“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” – James 1:22
In today’s society, at least in the United States, there is a tendency to want everything right now, instantly. We send a text message to someone and we expect an immediate response. We deposit money in a bank account, and we expect the funds to be immediately available. We put in effort in something, and we immediately expect positive results. However, when it comes to God’s work, things operate a lot differently
One of the most annoying things I encounter when interacting with other Christians is the way they interact with non-Christians. And, it’s the majority of Christians that do the following:
Person A: “Hey, what church do you go to?”
Person B: “I don’t really go to any church right now . . .”
Person A: “Really?! Well, you’re more than welcome to attend the church I go to! Here, let me right down the address for you . . . we meet on Sundays at . . . and we have a Bible study at . . .”
While they are often well meaning, they just don’t know how to be real. What I mean by that is, at the end of the day, you have to act like a normal person. Everyday people don’t work like that! In fact, if you come at someone who hasn’t really shown any interest in Christianity at all before, why all of a sudden are they going to jump on the opportunity to start going to your church, or your Bible study?
Just because you invite them somewhere doesn’t mean they trust you, care about you, or even feel that you trust and care about them!
Take any successful missionary from the Bible and show me one example where that person simply invited someone to church . . . I’ll save you the time; it doesn’t exist. People need to feel that you care about them way before they will be willing to investigate a new belief system.
One thing that I feel many Christians don’t understand, especially those that were raised in a Christian home, is the fact that they are essentially ‘selling’ to people a complete lifestyle change. Becoming a Christian, and giving your life to God, means completely changing who you are as a person. We’re not selling used cars here! We aren’t just simply trying to get them on the car lot and giving them our pitch. This is their whole way of thinking, their spiritual awakening, and it is our duty to do everything we can to show them the blessings that come with following Jesus.
My favorite example of showing people God, rather than simply talking about God, comes from the parable of the Good Samaritan. While many people know the phrase ‘Good Samaritan,’ fewer people know the significance of this story, especially in its relation to how we as Christians should interact with our fellow man.
The story starts with a Jewish Man traveling along the road to Jericho. Thieves show up, beat the man, and leave him for dead. Shortly thereafter, a Jewish priest walks by and doesn’t help the man. Another Jewish man, who works in the temple, walks by and does nothing to help. A third man walks by, this time a Samaritan, who stops to help the man by treating his wounds and giving him clothes. Then, the Samaritan takes the man to an inn where he cares for him until the following day. When the Samaritan has to leave, he gives money to the innkeeper and asks the innkeeper to take care of the man.
So what is the significance of this story in relation to missionary work?
The first thing we need to understand is who our characters are: a Jewish victim, two Jewish bystanders, and a Samaritan who finally comes to the aid of the victim.
During Jesus’ time, the Samaritans were viewed as dissenters, almost traitors to the Jews. They were a separate community from the Jewish people who practiced many of the same things, but they differed on certain religious doctrine. The fact that Jesus decided to choose a Samaritan as the ‘hero’ of this story is significant in that the two Jewish people, the Priest and the Temple worker, who decided not to help their fellow man, represent the hypocrisy of not truly living one’s beliefs.
It is very easy to simply tell people about the Gospel. We invite them to our worship services, we might even share a Bible verse or two with them. But, at the end of the day, the most important thing we can do is be there for them.
Now, I don’t mean we have to wait for the opportunity to help them if they’ve been beaten up on the side of the road. ‘Being there’ for someone essentially means we find out what their needs are and we help fulfill them. If our intentions are simply to get them to come to church then we are not being true Christians. We must remember that the second greatest commandment is not to convert our fellow man, it’s to love them as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
Going back to the story of the Good Samaritan, the fact that the priest and the temple worker were Jewish is significant in that they were God’s chosen people at the time. In a sense, they were what Christians are today. We know the truth, we know the way to salvation. And yet, oftentimes, we ignore the suffering of those around us because we’re too busy simply preaching to them. We must be like the Samaritan and help heal the spiritual wounds of those who have distanced themselves from God’s healing grace.
But, wouldn’t sharing God’s word with them heal their ‘spiritual wounds?’
Yes, it would! But first, we have to prepare them to receive the message. Remember, their hearts have been hardened, their minds are closed. There is no amount of preaching that is going to penetrate these defenses. It is absolutely essential that they be in a state of emotional vulnerability in order for the Spirit of God to work a change in them. Unfortunately for the impatient missionary, this takes time, and it can be disheartening. But, for the Christian who has an eye single to the glory of God, it is his greatest asset; for without it, he is merely left to his own devices.