A kindly man in my neighborhood, Gene, has not spoken to me, nor I to him, in 25 years. Our disassociation is not due to any animosity I’m aware of but, most likely, to simple neglect.
Recently, things changed.
Gene traversed the vast chasm separating us – our back alley – to initiate contact. He came to tell me the news that his van had been stolen by brazen thieves in broad daylight.
“Gene,” I said, “nice to meet you. I’m Rick.” And it went on from there.
Within ten minutes we were joking around about God and church.
That’s a pretty quick transition to spiritual matters, especially after a quarter century of silence.
Admittedly, I’m pretty handy in bringing up religion in conversation – not to manipulate or impose, but simply to obey the command of Jesus to share the gospel with “all nations.”
But this wasn’t my doing. Rather, it was God who opened a door, an example of a larger principle I believe with all my heart:
God goes before us in witness.
God gets there first. He’s at work before I ever arrive on the scene. And that makes me, the Christian witness, a detective, an investigator of sorts.
Thus my first job in witness (well, after prayer) is to discover what the Lord is doing in the other person, then dive in.
In his fine book, Reimagining Evangelism, Prof. Rick Richardson of Wheaton College writes, “We are junior partners in the Holy Spirit Detective Agency. We look for clues . . . [We ask] ‘Where is God already at work?’” (p37)
The Apostle Paul put it this way: “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.”*
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This type of God-centered witness gets me out of the business of salesmanship and into the adventure of discovery and discernment.
I don’t bring Jesus to people – Jesus is already there, crafting, wooing, softening, making and re-making.
My job is to prayerfully find and enter the open door, which usually involves some little risk on my part.
I’ll talk about that crucial risk in my next post.