In 1984, when I was young in the faith, I had a roommate who was attending a Bible college. For one of his classes, he was required to do some door-to-door evangelism. One night when he came back to our apartment, he was excited because not only had someone invited him and his partner in to talk, but he had also accepted Christ! While I felt happy, I also felt a little uneasy, but I didn’t know why. Was it because I felt envious? Did I think that I should also be knocking on doors? Or was there something else?
Several months later, while I was attending a university in another city, someone knocked on my door. I invited him in and noticed he had a Four Spiritual Laws tract. He quickly started to explain the first spiritual law, but I interrupted him and told him I was already a Christian. Undeterred, my visitor continued his spiel, unwilling to listen whenever I tried to interrupt him. When he reached the “end,” I reminded him again that I was already a Christian, but he still said something about asking Jesus into my heart.
Thinking back on my roommate’s excitement a few months earlier, I understood my feeling of uneasiness. Had my roommate and his partner also behaved in this way when they talked to the man about Jesus? I sure hoped not! Don’t get me wrong; even though I would never do door-to-door evangelism, I know that people come to saving faith in the Lord in a wide variety of ways, including in that way. My guess, though, is that someone is not very likely to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord when someone is trying so hard to explain the Gospel that they have little or no regard for the person they’re explaining it to.
Scripture suggests another way to share the Gospel that I have found to be, dare I say, a better way because it takes more account of personhood. I Corinthians 3:5-7 says, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” In other words, sometimes you may plant the seed in a person’s life; they hear something of the Gospel for essentially the first time. Sometimes you may water the seed; a person already knows something of the Gospel, but they learn more of it from you. The Bible also often speaks of harvest as a metaphor for people who put their faith in Christ; sometimes you may even have the privilege of being there for that moment. Regardless, as Scripture says, it is God Who makes the seed grow.
In the 1980s and 1990s, my wife and I spent five years teaching in a foreign country; in the 2000s, when our kids were 10 and 13, I was able to get a short-term summer teaching contract in that same country, so we all went back there for a few weeks. One of my students, who I’ll call Mr. Intellectual, often dropped in to visit; several of his questions were spiritually related. Three years after that, at the urging of our kids (!), I again secured a short-term summer contract at the same university. I had e-mailed Mr. Intellectual prior to our departure from the U.S., but I hadn’t heard back. However, the Lord brought him across my wife’s path one day; we were amazed at the Lord’s arrangement of that on a very crowded campus. Mr. Intellectual had many more spiritual questions during our remaining time there. Before we left, we put him in touch with someone who would be able to meet with him and continue to answer his questions.
On Christmas Day of that year, we received an e-mail from Mr. Intellectual: “Today is Christmas Day. It’s very meaningful for me since I have taken Jesus as my Savior. Thank you so much for leading me to the world of Christian.” With eyes a bit misty, we agreed that was our best Christmas present, perhaps ever!
Around that time, another former student, this one from the 1990s, contacted us to tell us that she and her husband were now living in the U.S. and wanted to visit us. While they were with us, she (I’ll call her Mrs. Seeker) had many spiritually-related questions, with a somewhat more life-application focus; she had already learned something about Christianity. A couple years later, we heard from her again; she said that she had become a Christian. She asked me, “Do you remember that evening when you and I were talking while you were washing the dishes?” I replied that I did except that I didn’t remember the exact things we had talked about. She said, “Well, that conversation was very important in my coming to faith in Jesus.” She said that there were other people who had answered further questions as well.
In the case of both Mr. Intellectual and Mrs. Seeker, the Lord gave us the privilege of watering; in the case of Mr. Intellectual, also planting. We were not there for the moment of harvest, when they put their faith in Christ, but that in no way lessened our joy! In addition, there have been other times when we have been there for the moment when someone we know and love has prayed to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Imagine traveling through a Third World country with a colleague, as I did. He is a citizen of that country, but you are not. You need a place to spend the night, so you get two rooms at a small motel where both of you are allowed to stay. The motel is lacking in certain amenities, like towels, so you dry yourself off with an extra bed sheet. Your colleague comes to your room to talk. You have previously talked some with him about the Lord, and now he wants to ask some more questions. That very night, he asks Jesus into his heart.
I have been a little hesitant to write this post because I don’t want to come across as boastful. My intention is simply to say that as the Lord brings people into our lives, sometimes we have the opportunity to tell them something about Him. And as we are faithful, sometimes we have the joy of seeing people that we have loved come to faith in Jesus. I would encourage you to keep planting and watering even when you don’t see fruit right away!