God’s Passionate Pursuit of People #5

God is after friends. He uses every means possible (and some impossible) to leave a bread trail back to him and his paradise…

(This is the final installment of this theme of God’s Passionate Pursuit of People. You can read the other installments in musingthemysteries.wordpress.com or view the entire paper on barneywiget.com.)

Field #5 – CHRISTIANS

If what I’m saying about God and his persistent pursuit of friends is true, I trust that you can see what kind of colossal influence it might have on our witness to these potential friends of his. It’s certainly affected the way, and the spirit in which, I share his love with people lately. As I tell you how, please know that there are many many other things that could be part of a discussion about “evangelism,” but I limit my focus to the topic at hand. These are some things that are changing in how I do what I do since I’ve been more aware of how much God does what he does to make people aware of his love.

…maybe we should try harder to discern spiritual hunger in their hearts, celebrate what’s true in their thinking, notice the evidence that Sower has been there ahead of us, and collaborate with him to beckon people toward the tree of life!

“The Spirit and the Bride say come…” We all know that the Spirit helps us witness and helps people receive our witness at the point of contact (when we’re actually interacting with someone about Jesus). The Spirit gives us courage, words to share, and sometimes even brings about some miracle to confirm the Word. Then he convicts people of their wrongs against God and illuminates their minds to the truth about Jesus and his cross.  I can’t thank him enough for all the help he’s given me over the years as I try to share God’s love with others. But I’m not so much talking about that “on-site work of the Spirit” right now. I’m referring to what he was doing in people before I ever even met them. Call it the “pre-work” of the Spirit or whatever you want (some people use the phrase “prevenient grace”). He says to people through Creation, Conscience, Culture and Creed – “Come!” And then he says it through us (Christians)! He’s already been serenading the lost and forlorn, and then we come along and harmonize with him. “COME!”

I also trust that what I’ve said above would in no way be misunderstood to appear that I think our role in the process is somehow unimportant. I “witness” to people a fair amount, and what I’ve said thus far about God’s ingenious quest to get people to come home with him has made me nothing if not more passionate about my partnership with him in the quest. I am absolutely even more enthused about telling people about God and his Garden since I’ve been more aware of the enthusiasm with which he chases them. Even if I’m speaking with someone who has never heard about Jesus, I am aware that in one sense they’ve been “hearing about him” all their lives in ways other than through words. Almost every day I’m noticing evidences of the Sower’s planting in front of, inside of, and all around people. I see my role as a “sub-sower” following the footsteps of the Grand Sower. Let me share a few things that have been changing for me as I go about this “sub-sowing.”

Back to the Bible…

God uses us, but first he prepares people for us. I’ve noticed several examples of this in the Bible. Here are a few:

We’ve mentioned how God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a dream, which made Daniel’s job less about convincing and more about clarifying what God was like (Daniel 2). When Peter went to Cornelius’ house, his hearers were already so prepared that they received Jesus before he could finish his sermon (Acts 10). When the scouts went to do reconnaissance in Jericho they found a Gentile prostitute named Rahab who, without any contact with the Word of God (that we know of) already had a sure revelation of the power and justice of Jehovah (Joshua 3). She went on to marry into David’s family and eventually the line of the Messiah!

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17)

I don’t think Paul was criticizing the Athenians for worshipping the wrong God as much as he was affirming them for worshipping God as much as they knew him to be and offering to introduce them to him as he actually is. His message was not just a critique of their theology, but a clarification of what’s true about the God of the Bible. More often than we realize, our role is to introduce people to the God they already believe in, but don’t know much about. Their knowledge about him may be vague and include many misconceptions, but that’s where we come in.

“Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14)

In Lystra Paul looked for people familiar with the Sower’s fruit. To him, rain and crops and food and joyful hearts were all clear clues of God’s love.  These formed God’s “testimony” to them. (The term he employed for “testimony” is the same one used by Jesus in Acts 1 “…you shall be my witnesses.”) God’s kindness in creation and provision witnesses to people, and then we Christians add our witness to his witness! First the Sower – then his sub-sowers 

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3)

Everyone needs “hope.” We crave it in a world bereft of it. The Sower plants samples of it in his world so that they’ll hope that there is hope. When we show up as living witnesses of such hope, they see it lived out in front of them, and sometimes ask us “to give a reason for it” and we witness to them.

I feel more like I’m working with him instead of just for him…

If God is revealing himself all over the place, what’s he need me for? If he’s planting seed in and around everyone in the world, what’s my job?

