympathizing Samaritan. Which do we want to be?
WE MUST BE BOLD.
It is usually a now-or-never, use-it-or-lose it, hit-the-ground-running adventure. Evangelizing strangers is not for the faint of heart. It is a good thing, then, that “the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). Peter and John were bold (Acts 4:13). The early saints prayed for boldness to preach the word (Acts 4:29); their prayer was answered (Acts 4:31). Paul and Barnabas “waxed bold” and determined to carry the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Paul did not allow shameful treatment to stop him; he remained bold in the midst of suffering (1 Thessalonians 2:2; cf. Philippians 1:20). Paul rejoiced when brethren showed backbone (Philippians 1:14), even when from the wrong motives (Philippians 1:15-18). Deacons are bold (1 Timothy 3:13). In Christ, we all “have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Ephesians 3:12).
It seems that Paul was fearful when evangelizing in the wicked city of Corinth, so the Lord spoke to him in the night by a vision, saying, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). Paul continued there for eighteen months with great success.
What can make us bold?
- Spending time with Jesus (Acts 4:13) in reading and mediating on Him from the Scriptures.
- Studying the Bible’s teaching on fear. Jeff Clark observed that the phrase “fear not” (or the equivalent) is found 365 times in the Scriptures—one for every day of the year. Among those Scriptures is this gem from Jesus: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). God wants us to succeed in building up His kingdom!
- Remember the gravity of our work: “We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace” (2 Kings 7:9). Christians have news too good to keep! We must not be like shy teenagers sitting across the room afraid to ask for a date. We must summon our courage and just do it. Frederick Wilcox said: “Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second with your foot on first.”
- Remember God’s promise to be with us (Matthew 28:20). “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). J. Hudson Taylor said, “All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God, because they reckoned on God’s being with them.”
- Pray (Acts 4:29).
WE MUST BE KNOWLEDGEABLE (1 PETER 2:2; 2 PETER 3:18).
With stranger evangelism, we do not usually get a second opportunity. There is no time to go home to look up a scripture or find our notes from last Sunday’s sermon. We must be ready to give an answer in the moment of the question (1 Peter 3:15). This requires careful study on many topics, for we do not know where the door into the discussion will take us. It may lead us to discuss the moral decline of the country, or some political hot potato. We may meet someone that is struggling with marriage problems. Or we may need to discuss a doctrinal issue or just a Bible question on some fact or character. Therefore, the broader our knowledge, the better equipped we will be to be helpful and gain the confidence of others.
WE MUST BE PERSONABLE.
A smile, a fit word (Proverbs 25:11), and a pleasing personality are useful tools in stranger evangelism. A man that hath friends must show himself friendly (Proverbs 18:24), and so must a man who wins a soul.
Opportunity is a wonderful word. Paul used it: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men” (Galatians 6:10). When we are constantly looking for opportunities to share the good news, we find potential prospects all around. Paul saw the Lord’s hand in opening doors for evangelism:
- “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9);
- “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 2:12);
- “Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds” (Colossians 4:3).
Opportunities must be seized because time is limited: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). We must work while it is day for “the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4). We must redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5). We must be “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you” (Romans 1:15).
Sometimes we lack opportunity, as the Philippians did who wanted to assist Paul (Philippians 4:10). Yet we may be able to increase our opportunities with thought and planning. Milton Berle said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”[popover title=”Source” title_bg_color=”” content=”http://www.wow4u.com/opportunity/index.html.” content_bg_color=”” bordercolor=”” textcolor=”” trigger=”hover” placement=”” class=”” id=””]*[/popover] Like the friends of the crippled man (Mark 2:4), evangelistic Christians find a way to get the gospel into difficult places.
“If there be first a willing mind” (2 Corinthians 8:12; cf. 2 Corinthians 8:3; 1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalm 110:3), then amazing things can happen. The devil cannot keep the gospel from the lost—when we are willing to fight him (1 John 4:4).
The average person who lives to be seventy years old spends his time in the following fashion (cf. Ephesians 5:16):
- 23 years sleeping;
- 19 years working;
- 9 years playing;
- 6 years traveling;
- 4 years unaccounted;
- 2 years dressing; and
- 1 year in church activities.
Church activities—including winning souls—is the only thing that will last. “Lord, lead me to some soul today.” When this world’s houses, cathedrals, monuments, businesses, and stadiums have crumbled down, been burned to ashes, or been destroyed in storms, the souls we lead to Christ will be as valuable as ever.
Moses said, “For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19). He commanded Israel, “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). “Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Moses named his firstborn son Gershom, which means “refugee” “for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22).
Not only were they to do no harm to strangers, they were to take steps to help them: “And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:10). “When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:20). The stranger that “dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).
One of the things that distinguished Abraham and Job as great servants of Jehovah was their attitude toward strangers. Abraham was gracious to the angels who passed his way before he knew they were anything but passing strangers (Genesis 18). Job said, “The stranger did not lodge in the street: but I opened my doors to the traveler” (Job 31:32).
In the New Testament, blessings are pronounced upon those who are considerate of strangers: “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in” (Matthew 25:34-35).
The Spirit commanded, “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body” (Hebrews 13:1-3). Gaius was approved of John with these words: “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers which have borne witness of thy charity before the church” (3 John 1:5-6).
Why does God place so much emphasis on strangers? Each stranger has a soul made in His image (Genesis 1:26). Each stranger is loved by God more than he can comprehend (John 3:16). Each stranger was purchased by the precious blood of God’s only Son (1 Peter 1:18-19). Each stranger needs to know about the most wonderful person who ever lived—Jesus (Isaiah 9:6; John 7:46; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 3:11). Each stranger needs to know that Jesus is coming back (Matthew 24:36 – 25:46). Each stranger will one day stand before God to be judged according to the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).
God places emphasis on strangers, too, because we can never get the gospel to the whole world by teaching only those we know personally. There are presently about 2.1 million New Testament Christians in the United States, and there are 307,901,825 citizens. In order for each lost American to have an opportunity to be saved, each Christian must personally reach 147 on average. If American Christians are to reach the whole world (6.8 billion people), then each of us has to reach 3238 people. Further, untold millions are dying untold. The death rate is at the highest it has been in the history of the world:
- 57.9 million people die each year
- 158,857 people die each day (66,000 people of these die having had no access to the gospel in their lifetime)
- 6,619 people die each hour
- 110 people die each minute
- 1.64 people die each second.
The Good Samaritan teaches us the lesson of tragedy benevolence and evangelism (Luke 10). Jesus’ parable was used to illustrate that our neighbor is anyone in need. Though it does not speak directly of evangelism, it demonstrates the principle that we should be ready to help all victims, any time. We should help them physically—getting them treatment for wounds and disease. We should help them financially—meeting their need for food, clothing, and shelter. We should help them mentally and emotionally—providing them counseling and professional attention for their inner wounds.
But most of all we should help them spiritually—saving the soul is infinitely more important than saving their bodies and minds. Redeeming them for God is far more meaningful than reclaiming them for society. This reminds us that the goal of all physical assistance should be to lead the person to Jesus for spiritual assistance. The applications from this example include reaching out to the victims of society (abused/abandoned children, battered women, sexually abused). We should not shy away from helping those who have been given up as unsalvageable by society.
Lydia is an example of stranger evangelism (Acts 16:14-15). She must have had to overcome her fear of a strange man who came up to talk to her. This teaches us that we should go where the people are. We should go where people are in the mood or frame of mind for religion and spiritual discussions (the Internet for instance). Lydia shows that professional and wealthy people also make prospects for conversion.