(Maintaining A Positive Attitude)
It is important to maintain certain perspectives while engaging in the enterprise we call “evangelism.” Many people start out with great enthusiasm, but often get discouraged and in some cases become apathetic. This happens even to those who are highly skilled in witnessing to others.
The problem is one that Zig Ziegler might call “stinkin’ thinkin’.” Armed with the wrong perspectives (or way of looking at things), many personal workers eventually lose heart. Before long, evangelistic efforts dwindle and in some cases stop altogether.
What follows are some perspectives that should help us to keep a positive attitude about doing personal work.
THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IS AT WORK!
In nearly every example of conversion found in the Book of Acts, God worked in some way to create the opportunity for the person to hear the gospel. For example, Philip was sent toward Gaza where he would meet the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8). The Lord saw to it that Saul and Ananias would get together (Acts 9); likewise, that the household of Cornelius would have a chance to hear the gospel from Peter (Acts 10). The evangelization of Europe that started with the conversion of Lydia and the Philippian Jailor occurred after the “Macedonian Call” led Paul and his companions in that direction (Acts 16).
Granted, these circumstances are in keeping with the miraculous events in establishing the Lord’s church, but I believe they illustrate a principle that is just as valid for us today. That principle is this: The Lord, who knows the hearts of all men and seeks those who are seeking Him (cf. 2 Chr 16:9), will make sure that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” will somehow be “filled” (Mt 5:6).
This is where the “providence of God” comes in. When the Lord knows there are people who would be receptive to the gospel (e.g., those in Corinth, Ac 18:9-11), He will “open doors” to give those who are seeking the truth the opportunity to be reached by those who are prepared to do the witnessing. It may not happen immediately, but I am persuaded that if there is someone who is “asking, seeking, and knocking” for the truth, the Lord will see to it that at some point in that person’s life they will have an opportunity to hear the gospel.
It encourages me to know that we are not alone in our efforts to lead the lost to Christ. God will see that every soul who has an honest, good, and seeking heart will one day come across someone who is prepared to explain the Gospel to him or her. Indeed, when we engage in evangelism, we are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Co 3:5-9).
Of course, how useful we can be to the Lord leads us to the second perspective for success in evangelism…
GOD “OPENS DOORS” FOR PREPARED WORKERS!
The Scriptures often speak of the Lord “opening doors” for His servants who are ready to serve Him. Paul wrote about an “open door” of opportunity that prompted him to remain longer at Ephesus (1 Co 16:9). He even wrote of one occasion where there was an “open door,” but circumstances were such that he did not take advantage of it (2 Co 2: 12-13).
From the Lord’s remarks to the church in Philadelphia, we learn that the Lord opens doors for those people He can use (Re 3:8). The implication regarding evangelism is this: If we desire to be used by the Lord in His providence to reach those who are seeking the truth, then we must prepare ourselves to be useful (cf. 2 Ti 2:19-21)!
The principle of preparation applies to both individuals and congregations. Individuals must prepare themselves to be able to witness, or to lead souls to those ready to witness. But congregations must also be ready to assimilate new converts into the family of God where they can be nurtured and protected during a vital stage of their newfound life.
I fear that many congregations do not find “open doors” to reach others because they have not prepared themselves to be a place where “babes in Christ” will be cared for properly. Do we really believe that the Lord through His “providence” would “open doors” for a congregation filled with “carnal Christians” who would only devour the new Christian? I would not be surprised if the Lord often waits a long time before providentially working to see that a truth seeker has an opportunity to hear the gospel. Of course, I would also understand that the Lord would use His providence to spare that truth seeker’s life until there are people ready to witness and receive him or her into the family of God.
Whether the above is true, I believe the following point is both valid and encouraging: If we will “prepare” ourselves to be useful to the Lord, His providence will “open doors” of opportunity to reach those in our community who have honest and good hearts that are seeking for the truth.
An important part of preparation involves another “perspective”…
PRAYER IS THE “CATALYST” IN EVANGELISM!
If the providence of God is at work and it involves the lives of those who are prepared to be used as well as those who are seeking the truth, it should be easy to see that prayer would play an important role. In the conversion of Cornelius, it was his prayers that prompted God to take notice (Ac 10:1-4), and it was a man given to prayer that the Lord chose to use in order to reach him (Ac 10:9).
I get the impression sometimes that much preparation for evangelism is not too different from preparing to make a sales pitch. It is almost as though people think that if you follow the right procedure with anyone, the desired results must necessarily follow. Now, I realize that is no one’s intention. Yet I do find that prayer is not often stressed in many books on “how to do evangelism.” In contrast, we find Paul witnessing to the Colossians to pray that God would open a door for the Word (Co 4:3).
I like to think of prayer as a “catalyst,” one that starts the process of God’s providence in bringing together the lost but seeking soul with the prepared and seeking servant of the Lord. When we have prepared ourselves to be useful to the Lord and then diligently pray “Lord, lead me to some soul today,” I am convinced that doors will open and we will begin to find souls who themselves have been praying and who will be receptive to the gospel!
Now for some “perspectives” that are especially crucial to maintaining a high level of enthusiasm and persistence in evangelism. From “THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER” and elsewhere in the Scriptures we can learn some more things that can help:
- Remove the discouragement and prevent the apathy that paralyzes so many today
- Instill enthusiasm in serving as laborers in the vineyard of the Lord!
The parable itself is found in Lk 8:4-8, and the explanation is found in Lk 8:11-15 (please read). The first principle we can glean from this parable is that…
THE POWER IS IN THE SEED (WORD)!
The “Word of God” has always been capable of influencing people, accomplishing its intended purpose (Isa 55:10-11). As the author of Hebrews wrote, it is both “alive and powerful” (He 4:12). This is especially true of the GOSPEL OF CHRIST, the “power of God unto salvation” (Ro 1:16).
