Joni Eareckson is a Christian author, radio host, artist, speaker, and founder of Joni and Friends, a Christian organization that helps the disabled all over the world. Those of you who are older may have first heard of her back in the 70s and 80s when she first became known. She produces a daily radio program that is heard across the country. She has written 50 books. She has received 20+ awards from prestigious organizations, and numerous honorary doctorate degrees from respected universities.
You may wonder why we need to give some much attention to her accolades, but that is not really the purpose. I mention this for the sake of comparison. Joni Eareckson is a quadriplegic. She is paralyzed from the neck down. In 1967, she was a 17 year-old enjoying an active life. She mistakenly dove into a shallow part of Chesapeake Bay, head first and fractured her spine. She has now been paralyzed for 55 years, but through her tragedy God has blessed so many others.
But not even that is the reason I am mentioning her today. It is what happen after her accident that I am wanting to share with you. In her account of her story, right after her accident she was introduced to Jesus, but this is how it happened.
Right after her accident she was in the hospital. Three or four groups were started immediately to pray specifically for her. They prayed for her through her times of depression and discouragement, bitterness and desires to end her own life. They also prayed that she would be open to the Word of God. Those were difficult days.
Her friends then began to care for her. Many of them visited her in the hospital. They brought record albums, their guitars, pizza and magazines. One came and polished her nails. Another read poetry. One brought homemade cookies.
In her own words,
“You know when I look back on that time when I was first paralyzed; yes, I was hurting terribly; I was confused and depressed; I was right on the edge, I could have gone either way, but when these friends opened up their Bibles, they had already won the right to be heard. I was willing and able to listen because the prayer and the care had softened my heart. And you know what? It tipped me in the right direction. I was able to direct my pain in the right way, toward God, toward His Word and toward His hope and help.”
Once again we see more than just prayer, just care or just sharing the gospel. We three the work of God as we bring the three together. They were not brought together by one person, but by a group of people.
Today we will consider the importance of sharing the spoken gospel. We will also consider how this at times will be done by one person and at others times may be done by a group of people working together.
Our evangelism starts with prayer, continues with care, and finally arrives at “Share.” “Share” can be described as “Being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading as we clearly explain the complete Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unbeliever who is open to receive it.”
Scripture tells how we are to be His witnesses to the world around us, but where do we begin?
If we are going to impact the world for the kingdom of God, it must start with praying and caring, but eventually it must arrive at the preaching of the gospel. Only the gospel possesses the power to transform lives. When we watch the news we are overcome by the evil all around us, but the biggest problem is the evil within us. We desperately need a Savior. Salvation is not found in starting another NGO, or in a government, or in the U.N. or in more education. Salvation is found in Jesus Christ. . . and his method of bringing the good news to our hurting world is through us. . . His people. Only we are called to be the light of the world. Our world, our country, our city desperately need us to take up this challenge and preach the gospel.
Romans 10:13-14 says this, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
People put their faith in Christ because God reveals the truth to their hearts. There is no question that faith is a work of God in one´s heart. Only God can open one’s heart to the gospel (Matthew 16:14). Belief in Christ as the Son of the living God cannot be revealed to us by man, but only the Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16:16-17). It is God who draws us to Himself (John 6:44). Christ is the Author and Perfector of faith. The Holy Spirit convicts a person of sin.
Salvation is the work of God but yet He calls us to be the bearer of His good news. Our responsibility is to prayerfully present the truth of scripture in as clear a way as we can. Taking into account language, vocabulary, worldview, maturity, culture, presentation method and application. We must give time and energy to our presentation and the holiness of our hearts as the conduit of the power of God´s Word, never forgetting that ultimately only the Holy Spirit can convict man of sin and guide us and them into all truth.
To “share” is to set before them the simple facts of the Gospel. That because of our sin, all mankind has been separated from a holy, righteous and loving God. That the wages of sin is death and that because of our sin we deserve condemnation and eternal separation from God in a place of endless torment, called hell.
God, seeing our desperate need, sent His Son down from heaven to earth to become a man in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a sinless life and willing laid down His life for our sake and was crucified on a Roman cross. In this act He paid for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God. Three days later he was raised from the dead conquering sin and death. All who will repent and believe in Jesus Christ will be saved and reconciled to a right relation with God.
In Colossians 4:6 the Apostle Paul gave these words of advice when telling on about the gospel,
“6Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt. So, that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
Their speech was to be gracious, pleasant and kind. An expression of the grace that God had given them. There should be something about what they said and how they said it that was modeled after the way that Christ spoke.
Jesus spoke grace to the woman caught in adultery, blessing to the children, new birth to the religious leader seeking answers, forgiveness to those who crucified him, hope to the thief on the cross. He spoke from the grace that He was given. We must now speak from the grace that we have received. We are a forgiven, blessed people. We must not forget that we, too, were once outsiders, fallen and separated from God. With this in mind may we speak with grace. May we be humble, and hopeful, bearing the sweetness of the gospel to all who would receive it. And may this graciousness permeate our conversation, regardless of what we are talking about.