Well, in order to bring them back to his Garden, God uses Creation, Conscience, Culture, Creeds AND Christians. You’ve probably noticed that there are lots of things he could do (and do much better) by himself without involving us. So it’s not that he needs our help – he’s quite self-sufficient. But he didn’t create us so we could sit back and watch him do his thing. He loves to include us, to involve us in his adventure. He calls us his partners in sowing – “sub-sowers.”

When we go to plant our seed, we find evidence that the Sower has been there before us. In some cases, people are sampling the fruit, and are already on their way toward the Garden. From the samples, they’ve tasted and they’ve seen that the fruit is good and many want more of the same. That’s what we bring – more of the same, through the lives we live and the words we speak. Our witness isn’t entirely new to them for they already know in their “knower” that there is a God who loves them and wants to be friends.

First the Sower –

then his sub-sowers…

Now that I’m aware of these things, I feel more like I’m working with him instead of just for him. When I’m talking to someone about God or praying for someone to come to know him I no longer feel as though I’m introducing some foreign seed to him or her. I’m just trying to appeal to what the Sower has already introduced.

“The Father is always at his work,” and his Son is always at his side making his work effective. I just get to be part of the Trinity’s grand friend-making scheme. Don’t get me wrong, my part (and yours) is essential, but it’s taken a considerable weight off my shoulders, knowing that I’m simply appealing to something that’s probably already going on in a person’s soul. My witnessing is less of a collision and more of a collusion.

I’m beginning to notice that the seed that I sow often has an air of familiarity to it to people, because it’s the same thing that the Sower has already sown in them. The thing that I’m saying to a person is the same thing that he has been hearing repeatedly, and in a variety of ways over his lifetime. Before I show up to tell my story he already saw it in a sunset, heard it in a symphony, knew it in his knower, and maybe even believed it in his religion. I’m simply collaborating with what God has been doing in a person throughout his lifetime. My meager contribution is but a tributary coinciding with God’s “grand stream of things.”

I’m less guilt-driven and have a more relaxed urgency about “witnessing”…

I’m looking for the riches that God has already put in someone in order to connect to it with my witness. It’s more of a treasure hunt than it used to be.

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. (Proverbs 20)

The good news about Jesus is the “power of God for salvation,” (Romans 1), and it’s my privileged duty to share it, but now I’m sharing it with more of a patient passion. My efforts to “evangelize” people used to be much more laborious. I felt more like I was on my own trying to make something grow in hard soil. I’m now a much happier sub-sower, gladly scattering seed alongside of him

My witnessing is less of a collision

and more of a collusion.

Before I noticed that God has already been on a persistent hunt for friends, and has done all the real work to win someone’s affection, I was more uptight about getting people from point A to B to C. Do I want them to know him and enjoy him as much as I do (or more)? Yeah! Am I concerned about people’s eternal destiny? Yes! But so is God; and he’s doing all he can to possess their hearts!

I’m speaking to people more and at them less…

C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter to a friend, “Think of me as a fellow patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier, could give some advice.” Now that I see God working in people before I get my “expert hands” on them, I’m not nearly so patriarchal or preachy in my approach to telling them about Jesus. Now I think that every person is somewhere on the continuum in a search for God (even if they don’t know it), and so I’m not so much sending people to God, but trying to take them with me as I go. I’m not the God-specialist or anyone’s spiritual hero, come to save the day. I am on the hunt for God and I encourage people to join in the hunt so we can hunt together. I may have been “hunting” longer, gotten to know him a little better, but I can slow down long enough to bring people with me on the trek.

Speaking of the trek, I’ve noticed that a common deception is the delusion of arrival. With all the good that comes of the Sower’s use of the first four fields to attract people to his Garden, there’s always the risk that they’ll get stuck in one of them rather than be propelled forward and on to Paradise. It’s like they stop and worship the clue rather than the one who put it there.

I elaborate…

  • Some gaze into Creation light, and rather than move toward the Creator, they get stuck worshipping the created. They become so mystified by what was made, they stop short of searching out the mystery of the one who made it.
  • Another, firmly in touch with the moral voice within him (Conscience), becomes trapped in his own egoistic gloating about how much better he is than others. Such a moralist must be urged to acknowledge this capacity as a gift from the Sower intended to lead him to a grateful and dependent aspiration to please him with his good moral choices.
  • The Culture worshipper also makes no progress toward the Sower’s Garden. It’s the “Culture Vulture” who takes an excessive and arrogant interest in his own culture (or sub-culture). What should be pointing him beyond has become his obsessive preoccupation and source of spiritual inertia.
  • Speaking of arrogance, Creed-worshipping might be the most popular “worship center” of all. Religion, or one’s segment of it, (Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic, Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, or whatever); rather than point to an adventurous pursuit of God, can be an excuse for narcissistic conceit and godless self-satisfaction.

