For many of us, evangelism is one of our least favorite aspects of Christianity. It makes us feel uncomfortable and pushy. But telling the world about the hope we have in Jesus is such an important topic that we have to keep drilling into it – looking at our role and our responsibility in telling others this Good News.
In our last message, Pastor Brent did a great job setting up this series by unpacking our most common fears when it comes to evangelism.
Fear of what others will think of us
Fear of offending others
Fear of being asked a question we don’t have an answer to
Fear of coming off as too preachy
The remedy he offered to those fears was simple and is truly effective – relationship. You see, when you tell somebody who knows you, who has a relationship with you already, about what Jesus is doing in your life, you will be received much better than the forms of evangelism most of us think about when we hear that fearful E word.
But after reading that message, I realized the answer still didn’t move me to tell people about Jesus. Yes, it addressed the same fears I have about evangelism as you all do, but there is something inside me that still keeps me on the sidelines when it comes to telling people about what Jesus has done for me and in me.
Like you, I have relationships with lots of people who aren’t Christians. But I almost never talk about Jesus with those people. And why? Because I don’t think about it – I don’t think about bringing up their spiritual life when the life we are living is already so full of stuff to talk about. So spiritual things just don’t come up in conversation. And really, when I really think about why it never comes up, it’s because I don’t think it’s important to tell others about Jesus. I make assumptions about those people and imagine that they don’t care and so why should I?
That’s a big confession to make – especially as a pastor. But it’s true. And I think I’m probably not the only person who feels that way. You see for some reason I have little motivation to talk with people about spiritual needs.
I read about evangelistic pastors who seem like they are having spiritual conversations everywhere they go – in coffee shops, at the checkout at Wal-Mart, at kid’s sporting events – and I feel guilty. And when I talk with my missionary friends who are amazing Christians who always have Jesus on their mind – whether they are at a park in the country they live or are back home raising support – Jesus is in their conversations everywhere they go. And I wonder – what’s the difference between them and me? I think I found that answer when I read Matthew 9:35-38.
Exploring the Text: Matthew 9:35-38
Matthew 9:35 – Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.
Now I want to stop here to point out one thing – notice how Jesus is meeting spiritual needs as well as physical needs in his ministry? He is preaching the Kingdom AND healing people. This is exactly what Brent was communicating in the last message – how we can’t ONLY tell people about Jesus without meeting their physical needs NOR can we just go around helping the poor and the needy without telling them about Jesus. It’s a BOTH / AND proposition. And since it’s how Jesus did things, it’s how we want all of you to live – with balance between living out the Kingdom by doing good deeds and proclaiming the Kingdom by sharing your hope in Jesus.
It’s in the following verse that my lack of compassion, indifference, and low motivation are completely exposed.
Matthew 9:36 – When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion. That word for compassion is pointing to the idea of an actual gut-wretching physical reaction to what he saw. I know some of you have gut-wretching reactions to crowds too, but not like Jesus. Yours is more of a, “why am I here and can I just leave now.”
But you have to wonder why did Jesus have such an emotional response to the crowd? The answer is because he saw the people differently. He saw more than just the sea of people standing all around him; he saw their spiritual needs. He saw how spiritually confused and helpless they were. The spiritual shepherds for these people, the lead priests and the Pharisees, were not guiding these people toward God at all, just to rules. So the author here describes how Jesus saw them like sheep without a shepherd.
And I believe that this verse explains why some people have spiritual conversations with people regularly, like my missionary friends, and I don’t. I think my friends see the crowds like Jesus did – they see the spiritual bondage people are in. They see the needs that only Jesus can meet. And I see people driving newer mini-vans, pulling into nice houses with their 2 smiling kids and I just don’t think those people have any needs at all. So I don’t ever bring it up.
The crux of this message: How do you see people?
Are you like me and only see the physical need (or lack of needs), or are you like Jesus and do you see that even the most-put together person is like a sheep without a shepherd if they don’t know Jesus – the One True Shepherd.
Now I know that some of you have had experiences before where you have seen crowds of people with physical needs and had your eyes filled with compassion like Jesus. Many of us have been to 3rd world nations for trips and had that moment where we were gripped with compassion for a poor and helpless people.
But for so many of us who have had that experience, it wears off after a time. In a 3rd world nation, the needs are physical and can therefore be seen with our physical eyes. But back in America, if we rely on our eyes to see needs, then it appears that the needs aren’t that great, and most people don’t need our help.
