Gaining Spiritual Traction: The Encouragement of Evangelism

This post is the last of 4 dealing with essential elements that comprise the growing Christian’s life. So far, I’ve put on the table three things:

  • Being in the word
  • Connecting with other Christians
  • Serving others

The final post deals with the importance of sharing God’s story with others.

Evangelism being the practice of telling others about the good news of the Gospel.

This is an area that many Christians feel very weak.

  • We will sing out worship songs.
  • We will study their Bibles.
  • We will attend church faithfully.
  • We will serve in a variety of fashions.

But they find themselves dead in the water when it comes to telling others about Jesus.

In Romans chapter one, Paul made this emphatic declaration:

Romans 1:16 (ESV)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

But for a whole host of reasons, finding people excited about evangelism, let alone practicing evangelism, seem harder and harder to come by.

And I believe, as a result, we suffer.

We don’t see the body of Christ grow, and in turn, we don’t see ourselves grow very much either.

Here’s why: The call for Christians to share their faith isn’t a suggestion, but a command directly from Jesus!

Matthew 28:19-20 has Jesus telling his disciples to GO and make more disciples by means of teaching and baptism.

Acts 1:7 finds Jesus, just before ascending into heaven, once again giving the charge to His followers to go out and act as witnesses to His ministry and His message, telling them to spread it to the farthest places on the globe.

These are Jesus’ marching orders!

And if we don’t carry them out, what are we?

Disobedient!

And much of spiritual growth has to do with our level of obedience.

Why do I say that?

Because I think that’s exactly what Jesus was saying when he said this:

John 14:21 (ESV)

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Think about this: when you call into a computer tech about problems with your computer, what do they do?

They ask you a bunch of questions that seem super obvious, yet often solve the problem.

  • Is your computer plugged in?
  • Is your computer turned on?

Well, when it comes to gauging the level and impact of our spiritual growth, I have 5 quick questions for you:

  • Are you being filled with the Spirit?
  • Are you being washed in the Word?
  • Are you experiencing the friction of Fellowship?
  • Are you finding the joy that comes through serving?
  • And are you experiencing the encouragement the comes through sharing your faith?

How we answer those questions may help us solve any problems we may be encountering when trying to experience a growing spiritual life.

Gaining Spiritual Traction: The Joy of Service

This is the 3rd post in a series of four called GAINING SPIRITUAL TRACTION. The first two elements for finding traction in our spiritual life were (1) being engaged in the Bible and (2) spending time in the purposeful company of other believers.

If we are honest, most of us probably think more about how we can get served rather than thinking about serving others.

Serving is, well, for servants.

And it seems to be written into our DNA that one of the main goals in life is to climb the ladder out of being a lowly servant until we become important enough…or rich enough…to where we find others serving us.

But in the realm of Christianity, service is a primary pathway to having our hearts become more and more inclined to the things of God.

When the disciples were trying to figure out who would get the best seats in heaven, Jesus sat them down and sought to reframe their thinking about the value of servanthood.

Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,  even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Let me ask: how does what Jesus says here square with our current culture?

But I believe that God’s secret to experiencing more joy and deeper contentment and a stronger sense of purpose does not come from getting all we can, but figuring out how we can give to those around us.

Thomas Brooks said:

“The best way to do ourselves good is to be doing good to others; the best way to gather is to scatter.”

The challenge, dare I say the problem, with serving is that can be incredibly humbling.

Its as the Bible says, “Thinking of others as more important than ourselves.”

But, apart from the influence of the Spirit and the instruction of the Word, our natural self tells us that being on the receiving end of things is always better than being the giving end.

I like what Ralph Waldo Emerson realized:

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

I don’t know what it is…I can’t explain how it works, but when we serve others with a pure heart, God seems to bless in ways we can’t imagine:

Many years ago, I took a group down to Mexico to deliver Christmas gifts to kids in an orphanage. This all took place about a week before the actual Christmas holiday.

As we were on our way home, I asked one of our team members about his family’s plans for Christmas.

His response, referring to the couple of days of long driving and dusty roads, was: “I just had Christmas!

This man had tapped into a spiritual secret: that in giving and serving, there is much joy to be found and experienced.

Taking the Gospel Out, Not Putting it on Top

“…and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation…” – Romans 15:20

Several years ago I read a story about a woman who was enamored with Mother Teresa’s ministry to the poor in Calcutta, India.