It’s incumbent on us to avoid such traps ourselves and urge our friends who get stuck in them to break free from worshipping his love-messages, and journey on to meet the Loving Messenger.

I listen more and download less…

I’ll never forget “going witnessing” on a college campus back in the 70’s with a friend named Fred. (Pretty funny, huh — Barney and Fred?) I couldn’t figure out why people giggled when we introduced ourselves until someone asked us where Wilma and Betty were! Anyway, my method was to waste no time with trivialities and hurriedly start in on people with spiritual information. I was freshly out of Bible College, pretty much knew everything there was to know about God, and was on the hunt for anyone who’d listen. Fred would disrupt whatever theological treatise I was giving and ask something like, “So, what’re your thoughts about God?” At first, I was irritated by the interruption, until I realized there was a method to his madness. He was saving them from me and from my sermons, plus I think he knew that God was probably already working in them and the only way to find out what he was doing was to ask. Wow, what a concept!

I see God working in people

before I get my “expert hands” on them!

I recently highlighted all the questions that Jesus asked people in one of the Gospels. I almost ran out of highlighter before running out of Gospel. He was God in humanity, and though he had more important things to say than anyone ever had, he asked people a lot of questions. “Who do men say that I am? Who touched me? How long has he been this way? What is written in the law; how do you read it?”

So now I ask more questions than give answers to questions they weren’t asking. First of all, I’m just trying to get acquainted – and not as a step in some “Friendship Evangelism” spiel.  I genuinely want to know about a person with whom I might just become friends. Secondly, I’m trying to find out what the Sower has already done in front of, inside of, or around this person.  Aware of it or not, he’s been eating the Sower’s fruit, and how will I know what to address unless I ask him?  “What do you think about Jesus? Do you have a spiritual orientation? What are your thoughts about God? Have you ever had what you think might have been an encounter with him? Do you have any opinions about Jesus?”

Of course, there is a lot of stuff that can’t be cognitively detected, so I’m also looking for what can only be spiritually discerned. The Sower knows how much fruit they’ve tasted, and what kind of stuff they’ve been through in their lives to dispose them toward or away from him. And sometimes he shows stuff to us (as in a “word of knowledge or wisdom” – 1 Corinthians 12) so we can address something directly that the Spirit knows will increase our chances of getting to the heart of matter. This kind of discernment is particularly helpful when a person hasn’t yet connected the dots from one tree to the next. They don’t see that they are being pulled in his direction. I think this is one of the jobs of the witness, to help them notice that there’s a trail back to God on which the Spirit has been leading them.

I try to listen better and download less. In fact, I’m less and less inclined toward an information-based witness. I don’t know about you, but Jesus came into my heart long before he entered my head. I knew very little about any Four (or more) Spiritual Laws, about my depravity, or his divinity. I just said to him, “Come on in!” and I learned stuff about him later. He came in that day and started changing me before I had any idea about regeneration, justification, sanctification, or any of the other “-ations”. People are less and less impressed with my bullet-point proofs for Intelligent Design or my rhyming sermon points that promise a Blessed Life in four easy steps. They’re glutted with slick pitches and silly promises and my guess is that most people are more interested to connect with the eternal and live more meaningful lives.

I’m more apt to share about Jesus in sound-bytes, not only because the culture requires it, but also because the Spirit has been delivering his lines and directing the play long before I ever came on stage. And he’ll continue playing his part long after I exit. My lines are important to be sure, but if I don’t deliver them perfectly or skip something in the script, it doesn’t ruin the whole play. I think that God loves people way too much to hinge their eternal destiny on the quality of my performance.

It’s more about friendship than it used to be…

People used to talk about “Friendship Evangelism,” and to be honest, I’ve never felt very comfortable with it. It always seemed sort of disingenuous to me that I was supposed to evangelize under the guise being someone’s friend, when in fact, I didn’t need or want any more friends. I never could pretend that I was making friends when what I really wanted was to make converts.