And this is what makes my missionary friends so different than me – they see more than I see. I see a put together family, and they see a financially strapped family with a stressed out dad and an unsatisfied mom with kids who think they are the center of the world. Through spiritual eyes, they see a family who is confused and helpless, with no spiritual leader.
And this text continues to challenge me and how I see people in the following verse:
Matthew 9:37 – Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”
Now if you imagine you were with Jesus when he said this, it’s easy to understand why Jesus said this. He was speaking just to his disciples standing around him, a handful of people. Yup, the laborers are few. And the harvest – those crowds appeared endless – so I think it was fair for Jesus to say the harvest was plentiful. If anything, this was an understatement.
But where I jump to in my mind almost immediately is this, “Today, 2000 years after Jesus uttered this line, there seem to be more than enough workers and the harvest seems quite picked over.” Truly, we see churches on many street corners, missionaries are all over the world, and almost everyone we know has some familiarity with Jesus.
But as quickly as my mind jumps to doubting if Jesus’ statement is still true today, I realize how I am again failing to see this world the way Jesus does. And I think I’m not alone. I think many of us fail to see the non-Christians in America as a plentiful harvest, as souls ready to turn to Jesus. Instead we only see proud, busy, self-sufficient people with cold hearts and no interest in Jesus. And we don’t feel compassion, instead we often feel a sense of indifference – thinking that they have heard about Jesus but already made their decision not to believe.
If this text stopped here, I’d have really bad news for you – my application point would be, “so work hard to see people like Jesus does. Have compassion and stop being indifferent.” And that would be terrible news because we know how hard it is to will yourself to change.
Fortunately, the passage doesn’t stop here Let’s look at the final verse.
Matthew 9:38 – “Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Notice that command? Pray. Don’t DO anything. Pray. Don’t start harvesting. Don’t go running into the field all alone. Pray for more workers to join. Pray that many would join the mission to go out into the world sharing the message of Jesus and seeing lives changed. That’s Jesus’ directive to meet this great need.
I find this really interesting. Think about how often you have heard people pray for more workers compared to how often you have heard people pray for individuals who need God, or pray for “the lost?. But Jesus already knows who’s lost – he needs people to help them find God. He needs more workers.
And the key to the prayer here is to recognize who you are praying to. This is one of the rare times Jesus doesn’t refer to God as Father, but instead he says to pray to the “Lord of the Harvest”. And it ends with saying that the workers are sent into HIS fields. These people who don’t yet know Jesus, are part of God’s field. He is the owner of the field, all people are his. He has made people grow, he has prepared their lives for the moment you encounter them with this amazing news of the Kingdom of God. He simply needs workers to bring in the harvest – to share the Gospel message with them!
Our Response – Pray
So that’s what the Bible says here. And I’ll be honest. It convicts of how spiritually unaware I am. But praise God, it gives me a solution too.
For those of you who are like me, who don’t think about talking about spiritual things because you don’t see the need and don’t see an importance – we need to pray.
We need to pray for eyesto seepeople like Jesus. For a spiritual awareness and discernment to see more than what people project that they want me to see. To see beyond the veneer and to see their spiritual state. To see where they are most troubled and helpless.
We need to pray for a heart of compassion like Jesus. That as we see these spiritual needs, that we would no longer remain indifferent, but would break for the brokenness we see inside people. That our actions would be driven by a love we don’t even understand, but a love that speaks volumes to those we encounter.
We need to pray for eyes to seethe world like Jesus. To see the world as God’s harvest field rather than the devil’s playground. To recognize there is a harvest all around us – in our street, in our workplace, among our family, among our friends and acquaintances.
We need to pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers. We need to join the prayer of the saints through the centuries – “God, send out more. Call more to go out. Challenge more people to step out of their comfort zones to share Jesus.” And when we pray that prayer, we should expect to receive a prodding.
Imagine the Results
Can you imagine what God could do through our small church here at Ashworth Road if we all began to pray these prayers daily? What if we kept saying to the Spirit, “Open my eyes, expose people’s needs to me, give me a heart that breaks for what I see, show me the ripened harvest around me.”
The difference between me and my missionary friends is that they have prayed for eyes that see the harvest all around and their prayer has been answered – they see with new spiritual eyes. And I want that. I want that for me. I want that for us as a church.
Join me in praying daily for this spiritual renewal in ourselves and our community.