We now continue with the second part of the “Prayer, Care, Share” evangelistic sermon series. In the first lesson we talked about the importance of prayer to prepare our hearts to share the gospel and to prepare a lost person’s heart to receive it. We now consider the importance of sincerely caring for others as we seek to usher them towards Christ.
“Care” can be described as “building relationships that clearly display a love for God and a love for the unbeliever.” Our desire is to be a living example of Christ’s love for them, and because of this that they would be open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As it has been said before, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
We read the following story in Eric Michael Bryant’s book, Peppermint-filled Pinatas.
“In the days when I served with a youth group in Seattle, Christy, a girl new to our community, invited us to her sixteenth birthday party—an invitation she issued in passing as she left an event one night, which made it seem almost like an afterthought. As the day approached, Debbie felt we should go, thinking it would be a great way to get to know Christy and her parents. Christy’s dad was the one who first took her to our youth events, much to the displeasure of her mom, who didn’t want Christy to have anything to do with church. Nonetheless, into this hostile environment we decided to enter. Filling our car with three teenagers, we drove to the skating rink and arrived just a few minutes late. Balloons, streamers, and cake decorated this festive moment. Though we assumed other guests were on the way, since the table was set for thirty people, we were still a bit surprised that when we walked in, we were the only people there besides Christy and her parents. Thirty minutes passed, and then an hour, but no one else showed up for the party. (Three kids did breeze in, but only to wish her a happy birthday on their way to another event.) I remember looking at Debbie in the middle of this party and thanking her for insisting that we come and being so grateful that we had brought three other people with us. By the end of the night, we all had a blast playing video games, falling on the ice as we skated around together, and eating cake. (Man, we had a lot of cake that night!) Most important, I will never forget the response of her family. A few weeks later, Julie, Christy’s mom, the same mom who had harassed and berated her for coming to church, sat on the couch in the youth lounge, tears streaming down her face. Julie had decided to follow Christ. Curious about the reason for the dramatic turnaround, I asked Julie what had happened to move her from mocking Christy for her involvement at our church to now desiring this same relationship. Through her tears she looked at me and Debbie and revealed, “I changed my mind about God and Christians because you came to my daughter’s party.” Stunned and silent, I thanked God that we had not missed this moment. . . .We need to say “no” more often to our busyness so that we can create room for spontaneous adventures with others. We need to look for those who need a hug. We need to turn off our televisions and spend time in coffee shops. Ultimately, we need to reorient our lives so that we begin to invest in the people we already know and start investing in people who need a friend.”
We started with this story today, to show that this idea of sharing our faith is not reserved only for super Christians. Each of us have a part to play. God desires to work through each of us as He draws people to Himself.
David Bennet, is the national director of “Bridge-Builders”, an organization in the UK that is dedicated to helping believers share their faith. In his research of many believers it was found that:
77% of females and 53% of males (making 66% of the whole sample) gave details of some need or crisis in their lives which led them to consider Christianity.
86% had at least one relationship with a Christian, which was significant to them becoming a Christian.
From that information we see that relationship-based, need-focused evangelism is often what God uses to draw people to Himself.
If you are a follower of Christ, I would like to ask you, “Who did God use to help draw you towards Jesus?” Can you remember a face, a name or even a conversation?
Many are the believers who were ushered towards Christ by people that they knew. As you listen to their testimonies you hear words like, “I had a neighbor . . . there was a coworker. . . I knew a classmate. . . I had a family member.” They then tell how the life of that person impacted them in such a way that they became open faith in Jesus Christ.
From the other side, if you sit and talk with a group of non-believers, you will at times hear their stories or stereotypes of people who claimed to be “Christians” whose lives caused the non-believer to reject the Christian faith. Maybe those supposed Christians were either so nominal in their faith that it stirred no desire in those around them to consider Christianity, or maybe the lives of the prodigal Christians drove them away from pursuing a relationship with Christ.
In both cases we see the power of the living example. It brings us to the point of asking, “Does my life make it easier or more difficult for those around me to believe in Jesus?”