Jesus came into my heart

long before he entered my head

But since I’ve been paying more attention to the pre-efforts of the Sower and the Spirit, I am able to relax a little – knowing that it’s not all on my shoulders to make the cold-call, present the product, and close the deal all in one 15-minute encounter. Now I have time and room in my heart for more friends. I figure that if friendship is God’s goal it should be mine as well. Since I’ve been more aware of his passionate pursuit of friends, I’m finding that one of the best ways for me to partner with him in his quest is to befriend his pre-friends. If I’m anything at all like him and love in a way that even remotely suggests his love, then my friendship in itself is part of his friendship quest.  If they’ve even slightly felt his invitation to friendship in creation, conscience, culture and/or creed, then it’s possible that my friendship with them will appeal to what has already been planted inside them throughout their lives.

So now, if pressed to boil my life’s goal to one thing, it would be to:  “Make friends with God.”  You see the multiple implications, right? Making friends with him begins with being aware that he’s the best friend I can have, and so I aspire to enjoy the depths of my own friendship with him.  And then I aim to be the best friend to him that I can, loving him for all he’s worth. Beyond that, “making friends with him,” entails understanding (as we’ve been exploring) that God is avidly engaged in this project of making friends for himself. He’s on a mission to make friends with all people. He’s furiously scattering his invitation for friendship everywhere always and he invites us to join him in the adventure. The adventure entails not only being his friends, but also collaborating with him in his friendship quest. As I go about making friends for him I’m doing it with him. How cool is that! And then, serendipitously one consequence of making friends with him is that they usually become friends of mine at the same time!

Talking to people on other buses…

Remember what I was saying before about God being willing to ride other buses in order to call people to himself? Well, maybe we should also be willing to ride other buses too. I’m certainly not suggesting that we join other religions (or even study them per se), but remember what Paul wrote, To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9). We have to be willing to have some friendly dialog in hopes that they’ll consider transferring to the “Jesus Bus.”

I think that “dialog” is the right word for what is done on other buses. While preaching and proclaiming are often called for, conversing – with an actual back-and-forth – is often more effective. If this is true then it means that we should be on the lookout for people (on other buses) whose bus has taken them part way to God. There are probably more people involved in alternative spiritualities than we realize who are “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12).  God has undoubtedly been speaking to them before we arrived. We might want to be more interested in what he’s been saying to them before we begin our torrent of talk about the Bible. They’re on the first bus (so to speak), and some of them actually on their way to the right place. Maybe I need to be making friends there, looking for people to whom the Spirit has been calling. I might encounter the Spirit himself going from passenger-to-passenger trying to persuade each one to get off at the next stop and take the Jesus Bus all the way to the Father! I want to be there with him, harmonizing with his call, joining in the persuasion!

My life’s goal is to

“Make friends with God.”

I try to be more of a witness than just go witnessing

“Witnessing,” what’s that? I’ve been out “witnessing” many many times. (That’s where we go out with tracts – little papers that tell the gospel – and approach strangers in order to tell them about Jesus.) I still do this, because people need to hear it, and I need to tell it. You never know when God will use it. The first time I heard about Jesus was from a newly-saved hippie named Michael, who approached me and a friend of mine while we were sitting up in a tree smoking pot! He stood there looking up at us and told us about his radical encounter with the Lord! I never saw him before or after that day. He “witnessed” to us, and though I didn’t climb down out of the tree and decide to follow Jesus that day, it had an impact. I’ll always be grateful for his boldness. In addition to the street ministries with which I’m engaged, I try to “witness” whenever the opportunity obviously presents itself wherever I go. I blow it off a lot too and have missed many divine appointments. But I do my best. A lot of panhandling goes on in my neighborhood. So I try to have a tract and a buck on me when I go out. If someone approaches me for money, I give them the dollar and the tract and try to engage them in conversation about the Lord as much as time allows and they consent

But actually, the term “witness” occurs in the Bible as a verb only twice (“Paul witnessed to them”). The other 50 times are all nouns (“You are witnesses”). In other words, the emphasis is on us being witnesses rather than on the act of witnessing. A witness is someone who saw something (like a crime being committed) and then they tell about it to anyone who’s interested to hear it.

You hear what I saying, right? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk to anyone who doesn’t already have an interest in Jesus. I wasn’t interested in Jesus before my fellow-hippie “witnessed” to me in that tree. Plus, we can’t know whether or not someone is interested until we talk to them. I’m saying that, in essence, none of our witnessing is a “cold call.” The Spirit has already “witnessed” to them in one way or another, so our witness is more of a follow-up call.  I think of witnessing as telling people more than they already know about what they already know in their knower. (Woe, that just came out! But think about it…)

I’m saying a witness is something I am before (and beyond) something I do. I want to be a witness, live my life as a witness; and when it’s time to “witness” to someone (with words), then I hope I’m ready to do it, knowing that he’s already done it ahead of me and ready to do it with me!

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