The woman was so infatuated with Mother Teresa’s work, she began writing letters to her, telling her how much she would like to come to India to join her.

But, these letters never received a response. Determined, the woman kept writing, telling of her deep desire to join Mother Teresa’s work.

Finally, a return letter arrived. The woman was thrilled, imagining her determination had paid off. As she opened the envelope, she eagerly anticipated an invitation to pack her bags, get on a airplane, and begin working alongside her hero.

But what she discovered was a sheet of paper with a short message that started off with these four words:

Find your own Calcutta.

We don’t know why Mother Teresa was so curt in her reply, but the point was crystal clear. In essence, she was saying, “Don’t come her and join my established work. Begin your own work where it is really needed.”

This is similar to what Paul wrote to the Roman believers in Romans 15:20.

Paul made it a goal to not lay a ministry foundation where one already existed.

He figured, “Why preach where Christ has already been shared and (at least one) church already existed?”

Jon Courson described Paul’s thinking like this:

“I’m not going to build upon another man’s foundation. I’m not going to dip into existing aquariums. I’m going to be a fisher of men.”

It’s tempting to ride the coattails of another ministry.  Or, to use a farming analogy, it’s easy to want to plant crops where the ground has already been plowed.

That would make our work that much easier.

But this approach would likely not make our work more expansive.

Breaking new ministry ground can be intimidating.

But it’s much better than doubling up an already existing ministry.

For the person who wants to see God’s kingdom increased, the challenge is to look for fields that have not yet been plowed, and in some cases, have not yet been cleared.

It means that hard work lies ahead.

And we may even feel alone sometimes.

But it takes the Gospel out.

Which is much better than the Gospel on top of an existing work.

Carve a new path. Find your own Calcutta. Be part of true Kingdom expansion.

By the way, here’s the full response of Mother Teresa’s letter:

Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.

 

Gaining Spiritual Traction: The Friction of Fellowship

A few posts ago, I wrote about the value and necessity of being engaged in the Word.

In this post, the point I want to communicate is the great importance and value of interacting with other believers. The Bible refers to this activity as fellowship.

What is friction?

It’s the force or impact that’s made when two different things rub against each other.

In some cases, friction can cause great amounts of heat or even cause sparks to fly!

When it comes to the Christian and spiritual growth, God has it in His plan that we grow by seeing our lives come in contact with other people.

Perhaps no verse of the Bible makes it so clear as Proverbs 27:17:

Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Simply put, fellowship is a force that helps people grow!

But what is fellowship?

Here’s one way to look at it:

Fellowship is the antithesis to isolation.

In isolation there is no contact with others to help sharpen us.

But in fellowship, we interact with people who can:

  • Encourage us
  • Challenge us
  • Teach us
  • Comfort us
  • Support us
  • Model for us
  • Equip us

God wants Christians to spend a significant amount of time around other Christians for the purpose of becoming more of who God wants us to be.

  • It can happen at church.
  • It can happen in a group that meets in a home.
  • It can happen on a retreat or at a church event.
  • It can happen at a coffee shop or through a phone call
  • It sometimes happens spontaneously with no schedule or agenda in place!

You know, being a Christian in the first century was no piece of cake.

There was harassment and persecution, and you can imagine that some people felt like giving up.

That’s what makes these verses so intriguing:

Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Here, the writer of Hebrews is encouraging Christians to not become islands, but together in order to encourage each other in trying times!

Bottom line, whether we know it or not, we need each other!

Back when I was a kid, a lot of churches had rooms and spaces that were called fellowship halls.

Places where people would gather for sticky red punch, pot-luck food and conversation that usually didn’t go very deep.

Ironically, I wonder how much real fellowship took place in those fellowship halls!

Real fellowship is much more focused and intense.

It is life on life, where Christians realize just how bad they need each other.

Perhaps this passage from the book of Ecclesiastes helps provide us with a mental picture:

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (ESV)

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down,  one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Now that’s fellowship!

Neil T. Anderson: “Aloneness can lead to loneliness. God’s preventative for loneliness is intimacy – meaningful, open, sharing relationships with one another. In Christ we have the capacity for the fulfilling sense of belonging which comes from intimate fellowship with God and with other believers.”

Without fellowship, a Christian can become like a coal pulled away from the fire. On its own, the coal will not sustain heat for very long.

When we are removed from Christian fellowship, with its encouragement as well exhortations, we too are prone to cool off and lose our fire.