Paul then said that their speech should be “seasoned with salt.” For the Greeks this would have been synonymous with wit, intelligence, logic, astuteness. That was likely part of Paul’s meaning, but there was also a secondary meaning. Salt had several different affects that fall in line with the role that we as Christians are to play in this world.
Salt was connected to the idea of purity. It was also used as a healing substance. It was a preservative and was most known for bringing a joy to life by bringing flavor to food. All of these could be descriptions of the words that should come from our mouths. It is interesting that one other affect of salt was to bring thirst. We, by the words that we speak, are to be used of God to create a thirst for Christ in the lives of those around us.
Paul then gave the reason for the graciousness of speech, seasoned with salt. It was, “So, that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
It was not so the Colossians would be smart enough to always think of the right response in the moment. The goal was that they would be abiding in Christ enough that when faced with conversations the words of their mouths would naturally be gracious because the overflow of their heart was gracious. We would also be attuned to the Holy Spirit so that we would be led to how we should respond.
When we are focused on Christ, walking with the Father and submitted to the Spirit, our words will be gracious and seasoned with salt. Even if we find ourselves in a discussion about the gospel with a difficult person still our words will reflect Christ and will not seek to embarrass, ridicule, humiliate or prove the other person wrong.
We believe the gospel and the importance of it being shared with those around us, but most struggle with the idea of speaking about Christ to others. It brings fear and uncertainty to many, but as we look at scripture, we begin to see that it may be more natural than we thought.
The book, “Becoming a Contagious Christian” points to the fact that in the Bible we do not see one set way of sharing one´s faith. We see numerous examples of how different believers shared their faith. We even see Jesus, Himself, calling people to faith in various ways.
We see Jesus sharing with the outcast woman at the well. It was a conversation that started out talking about water and ended up with her salvation. Another time he spoke with a religious leader late at night and explained it by saying that “you must be born again.” Still another time, Jesus spoke to a rich young ruler, requiring that for him to inherit eternal life he had to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. And these do not even include all those time Jesus shared with the crowds or small groups that came to Him.
We see the same in the life of Paul. He shared one way with the Jews in the synagogues and a totally different way to the philosophers sitting atop Mars Hill in Athens. Paul was well educated in Judaism and well-read in the way of the Greeks. He was one who reasoned with others on behalf of the gospel. In the same way many today find their preferred evangelistic style to be debate, apologetics and reasoning with others.
Others relate more with Peter. Bold, direct, and passionate. This was why he was the most likely one to share at Pentecost in Jerusalem, only weeks after Jesus had been crucified.
Some share Christ based on personal testimony more like the blind man in John 9. The man had been blind since birth and yet Jesus was able to miraculously give him sight. The religious leaders called the man to come before them because Jesus had the audacity to heal the man on the sabbath.
In John 9:24-25 we read this account, “So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man (Jesus) is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that thought I was blind, now I see.”
To many this way of giving testimony is the safest. No one knows your story better than you. As you tell your firsthand account of what Christ has done and is doing in your life you can speak with passion and conviction, convinced of what you have seen, heard and experienced.
Still others are more like Matthew in Luke 5:29. Matthew hosted Jesus at his house and invited all his sinful friends. Scripture called it a “great feast.” It was through hospitality, generosity and friendship that Matthew ushered many into the presence of Christ.
We see two other examples of how to share your faith by two women. The first was the afore mentioned woman at the well that Jesus spoke with. Upon hearing Jesus and believing, she set off to invite others in John 4:29-30; 39-42,
“29Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
At first, she used her personal experience to invite them to Christ. Once there, she was not the one who presented the gospel. She just invited many, many people towards Jesus where they heard the gospel and believed.
While we each need to be prepared to give the reason for the hope that we have, some are really good at inviting and gathering people for the sake of Christ. Inviting can play an important role in the process as we invite them to share prayer requests, invite them to fellowship events, invite them to church and eventually invite them to put their faith in Christ.
Lastly, we look at the example of Dorcas in Acts 9:36. She was well known for her good works and acts of charity. She became ill and died. They sent for Peter. The following verses described what happened next.
“39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. (Acts 9:39-42)
It was through her service to others that God used her death and coming back to life to bring many to faith in Jesus.
To some, this is their best way to share the light of Christ. They may not be people of eloquent words, but their servant heart speaks loudly about the love of Christ.
Others will question, “but how can you call this is evangelism? All Dorcas did was good works and acts of charity.”
That is a legitimate question. Some Christians and churches now give all their attention to good works and acts of charity, without any mention of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Others preach the gospel loud, but without any good works and acts of charity. So, which is more pleasing to God? Which wing is most important to a plane? Both.