In scripture we find examples of this. In Acts 11:26b, in the story of the early church, we read, “In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” The name meant “little Christs.” What started out as a derogatory term used by people to mock Christians became the ultimate compliment. The fact that there was something about their lives that associated them with Jesus Christ was truly an honor. God would use those faithful, early believers, though small in number, and limited in resources, to spread Christianity throughout the entire Roman Empire.
The same principle was at work in Acts 4:13. This verse described the situation, after Jesus’ ascension, when some of Jesus´ disciples were brought before the powerful Jewish religious council in Jerusalem. “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they marveled and took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
As Christians this is our hope, that people will see our lives, take note that we have been with Jesus, and be drawn to Christ.
In Ephesians 5:1-2 we find these words, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."
God has called us to imitate Him, but why is it so important? Let´s consider it in this way.
In Hebrews 1:1-3 we read, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. . .The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” If we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus.
In John 14:9 Philip, one of the disciples, asked Jesus to show them the Father, and Jesus responded: "He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “For in (Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”(Colossians 2:9)
In Jesus we see God´s mercy and His righteousness. We see God´s grace and His wisdom. We see God´s love and His kindness. We see God´s patience and His compassion. We see God´s strength and His courage. We see God´s might and His gentleness. For all who seek to know God, the first place to look is in the life of Jesus. He is the exact representation of the Father. . . in the flesh.
God now calls us to minister to others “in the flesh” as well. Just as the world needed Jesus so they could see what God is like, the world needs us so they can see what Jesus is like. It is not just praying or speaking the gospel, even though both of those are essential. Once we are emersed in prayer for those around us we are called to intentionally care for them as well. It is through our Christ-like love that God will often draw others to Himself.
Scripture calls us to be reconcilers, lights, ambassadors, and witnesses. It is us entering into our culture and our relationships with purpose. Seeking to love others with a love of Christ. It is entering into the lives of others as Christ did with us. It is messy, emotionally draining, and time consuming, but as we love others as Christ has loved us, we will be their first glimpse of the salvation that they can find in Christ.
This is our call. “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) We are to, “love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. . . and love our neighbor as ourselves.”
We can see examples of this in Jesus’ life. The way he loved and cared for even the most unloveable. Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). The woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). The leper that Jesus healed by touching him (Matthew 8:3). Jesus did not love people because of who they were. He loved them because of who He is. In the same way we should love others not because of who they are, but because of whose we are. We are merely passing on God’s love to them. As we love God more He will enable us to love others more.
Through Christ, this Christ type of love becomes possible. Our lives are transformed so that we are able to love our enemies, forgive those who have wronged us, give to those in need, speak blessings instead of curses, bear each other’s burdens and even lay down our lives for one another. As a supernatural love for others takes root in our lives, a watching world will see that we are different. The Holy Spirit will provoke questions causing unbelievers to ask the reason for the way that we live and the hope that we have. Jesus will be proclaimed, and He will draw people to Himself.
Our care and love for others is not rooted in the idea that we are able to produce God-honoring, fruit-bearing, loving acts on our own. It is based on the truth that Christ now lives in us. We are merely displaying the love that Christ has now birthed in our hearts. We are the vessel that yields to the Spirit´s working in our lives. He is ready to overflow from our hearts if we will just get out of the way and obey the selfless movement of the Spirit in our lives.
1 Peter 2:9-12 is a great verse to follow. “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
In 252 A.D., the Christians of Corinth saved the city from the plague by responding to the needs of the sick who had been dragged out and left in the streets. They could do this because as Christians they were no longer afraid of death. They could risk their lives for the sake of others because Christ had given His life for theirs. They could serve others because pride and reputation were no longer a need for them. Their value came from the love of Jesus Christ not the approval of man.
Early Christians stood in opposition to the killing of unwanted babies, the degradation of women, the combat of gladiators, and slavery. With Christ life now had value. Every child, every woman, every gladiator, every slave, everyone had value and purpose that had been given by Christ. Because of that the early Christians were willing to risk all for the hope of saving some.
Christians in history were characterized by a strong work ethic, generosity and self-control. They also were committed to women’s rights, prison reform, and care for the handicapped and mentally ill.
