the work of an evangelist
The calling to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5) has been put to each and every person who follows Jesus Christ. Like all of his commands, this one brings us to the end of ourselves.
We have no power to change someone’s mind or open someone’s heart. Each man, each woman is a silent fortress of private hopes and fears which we cannot enter on our own. We must be invited in. But only those who are trustworthy get invited in and on our own we fall short of such a title. But this is not inescapable, God has the power to re-shape and re-make us so that we truly are worthy of our friends’ trust.
He does this by the power and the presence of his Holy Spirit. Men and women find Christ to be worthy of trust and so they welcome him into their lives. But this trustworthy Christ also now lives inside us because of our faith. This is the mystery - “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). It is not we ourselves who must gain access to our neighbor’s hearts. But it is the Lord.
When Paul and Barnabas spoke to Lydia on the riverbank in Philippi, “the Lord opened her heart to the message” (Acts 16:14)
The Lord is the heart-opener.
After Lydia’s heart was opened she accepted what Paul was saying. First comes the opening of the heart by the Lord and then comes the acceptance of the message by the searching soul. Notice evangelism here is conversational and very personal. It happens in the context of a small group without stage lights or a professional speaker.
To do the work of an evangelist then throws us utterly onto the mercy of God. It is not a job we can do. If their heart is opened, he has done it. If they accept the message, he has done it.
This is a central truth about evangelism. We must never forget it. But let's not stop there. If we focus solely on God's central role, it can eclipse our role. Thinking there is nothing for us to do, we throw up our hands and stop before we even start.
But, abdicating our involvement in evangelism is the way of the uninformed fool, not the way of a faithful disciple.
God has always used people to achieve his ends. (Moses, Jonah, Peter etc.) In the heart-opening work of evangelism God continues this pattern. God uses people. God uses us.
In this combination of human and divine efforts, evangelism has many parallels with farming.
The farmer studies the soil and the seasons. He plows the ground, he places the seed, he waters the seed. But he is unable to make it grow. The sun has to shine. Roots must sprout. The farmer is both active and passive. He works and he sweats but he does not bring the growth. New life is a partnership between the work of the farmer and the work of God. The same is true in sharing our faith.
How we are active
Doing the work of an evangelist means planting and watering the seed. The seed is our personal gospel story. We labor to resist the storyline our culture imposes upon us. We labor to discern instead how Jesus Christ has uniquely rescued us. Saint Patrick said he was like a stone sunk in the mud. Tolstoy said he had come to a precipice and seen clearly that there was nothing ahead of him but destruction. What is your story? It will take work to come up with it.
Often times we don’t know our own story. We have blocked out parts we are ashamed of. But your story is the seed you must work to plant. (If you want to develop your story - download this document "How to tell your story with Jesus as the hero")
To water the seed comes in two forms, friendship and prayer. I water that seed with my tears in prayer calling out to God to show himself to the searching soul. I also water that seed by becoming a real friend who can be trusted because Christ has made me trustworthy. There is no place for falsehood here.
How we are passive
We are passive by refusing to pressure them. We remember that God must open our friend’s heart. I cannot manipulate or coerce, but I can still ask if anything is holding them back from following Jesus.
“we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2).
Our friendship and our prayers, as well as our refusal to pressure them, all comes from love. “We loved you so much” says that great evangelist Paul, “that we shared with you not only God’s good news but our own lives too” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
But here again we are thrust back onto a total dependence on God. We are at the end of ourselves because genuine “Love” is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). In myself, I only have a weak self-centered semblance of love for others. But when I contemplate the crucified Jesus, bleeding and pleading for my pardon, God’s love breaks into my heart afresh. A transfusion is performed on my soul. His strong untainted love flows into me in the most essential and life altering way. And my weak self-centeredness dwindles away. Without this transfusion of love I am content to keep the good news of God’s pardoning verdict of grace to myself. But, with this transfusion, I can share it freely.
His rescuing love is the trustworthy seed that our friends need. When shared sincerely, it will change them as it has changed us!
Let’s go plant.
Let’s go water.
Let’s watch God open hearts.
"Do the work of an evangelist!"