There is a word in Christianity that causes cold sweats in those who hear it; it causes those in the pews to avert their eyes lest they make eye contact with the speaker and get personally called into action.
The word? …. Evangelism.
Some dictionaries define evangelism as the “zealous preaching and dissemination of the gospel, as through missionary work.” And there is the problem with the concept: We hear “evangelism” and we think we have to go to some foreign jungle, live in a grass hut, eat bugs and preach to those that don’t even understand our language.
But evangelism really just means “sharing the good news” and we’re all commanded to do that, whether we have the gift of evangelism or not (Matthew 28:19-20).
And opportunities for evangelism can look really different, depending on the circumstances.
Several years ago, I was blessed to be part of a team that traveled to India to, among other things, provide support in training pastors. Our trip focused on Uttar Pradesh, a northern Indian state with over 200 million (very poor) people. Despite the high population figure, most of the pastors with whom we dealt would return to rural areas and small villages to pastor a few “churches” each.
At the end of one of the pastors’ conferences, we separated into several groups of 10 or so, with one from our team in each group. As part of getting to know one another better, we spent time sharing in our groups how each of us had come to a saving faith.
One of our team members, Pete, heard stories over and over that were very similar to what the rest of our team was experiencing. So, Pete stopped the discussion in his group after five or six had shared. He interrupted and asked if any in the group had come to faith in a manner that DID NOT involve miraculous healing. One man sheepishly raised his hand and shared that he had been raised by missionary parents.
Later that evening, as our team debriefed our experiences in the groups, it became obvious that the overwhelming majority of faith stories from our Indian pastor friends involved miraculous healings. While each story varied, the miraculous healings were a definite common thread.
Here is a story from a pastor in my group that is illustrative of the healing stories (and it did not really stand out at all): Rakesh was from a very poor village with multi-generational families living together in one- or two-bedroom homes. His sister developed a “fruit-size” lump on her back that was purple and very sore to the touch. Their parents took Rakesh’s sister to several priests in the many Hindu temples throughout the area (different temples for various gods in their religion). They sought healing by incantations, sacrifices, offerings and even blood-letting rituals. But nothing helped. The tumor continued growing and growing. Rakesh’s mother heard about a man in their village who prayed to a different god named Jesus and she desperately sought out the man. She begged him to come and heal her daughter. The man went to Rakesh’s house and told them that he couldn’t heal the girl, but Jesus could and he would pray to Jesus for them. Within a few days the tumor began shrinking and ultimately disappeared. Again, Rakesh’s mother found the man who had prayed for her daughter and asked him to come and tell them about this god that healed her daughter. This led to the entire family accepting and following Jesus, and Rakesh ultimately being called into pastoral ministry.
The man in Rakesh’s village wasn’t going door to door passing out tracts or preaching in the village square. He was living his life for Jesus in a way that others noticed. God used his willingness to step into the situation and God performed a miracle, laying the groundwork for the man to share the good news.
Elsewhere, in several Muslim-dominated countries, there are very few opportunities to “share the good news” with the masses or even one on one if the “evangelist” attempts to initiate the discussion. While Muslims already believe in the historical Jesus as a prophet/great teacher, God has been using dreams and visions to visit Muslims and to show them a Jesus that is merciful, gracious, loving and seeking a relationship with them.
Although they often recognize that it is Jesus, they seldom know why or what to do with their experiences. They tend to keep the issue bottled up inside, yet it stirs their souls in ever-increasing ways. This often motivates them to seek out someone they think can help them understand their dream or vision. They are too cautious and wary to let (Muslim) family or (Muslim) friends know what is happening, but they become very sensitive to who can help them.
This may lead to making contact with a person they see in a coffee shop who is wearing a cross necklace; they may stop someone on the street who is carrying a Bible; they may eavesdrop on conversations when they hear the name Jesus or if they simply are near Americans (because everyone knows that all Americans are Christians, right?).
The point is that Jesus is doing the heavy lifting – He is visiting these people and planting a seed of curiosity and need in their hearts. They are often then motivated to seek out someone (anyone!) to explain Who it is that is visiting them and why.
Miraculous healings, dreams and visions – those concepts seem like biblical-era phenomena that just don’t fit in to our enlightened way of living or “doing church” today. Instead, our view of “sharing the good news” may involve holding up a John 3:16 sign in the end zone of a football game so it gets on camera with every field goal; or blasting the “good news” on a bullhorn at a busy intersection on the corner of “Walk and Don’t Walk;” or maybe it is throwing a few dollars to a “professional” who has been called to the mission field.
It isn’t that those things aren’t evangelism. But those are impersonal, specific, prearranged and more like shotgun approaches, not aimed at anyone in particular.
However, if we approach each and every day with a readiness to share the good news of what Jesus has done for us (1 Peter 3:15), we will be prepared when God arranges divine appointments with someone seeking Him – whether that is through a miraculous healing, a dream or vision, or — more likely — a lost job, a strained marital relationship, someone needing help with a flat tire, etc.
There are literally millions of ways for us to share the good news about Jesus. However, what happens when that good news is shared is up to God. He prepares hearts, He empowers those willing to share and He gets all the glory for the responses.
Our instruction about how to share the good news is illustrated in one of the first biblical stories about evangelism. A man had been set free from a “legion” of demons. He was anxious to leave everything behind and follow Jesus into the “foreign” mission field. But Jesus told him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).
There it is! That is evangelism — go tell everyone how much the Lord has done for you.
You don’t have to quit your job. You don’t have to move to Istanbul. You don’t have to learn another language.
In fact, just as Jesus is using miraculous healings, dreams and visions to reach the lost around the world, He can use you in your current job, your current relationships, your influence on social media . . . whatever!
Jesus sets up the divine appointments; all you have to do is go tell everyone how much the Lord has done for you.