During the Middle Ages monasteries served as hospitals and places of refuge.
Christians played a large role in bringing an end to slavery, starting the world's largest orphanage system, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, teaching 200,000 people to read in East Africa in one generation, bringing about the end of widow-burning and child sacrifice, bringing medicine to many parts of the world and starting education systems in China, Japan, and Korea.
It is a reminder that true faith results in good deeds. Loving others is the fruit confirming one’s salvation. As we read in James 2, “I will show you my faith by what I do. . . faith without works is dead.” If we are truly a Christian people our care for others will be an outward sign of an inward change. God will then use our care to usher people towards Jesus.
Gladys Aylward (1902-1970) was a mailman’s daughter born near London, converted at age eighteen to Christianity. While employed as a parlormaid, she set her heart on being a missionary in China. Eventually she would save enough money and travel on her own to Yangchen, China to serve as a missionary.
The way she shared Christ’s love in Yangchen was by proclaiming Christ with her actions and behavior as well as by sharing the gospel. She helped bring about the unbinding of the feet of many of the women in her area. She helped care for over 200 orphans. She was used by God to end a deadly prison riot. She managed an inn that witnessed to mule caravans by telling them the stories of Jesus each night in the inn. The people began to call Gladys Aylward "Ai-weh-deh," which means "Virtuous One." It was her name from then on. Before she finished her ministry in Yangchen, the Mandarin, who was an official authority from the government in her town, approached her and said to her:
“ever since you came to Yangchen I have kept an eye in your mission, I watched you care for my people, would your God accept this lonely Mandarin’s heart, for I have seen him so clearly in you, your actions, behavior. May your God be my God and may He watch over us.” By living out a life of faith, Gladys Aylward shared the gospel in such a way that even the Mandarin received its good news.
Can you imagine that being said of you in your workplace? “Ever since you came to work here I have kept an eye on you. I have watched how you have cared for those around you, would your God accept me, for I have seen Him so clearly in you, your actions, and behavior. May your God be my God and may He watch over us.” How amazing would that be?
From this story we can see that a Christian life well-lived is a powerful tool in evangelism, but still the question remains. . . How can we be used to care for the lost around us? The answer will be found once we are ready to die to self and truly meet the needs of others. As our hearts are turned outward and we begin to see the needs around us God will honor our willing heart and show us where He is working. It is surprising to see how visible the needs of others become when we are actually looking for them, listening for them, and praying for them.
May we serve others as they pass through death and divorce, loss of job and financial problems, challenges with marriage and parenting, anxiety and fear. May we be there for the new coworker, the struggling neighbor, the mourning friend, and the anxious family member. In the midst of their unbelief may our care for them be used to lead them towards Jesus Christ.
Astronaut Jim Lovell, in his book Apollo 13, tells the harrowing tale of being lost in the dark. It happened in 1950 as Lovell was flying a night exercise mission from the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La in his F2H Banshee. It was Lovell’s first night training mission when night flying from a carrier was just getting started. Storm clouds hid any light from the moon or stars. Disaster struck as Lovell missed his critical rendezvous with his mission’s two other planes. His plane’s instruments mistakenly picked up signals from the Japanese mainland leading him away from his carrier group.
As Lovell tried to use his map light to read directions, everything went completely black. All of the electronics in his cockpit short-circuited. Every bulb on his control panel went dark. Lovell was hopelessly lost flying in circles over the rough, choppy Sea of Japan. Engulfed by total darkness, he lost any sense of up from down as well as any sense of night sky from sea. He was in trouble.
Then in the darkness Lovell saw a light. Lovell describes it as “a faint greenish glow forming a shimmery trail in black water.” As a navy pilot Lovell immediately recognized what he saw. It was the trail of phosphorescent algae churned up by his ship’s propellers. Through the threatening darkness Lovell followed the “strange glowing algae” that now formed a “lit runway” safely back to his carrier.
That is a picture of our calling. That in the midst of a desperately dark world, our care for others would usher them out of their lostness and lead them towards salvation in Jesus Christ.
Matthew 5:16. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”