Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Clarifying Results

A very close friend asked me about a recent comment I made on ABIDE! Radio concerning results and evangelism.  With that, I thought maybe I should clarify for a "larger" audience.

For several years, I told myself that results didn't matter - I was to be faithful to God in planting seeds of the Gospel for Him to do with as He pleased.  But, at least for me, as time went on that became an excuse.  Here's what I mean.  When I began my journey into Biblical evangelism in 2005, I was terrified to the core of my being.  I prayed like crazy and I had a daily dependence on the Holy Spirit.  I can look back over that time and see "results."  I can talk about "Ricky" who lit up after hearing the Gospel and said, "Wow - that makes so much sense!  I never thought about it like that before!"  I can talk about "Ed" - I interrupted his basketball game to share Christ with him.  When we finished, he shook my hand and said, "Thank you so much.  You are the first Christian to actually talk to me rather than just give me a sales pitch.  I don't agree with what you said, but I never heard it presented like that before.  I appreciate it."  I think of "Bill" who talked with me for over an hour because he was wrestling with whether or not he had done too much wrong for God to forgive him.  I think of "Robert" who asked one of our team members to pray with him right there on a crowded side walk because he wanted to get right with God.

As time went on, those kinds of stories became fewer and fewer.  So much so that if you asked me what I have seen God doing on the streets lately, my answer would have been (and was), "Well, we had 10 people show up and we handed out 400 Gospel tracts."  OK.  Praise God for that.  However, that's not really what I had in mind.  While the presence of 10 people can be an evidence of how God is working in the life of a Christian, it doesn't really say anything about how God is blessing that ministry to reach people.  And while handing out 400 Gospel tracts is a great thing, that tells me more about what people did, not what God did.

In my own heart, those early days were marked by desperate prayer and dependence on the Holy Spirit, as I said before.  But as I got more comfortable sharing the Gospel and the more I started "perfecting" my presentation and responses to objections, the less I relied on God and the more I was going out in my own abilities.  And I no longer had stories to share of what God was doing because it was me doing it.

We do have to be careful when talking about results.  While I believe that results will accompany a genuine work of God, the presence of "results" does not always mean it is a genuine work of God.  There are countless examples of that.  In addition, thinking that results equals a work of God becomes a trap where we begin to try and manipulate results.

I am talking about the book of Acts - followers of Jesus going out in the power of the Holy Spirit and people responding (both in positive and negative ways).  So, what kinds of results am I talking about?  First, let me say what I am not talking about.  I am not talking about church attendance.  I am not talking about "decisions."

What am I talking about?  I am talking about those God-moments that were beyond anything you could influence.  You see, if I get nasty enough, I can get a heckler.  That is me, not God.  I can water down the Gospel and get a "decision from someone.  That is me, not God.  I am talking about that person who comes up (especially if you are at the same place at the same time over a period of time) and says, "I heard what you said - I want to surrender my life to Christ."  It is the person who sincerely says, "I want to believe in God, but ____________."  They aren't looking for a fight - they just have an honest issue that they would like your help with.  It is the person who says, "I want to be forgiven, but have I done too much wrong?"  It is the person who wants one of your free Bibles because they want to find out more about what you were saying.  How about the person who has wandered from the Lord but asks when you will be back here and if you would be willing to "disciple" them?

Those people may never walk in the doors of your church.  You may never see, in this life, that the person ever came to genuine faith in Christ.  God may use one of those 400 tracts in ways you never see.  And we are OK with that and praise God for that.  So what is the result I am talking about?  What I am saying is that it just seemed odd to me that I can be on the streets week after week after week, sharing with dozens, hundreds or thousands, and have to wait a long time before I can point to someone and say, "God used us to help this person take a significant step closer to coming to faith in Christ."  In Acts, people were being saved daily.  For me, I struggle, then, with justifying months and months of nobody taking any step closer to repentance and faith.

But what about the short message, "George Street?"  I am not discounting it in any way.  Basically, I am trying to create a tension within us.  Not caring about results became, for me, an excuse.  It became, while unknown to me at the time, a defense for evangelism done in the flesh.  If we are people of prayer and we go out in the power of the Spirit and God chooses to not let us see results, all glory to God.  I just want to make sure that we double check to see if our evangelism is being done in the power of the Spirit or if it is being done in the power of the flesh.    Most people who know the message "George Street" are familiar with Living Waters.  Anyone who keeps up to date with the ministry of Living Waters sees in a variety of ways videos and testimonies of amazing opportunities and God-moments out on the streets.  If we are not seeing them, is it truly because God has chosen to keep that from us or because our efforts are marked more by the flesh?  If your prayer life is weak, there is a good chance that option two may be true for you.  I would just encourage us to be honest before God for the answer rather than jumping to a conclusion.

Perhaps this will help.  Sorry for another Insanity illustration.  However, I have found Insanity to be a guaranteed way of losing weight and getting in shape.  If someone, let's say they are 30 lbs. overweight, came to me and said, "I did Insanity just like you and there was no difference in me from day 1 to day 60."  Well, I would follow that up with two questions:
1)You did Insanity - every day?
2)You did it just like me - followed the nutrition guide and gave 100% every workout?

I have all the confidence in the world that there is a problem with one of those two issues.  Either the person didn't really do it, or they did not do it "like me."  In evangelism, I used to "pride" myself that I was doing what they were doing in the book of Acts.  They may be true, but the other issue is - am I doing it like they did?

My reflections on results have more to do with the "like" than the "what" or even the results.  If you are sharing the Gospel faithfully and proclaiming the Biblical message of salvation in the power of the Holy Spirit and in prayer and you aren't seeing "results" - then be content that He is glorified alone.  However, I suspect many of us could say we are faithfully sharing the Biblical Gospel but we lack a good deal in prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Again, I just encourage you to go honestly before the Lord to wrestle through the tension between faithfulness and any tangible results.

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