If people are going to be truly converted, it will not be through smooth speech or fancy presentations involving “hi-tech” equipment, but through the life-changing truth of the gospel. We can certainly use modern aids to present the gospel, but we must make sure that they are faithfully communicating the Word.
True conversion (which involves a spiritual regeneration) will occur only if we plant the proper “seed.” Perhaps we don’t get the desired result, because we don’t sow the right seed!
But even when we plant the proper seed, we often do not see the desired results. Understanding the reason why helps one to maintain the right perspective…
THE RESULTS DEPEND UPON THE TYPE OF SOIL!
In the Parable of The Sower, we see that the same seed, when sown, produced different results. One result was no reaction whatsoever. Two others had only temporary success. Only one out of the four resulted in bearing fruit! Where lies the blame?
- Upon the SEED? No!
- Upon the SOWER? No!
- Upon the TYPE OF SOIL? Yes!
This illustrates where the area of responsibility lies. The SOWER fulfills his responsibility by sowing the seed (Eze 3:17-19). If the SOIL rejects the seed, the soil is responsible; the sower should not feel accountable (Mt 10:14-15; Ac 13:44-46).
The positive implication is this: Every time we sow the seed, we are successful! If a person rejects it, we have not failed, they have!
What is the significance of this perspective of evangelism? We need to learn the JOY of sharing the Word for its own sake! There is joy in sharing Christ with others (we’ve got GOOD NEWS!), whether or not people accept Him (we are glad to serve our Lord in this way!). Of course, we are delighted when someone believes and truly accepts Jesus as the Lord of their lives, but we should consider it as the “icing on the cake.” Even if we don’t experience the “icing,” we can still enjoy the “cake!”
Another significance of this principle concerns our GOALS. They should center on how many are being WITNESSED TO, NOT CONVERTED! Too often, we make the number of baptisms (conversions) the measure of success or even faithfulness on the part of the Christian. But even the most faithful Christian may find themselves in circumstances like JEREMIAH or JESUS, where very few people gave heed to their message. Shall we count them failures? Rather, let us count them faithful, if they have faithfully sowed the seed!
Closely related to all this is the perspective concerning…
THE PLACE OF THE SOWER
As illustrated in the parable and elsewhere, we are simply “SEED- THROWERS” and “WATER-BOYS” (cf. 1 Co 3:5-7). One may plant the seed, another may water, but it is GOD (through His Word in a receptive heart) Who gives the increase! Because of this, there is no place for boasting about numbers of people being converted.
But there is another significance to this. God can even use “DEFECTIVE” seed-throwers (cf. Ph 1:15-18). Not only defective in MOTIVE (as seen in the text), but also in EXPERIENCE! This is because the POWER is in the SEED, not the SOWER!
Therefore we should not feel like we have to be an accomplished salesman to present the Gospel. Even those who tremble and may not be eloquent can be used by the Lord to reach others (cf. 1 Co 2:1-5).
And then there is…
THE PRINCIPLE OF SOWING AND REAPING
In 2 Co 9:6 we find this principle stated, and it easily seen in many different areas of life:
- In SALES, the ratio of success is often one sale out of nine calls.
- In ACTING, the ratio can be as high as one job out of thirty auditions, even for successful actors.
- In THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER, only one out of four produced favorable results.
Successful people in different walks of life understand that the key to success is to increase the number of their efforts. The conclusion for us is obvious: If we desire to REAP more, we must be willing to SOW more! Many people fail in the area of evangelism because they “sow sparingly” and get discouraged by the meager results.
If we increase the level of SOWING, the level of REAPING will rise proportionately. But again, to avoid discouragement, we need to set goals on how many are being TAUGHT, not on how many are CONVERTED!
Finally, one last perspective for success in evangelism…
QUITE OFTEN, ONE SOWS AND ANOTHER REAPS!
Winning souls involves both “sowing” and “reaping.” Jesus used these terms in talking to His disciples as recorded in Jn 4:35-38. Exactly what is the difference between “sowing” and “reaping?”
Sowing is the work necessary to one day being able to reap! In agriculture, sowing involves preparing the soil and planting the seed. In winning souls to Christ, sowing likewise involves preparation and planting:
- In which the hearts are being prepared for the reception of the gospel
- In which the hearts are first introduced to the gospel and its principles
Reaping is the actual “harvesting” of what has been sown. In agriculture, reaping is the collection of the fruits which have produced by the sowing. In winning souls, reaping is that harvesting which occurs when souls who have had the Word planted in their hearts decide to obey it!
What is important to appreciate is the statement quoted by Jesus in Jn 4:37, “One sows and another reaps.” Those who sow do not always witness the reaping that may one day occur. And many times those who reap are benefiting from the efforts of those who did the sowing before them. In evangelism, this means that oftentimes you will be sowing the seed and it may appear that you are not getting any results. But some time later those souls you were trying to reach may decide to finally obey the gospel and another Christian may actually do the reaping in your place! Then again, there will be times when people just sort of “fall into your lap,” ready and anxious to obey the gospel with little effort on your part. In this case, you are reaping what others have sown!
The point to keep in mind is that evangelism involves both “sowing” and “reaping,” and there will be times when what you sow will be reaped by someone else. Let this be an encouragement to you when it appears that you are not reaping as you would hope. You might actually be making it much easier for some brother or sister in the future!
An important element of success in personal work is perseverance. Those who persist in sowing the seed eventually bear fruit. The problem with many people is wrong perspectives and negative attitudes. That translates into failure, no matter what the task is at hand.
I hope that the perspectives shared above can help us maintain the positive attitude necessary to persevere until Harvest Time is no more!