Hey Daniel and Mary Lee!
My biggest failures in evangelism have come every time that I’ve tried to manage a conversation by myself, rather than inviting the Holy Spirit to lead. He is the great evangelist, and there is nothing that he loves to do more than draw a person to Jesus Christ. And yet, in my pridefulness, I can sometimes forget that and try to act as the architect of a conversation. Inevitably when that happens, we spend way too much time getting distracted by side issues or irrelevant arguments, and the conversation gradually trails off or leads nowhere. Perhaps even worse are the times when I can sense that God is wanting me to engage with a person, but due to my own tiredness, or selfishness, or fear, I don’t act in obedience. I think there is often a moment in a conversation with a person where you sense that God is calling you to press in, but you have a choice: “Am I going to lean in to what God is doing, or lean out?” My failures have come every time that I’ve leaned out.
Conversely, the greatest successes have come whenever I get out the way and let the Lord do what he wants to do. This begins in prayer. I remember the first university mission that I ever took part in, where I went in with zero faith or expectation. However, I do remember praying at the start of the week: “God, you say the harvest is plentiful, but I have a tough time believing that right now. Please would you show me that I’m wrong, and give me faith that you are at work in the world today.”
What followed was a rainy, damp, depressing, miserable, disheartening morning. Then, at lunchtime, I got lost on my way to the lunchtime evangelistic talk. I was rescued by a girl who asked if she could help me. I told her I was lost, and it turned out she was headed to the place I was going, so we walked together. As we walked, she told me she was from China, so I asked, “Where in China?” She said some place in the middle that no-one had ever heard of. I said the only place I’d been in that region was Xi’an. Turned out, that was her home town. As I was working up the courage to invite her to an evangelistic talk, she beat me to it and invited me to celebrate Chinese new year with her that night. I couldn’t make it, but I did invite her to the talk the next night (although I didn’t call it that, I just focused on the ‘live jazz and free food’ aspect of the evening…!). She came with a friend, and was then blind-sided by the gospel talk in the middle. Afterwards I turned to her sheepishly and asked her what she thought. She told me that 4 months earlier, she walked into the university chapel and picked up a copy of the New Testament in Chinese, and she’d been reading it as she was captivated by Jesus. She told me that she’d noticed two things about Christians: they were happier than anyone else, and they worked harder. We spoke about Christ for about 10 minutes, and it was clear that she not only understood the gospel, but she had no objections to it. Indeed, she even seemed to want it. As I was working up the courage to ask her if she’d like to have a relationship with Jesus, she again beat me to it, asking: “What do I do if I want to become a Christian?” Stupidly, I replied, “Now!!!” She said “Yes”, and so we prayed together, and it was absolutely incredible.
What did I learn from that ‘success’ story? That ultimately, evangelism has very little to do with me. I couldn’t have felt less confident or prepared. In fact, the whole thing only came about because I was lost! All I did was pray, and then be present. God did the rest. This is a lesson that God reminds me of time and again: that if we are willing to offer him our meager talent, he will be the one who makes us fruitful. All he wants is our obedience. We don’t need to be strong. In fact, usually my strength gets in the way. But when I know I’m weak and I lean into him, he has everything that he needs to work with.
I hope this encourages you!