One way that scripture describes evangelism is with the idea of “the harvest.”
Jesus said these words in Matthew 9:36-37,
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Think about that word harvest for a moment. In the physical world, it is a person or a tractor going through a field when the crop has borne fruit and is ready to be picked and either eaten or taken to market. To make a spiritual comparison, when talking about evangelism, the “harvest” would be speaking the gospel to a non-believer and in response they repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ. The person is born again, forgiven, made new, welcomed into the family of God. The angels are rejoicing and the harvest has come.
We often think of harvest of fruit or a grain as a one-moment-in-time event, but in reality it is many small events that make the harvest possible. It is evaluating the soil, preparing the soil, pulling weeds, picking rocks, adding fertilizer and finally planting the seed. It then is irrigation, protecting from pestilence, giving time for the laws of nature to bring the growth until the time comes for the harvest.
A spiritual harvest is much the same. The preparation of the soil is a huge determinant of when and even if the harvest will come. We read about it in Jesus´ parable of the four soils in Matthew 13. The sower planted seeds on four different soils but only one soil was prepared for the seed to bring fruit. The first soil was too hard, symbolizing that the person who heard the gospel never even understood it. The second seed was thrown on rocky soil. It grew quickly but then died away. It is similar to a person who hears the gospel of Jesus and at first gets really excited, until tribulation or persecution causes them to fall away. The third soil was sown “among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
Finally, Jesus told of the seed planted in the good soil. This is the one who hears the word, understands it and receives it. It indeed bears fruit and yields a harvest.
In this parable we see how much the preparedness of the soil affects the outcome of the harvest. This explains why evangelism to strangers, with no relationship to prepare the soil, is often not very effective. The majority of time spent in evangelism is not in the “sharing of the spoken gospel”, it is in the prayer and in the care that precedes it. We must remember, the harder the soil, the more preparation will be required.
It is interesting that the sharing of the seed becomes easier once the soil is prepared. Yes, we must always be ready to speak the reason for the hope that we have in Jesus, but as we look towards the harvest may we understand that evangelism is much more than Bible verses, and a spiritual debate. Even if we are not a great theologian, telling someone about what Jesus has done in our lives is so much easier when they have become a good friend of ours, have seen the change that Jesus has made in our lives, and are wanting to know more.
May we allow God to use us in our unique way as He prepares the heart of others. Be encouraged. We don´t all have to be great philosophers and debaters like the Apostle Paul. Or bold and fearless like the apostle Peter at Pentecost.
Consider the following story told in Jim Petersen´s Book, “Living Proof: Sharing the Gospel Naturally.”
When he was thirteen years old, my son Todd asked, “Dad, how can I be a good testimony? I´m not as good a Christian as Michelle (his older sister). She´s talking to her friends about Christ.
My mind flashed back to the time I was thirteen. I remembered how I had been caught between two unreconcilable desires. I wanted to measure up to what I imagined my parents expected of me so far as having a Christian testimony among my friends. But at the same time I had to meet my needs for approval among my peers. I remembered the guilt and tension this conflict caused me. Now, how could I help my son avoid the same problem?
Finally, I said, “Todd, don´t worry about words. Just concern yourself with one thing, Be a peacemaker.” I explained that if he would be genuinely considerate of the other person, and if he would take the initiative in resolving the conflicts that arose, he would be doing what God wants of him. This was something my thirteen-year-old could handle.
A few weeks later, Todd had an argument with Eduardo, our neighbor´s boy, and their friendship broke up. When Todd and I talked about this incident, we reviewed our discussion on being a peacemaker and read Romans 12:17-18 together. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Todd decided to take the initiative, visited Eduardo, and restored their friendship.
Soon after that, Eduard’s mother invited my wife over to her home to talk. She explained that her family had observed Todd´s friendship with Eduardo and concluded, “We think you have what we need.” A thirteen-year-old´s life opened the door to another family.
This is a story of 1 Thessalonians 1:5 in action. “Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”
It is an example of the son living the life of Christ, but then the parents actually speaking the gospel and leading the mother to Christ.
Prayer, Care, Share may be done completely by one person, but it is also a corporate plan. Some are really strong at prayer, others at care, and others bear fruit more readily when they share the gospel with words.
Our prayer is that Prayer Care Share will initially be a willing reminder, then a habit and eventually a natural way of life.
Oh, that God would give us a heart like Jeremiah in regards to sharing the words of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot (Jeremiah 20:8-9).”
The truth of God was so dominant in Jeremiah’s life that he could not be silent even if he tried. May God move each of us to this point where the love of God is so changing our lives that even in the face of adversity we will speak of it freely.
Today may we pray for God to break our heart for the unbelievers around us. May we cling to the Good News of Jesus Christ. May we pray for the salvation of others. May we love as Christ loves. And May we speak the good news of Jesus Christ with boldness and humility.