Pastoral Articles

Returning to those “First Loves” – Personal Evangelism

Returning to those “First Loves” – Personal Evangelism

By: Dr. Jeff VanGoethem

 

I climbed in the Dead Sea once. I was enticed to do so by someone who said it would be “fun.”  After all, because of its unique composition, you can sort of bob around and not worry about sinking.  One merely floats to the heart’s content, or so I was told.

What I was not told was how stagnant the water is in the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea is really quite foul – stuff flows in but never flows out. It’s dead. All life is killed off and it is not at all pleasant to be in the water. It stinks. It is irritating. I quickly got out and although I have returned to Israel since then I have always avoided repeating this experience.

The nature of the Dead Sea is similar to the Christian who is not sharing his/her faith – a lot flowing in but nothing flowing out. It leads to stagnancy. Likewise, a church that is not outwardly focused and longing and yearning to win others to Christ is a stagnant church, one that will tend to be foul and polluted.  Everything flowing in, nothing flowing out. I hate to use such strong imagery but I am convinced this is so. I have lived it. And if you are honest, so have you.

I am not writing this about “other” people. I write this out of the depth of my own flawed experienced. I know how I feel in my own life when I am taking in and taking in, and never giving out. I begin to feel foul and stagnant. I try to walk with God every day.  I have learned that if I am walking with God it is not possible for me to feel good about my Christian experience if I am not bold and transparent in sharing my faith with others.  I can certainly understand believers who do not have any kind of a strong walk with God when they say they sense no pain or discord over a lack of witness – they have an entirely different problem, which is backsliding. But for those of us who worship regularly, read the Bible, fellowship with other believers, pray, and diligently walk with God, we cannot feel good or complete without healthy evangelistic interaction with those we rub shoulders with every day.  How can we feel good about following Christ and not live with a sense of mission and a sense of concern for those outside of Christ?

And by “mission” I don’t mean “missions.”  It is easy to love the lost when they are on a different continent. It is a easy thing to believe in evangelism when you never see the people that are being evangelized and someone else is doing it. It is a totally different ballgame when we are talking about lost people in our own neighborhoods. We cannot fulfill the New Testament gospel mandate if we only pay attention to foreign missions. In scripture, there is no wall between the two. We must develop a love for lost souls wherever they are.

So what hinders us from witnessing?  What hinders us from this love? Why do we get stagnant? Some might say it is (1) a lack of training and know-how.  Yes, a little know-how helps. But this is not the main problem. Some of the most fruitful evangelism comes from new believers who actually know very little. Some might say it is (2) the busyness of life.(3) I just don’t have any giftedness in that area. I have other spiritual gifts.  But doesn’t the Great Commission apply to every believer? I think so. Some might say (4) I don’t have the personality. “I just can’t walk up to people or knock on a door, I just can’t see myself doing that.”  Join the club, I am a naturally reserved and introverted person. I am the last guy on earth to carry around a big black Bible and have a Jesus belt buckle on. I don’t like the headlines. Yet this is no excuse – the Bible tells me for example that as a pastor I am “to do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5).  And this argument can be a bit of a straw man.  Such activities are more extraordinary. I am talking about natural evangelism primarily, just living openly as a believer and being willing to tell others who we are. Yes, we are all busy, but I know many busy people who share their witness in the natural course of busy lives. They even take time for needy souls they meet. Some say, well

Some might say they (5) fear rejection and offending others. Ah, now we are getting closer to the problem.  Many of us FEAR MAN.  And that is a huge spiritual problem. The Bible teaches that if we love God we will not fear man (1 John 4:18).  Bold witnessing is an issue of the heart. A lack of longing to witness is often the fear of man, a spiritual problem, one which must be solved primarily on our knees.

What we need is a great love for Jesus and a great fear of God. When God looms large, people seem small. And when we have that perspective we will witness. Not because some pastor tells us to do so, but because we will long and ache and yearn to speak to others about Christ and His saving mercies. Because we love him.  Because we fear for them. Witnessing should never be done out of pride but only out of love.  It should never be done out of guilt but only out of concern for others. Love for Christ first, then love for souls. So it is love that creates the longing for and the boldness to witness.  Love for God.  Love for souls. Such a love can only be developed through praying through our fears, with deep repentance when we find that we fear man more than we love God. Developing a bold witness is part and parcel of returning to what the Lord Jesus called a first love.

