Dec 16, 2015 | Corey Porter
Thinking rightly about our experiences in evangelism
A walloping kick to the gut
I was on a flight home to Vancouver from Ottawa. I started a conversation with the young woman sitting next to me in the window seat. After some small talk I could tell that she was a very accomplished and articulate law student. I felt the conversation build in trust when she confided that her parents had divorced.
I took the opportunity to ask her if she had ever considered faith in God. At that moment I noticed her body tense up, and her replies were chopped and rapid. As the conversation progressed I could feel tension mounting. Then she exploded, “You’re delusional! You have no right to push your beliefs on me!”
I was unprepared and stunned by the full force of her antagonism. I froze. I became painfully self-conscious. I was certain that everyone around us heard. The anxiety that welled up inside my body paralyzed me. I couldn’t think of any words to redeem the conversation or disarm her emotion. For the next four hours I sat there, right beside her, but couldn’t find a single word that could reverse the stalemate.
Those were some of my most socially awkward hours in a plane. I felt like I had been physically punched in the gut and that feeling stayed for days following the conversation. I grieved her flat out rejection of God and her inflexible stance. I could feel the darkness and coldness within her soul towards God. I felt defeated because I couldn’t find the words to disarm her hostility. I felt like I failed. But mostly I was confronted with one truth: I could not change her heart, only God could.
Or invigorating engagement
Last year, after attending P2C PLUS, our winter student conference, I went to ski for a few days by myself in Banff, Alberta. In a huge room full of bunk beds at the hostel, Morgan and I were the only two guys, so conversation between us began quite naturally.
Within a short time we were talking about the gospel, and it lasted long into the night. He was amazed by it and very curious, asking multiple questions. The next morning we hung out and were playing pool. I asked him, “Have you thought any more about what we were talking about last night?” He replied, “I can’t stop thinking about it.” It was if God’s Spirit was weighing heavy on him. It was a joyful experience to see him seriously thinking through the gospel’s implications.
Why can’t I make them see?
Hmmm. Same message. Same messenger. Drastically different responses. Is there a lesson here?
Perhaps God allows me to experience varying responses to the gospel to remind me that he is the one who changes people’s hearts, not me. I don’t have power to change a person’s heart. I am to be a dependent messenger, relying on God to work.
When people ask me how the students I meet on campus respond to the gospel, I refer to the parable of the sower. I can literally see seeds of the gospel fall on heaps of rock of unbelief, choked by weeds of worry or fall on good soil.
With further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that there are three lessons to learn:
1. Only God can draw people to himself.
Despite my best reasoning and sound arguments, I can witness people rejecting Jesus. I need to be secure about his ability to work in their hearts. Although I can be used by God to help people along the process, I ultimately can’t change a heart.
The level of interest or acceptance of the gospel message is not dependent on my ability to persuade. It doesn’t depend on my competence as an evangelist. Having this assurance can help even the most inexperienced evangelist be used of God. You don’t have to be a pro.
2. God is not shaken by the rejection of people, even if I might be.
God extends opportunities for repentance, but he is not cowering or grasping to win the popular vote. His contentment is within himself, and his happiness is not dependent on how people respond. There is absolutely no insecurity within his being.
Whenever I enter a conversation about Jesus I need to anticipate that both openness and rejection are a possibility. It is wise for me to consider Jesus’ words in Luke 10:16. “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
As I recognize that ultimately, it’s about God and not about me, it takes the pressure off of me to perform and persuade. As I ponder that people rejected even Jesus himself, it helps me identify with what Jesus went through and not take it personally. I don’t need to feel threatened or become emotionally flustered and defensive.
God extends opportunities for repentance, but he is not cowering or grasping to win the popular vote. His contentment is within himself, and his happiness is not dependent on how people respond. There is absolutely no insecurity within his being. – Corey
3. I don’t get to determine the fruitfulness of my ministry.
When you are partnering with a group of like-minded believers to reach your friends, you will hear of all types of responses to the gospel.
Sometimes we can become discouraged if our experience doesn’t look as fruitful as others. Conversely we may feel proud when we have a good story to share.
If I am either deflated or inflated by my evangelism experiences, it is an indicator that I am looking to myself as the producer of fruit, rather than to God.
As I mature in my faith and in evangelism experience, I am learning to not let a fear of rejection hold me back from sharing the gospel. I am learning to not allow people’s initial responses, positive or negative, to affect my confidence in God’s work. I am learning to surrender my self-dependence and the temptation to think that it is within my power to change a heart. I can’t, but God can.
What about you?
Is a fear of rejection holding you back from sharing the gospel?
Are you inflated when someone responds positively?
Are you deflated when someone responds negatively?