 

Let’s review some biblical teaching:

 

1. Regarding evangelism in the New Testament, we see a COMMAND to be the Lord’s witnesses (Acts 1:8).  Every Christian is a witness. There is no second team, we are it. We are to be His witnesses here and unto all the earth. The Lord wants “every creature” to hear the gospel (Mark 15:16).

2. Regarding evangelism in the New Testament, we see an EXAMPLE (Acts 2:47).  The early Christians, filled with the love and spirit of Jesus, lived with a mission and brought souls in. We spend so much time in the modern church worrying about how to attract people to the church.  However, the New Testament pattern is for the church to go out and bring people in. That ismissional, not attractional. We must live with a mission.

3. Regarding evangelism in the New Testament, we see a BURDEN (Romans 9:1-5).  Paul exemplifies this. So desperate to win others to Christ, he once stated that he longed to be able to give up his own salvation if he could do so!   Amazing. I cannot comprehend that thought. That is nothing other than a deep, Holy Spirit-given burden, the very thing we must pray for. Quite frankly the reason we often fail to witness is because we have no spirit-given burden to do so. Our hearts are barren of the fresh work of God.

4. Regarding evangelism in the New Testament, we see a FOCUS (Acts 19:9-10).  There are many obstacles, difficulties and disappointments in the work of evangelism, but those under God’s burden will continue on regardless and heedless of these things. Witnessing is all about consistency and perseverance. Few people come to Christ in their first hearing of the gospel. We have to stay with it as God moves hearts to believe.

 

What can I do to return to a love of sharing my faith?   How do I recover this love?  Let me say two things about this.  First, just keep walking with God. That is of preeminent importance. Be submissive to His will. Receive with humility His command to bear witness.  Be honest with God in prayer with where you are at. Have a loving relationship Him.  Pray, be in the Word. Notice the people around you, pray for them. Walk with God and be willing to be obedient.  See if He does not give you a sense about to whom you should speak and when.  God does not lead us to speak to everyone, but He leads everyone of us to speak to some.

Second, pray through the matters of the heart relative to evangelism. If you have not been witnessing out of love, ask God to change your heart. As your heart changes, so will your actions. God will give you such a love for Jesus and such a concern for souls that you will long to witness. And then because you are longing to witness you’ll get concerned about getting better at it. And you’ll get some training, and you’ll try your best and you’ll learn and you’ll think and pray and before you know it, God will be using you!  You’ll get excited about it. It is a wonderful and thrilling adventure to be on a mission for God every day.

 

Read through the material below. Will you pray through these points, confessing to God whatever is true of your life and seeking God’s gift of repentance? Many years ago I wrote this out of the pain of my own failures. I have been guilty of everyone one of these points.  But I return to this exercise every time I need it.  It is one I have used frequently to my benefit.

 

 

Regarding lost people

  • I have failed to pray fervently for the lost (1 Timothy 2:1-7).
  • I have failed to develop a deep burden for the lost (Romans 10:1).
  • In my selfishness, I have failed to make my time available to lost people (Acts 16:13).
  • In my pride, I have judged and looked down on lost people instead of going out of my way to embrace them (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
  • I have failed to target and seek out the lost (Romans 15:20).
  • I have not been devoted to inviting lost people to worship and other Christian events (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

Regarding evangelism

  • I have failed to be bold on many occasions when I have had opportunities to share my faith (1Thes. 2:2).
  • I have failed to seek out and initiate conversations about spiritual things (Acts 17:16-17).
  • I have failed to pray for boldness and have sacrificed God’s power (Acts 4:24-31).
  • I have not sought out training in evangelism and thus have been spiritually or intellectually unprepared for evangelism (1Pet. 3:15-16).

Regarding our Christian living

  • I have not been motivated enough by eternal realities (2 Corinthians 5:11).
  • I have more fear of man than of God – caring more what others think of me than what God things of me (Matthew 10:28).
  • I have often lived in such a way as to make the gospel unappealing to others instead of manifesting the fruit of the spirit (Matthew 5:16).
  • In our Church life and Christian living, we have often focused more on our own needs and preferences than on the needs of others (Philippians 2:19-21, Romans 12:10).

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