Being a competitive tennis player and coach for many years, I learned that focus and perspective are critical to being successful.
The main thing in tennis is watching the ball. It’s simple, but not necessarily easy. In fact, something so fundamental can be taken for granted.
While coaching at East Tennessee State University in the mid-1990s, I was doing an individual workout with Sonny, one of our team members. Sonny was a strapping 6’5’’ Englishman and one of our starting players. He was gifted with excellent eye—hand coordination. Sonny nicknamed me “Lazarus” or “Laz.” I’ve been called lots of names in my life, but never that one.
At the beginning of our workout Sonny said he wasn’t hitting the ball cleanly with his forehand groundstroke.
At first glance everything about Sonny’s swing looked good. His footwork looked good too. Then I watched his eyes as I hit a few balls in his direction. Voila! Just as he was about to make contact with the ball Sonny was looking up over the net. He was taking his eye off the ball a split second before contact, causing him to hit the ball off the racquet’s center and away from the “sweet spot.”
I advised Sonny to see the ball all the way through the hitting zone. He began hitting the ball true time after time. He shouted over the net, “Lazarus, you’re a genius.”
I don’t know about that, but I appreciated the comment. You see, watching the ball is essential to properly hitting a tennis ball, regardless of the level of tennis you play. If you’re not a tennis player, apply the principle to any sport requiring you to watch the object you’re striking.
The moral of the story is this: the basics are essential to success no matter where you are in the process. In the area of personal evangelism, there are essentials that, if overlooked, can trip up anyone—even the experts.
In our evangelistic witness, two essentials that affect those efforts are the condition of our heart and our perspective on our target—people!
In fact, just as watching the ball and striking the ball are essential to playing tennis, in our witness, a heart that breaks for the lost will help us more effectively minister the gospel to the lost. They are undoubtedly connected.
For a heart that is hard or hostile to the lost is a heart that is not viewing the lost as God views them—with compassion.
Remember, Jesus’ poignant words about the lost multitudes from Matthew 9:35-36, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”
As I ponder the condition of our country today, I’m also taking stock of my own heart condition.
While our culture is moving away from our Judeo-Christian moorings, it’s becoming increasingly hostile to the church and our Christian faith. We may define the culture as “a way of life for a group of people—the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols they accept, generally, without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.”
Simply, a culture is how and why people do things. We can clearly place people at the center of culture, because in one sense people are the culture and are the movers and shakers of cultural shift, which at this moment is trending away from God at seemingly breakneck speed.
But, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must remember that the people who make up the culture that is increasing at odds with biblical faith, are not the enemy. They are our mission field. How quickly I can forget that truth.
In fact, persecutors are people who need Jesus, for if they knew Him they would not be opposing the Lord of Glory and persecuting His people! The Apostle Paul, prior to his conversion, is a prime example.
Lost people, including those who oppose the faith and persecute God’s people—are the very ones God is also calling us to love, serve, pray for, and witness to.
The people we seek to reach are in spiritual bondage, and our task is to proclaim the message of liberation and freedom found in the person of Jesus Christ. As we think about reaching people, we must delineate between the culture, people, and our true enemy.
People are not our enemy. Satan and his minions are. 1 Peter 5:8 states, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” The Apostle Paul added: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The enemy of our souls would do anything and everything within his power to keep us from sharing the life-giving message of the gospel.
He hates God’s children to the core, and his desire is to thwart any and every attempt to share the gospel with anyone at any time. Not only does he want to defeat us, he would destroy us if he could. The devil’s strategy of opposing our Christian life is referred to by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:11 as “wiles of the devil.”
If it weren’t enough that the devil opposes our evangelistic efforts at every turn, he also exerts great effort in opposing the hearing, understanding, and reception of the gospel message among people who’ve not yet met Christ. In short, he not only opposes we who seek to share, but also those who need to hear the gospel: “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:3–4).
With that context in mind, I know my heart condition regarding the lost will certainly affect my efforts in reaching them for Jesus.
A great starting point in calibrating my heart with the heart of God, a heart that breaks for the lost, is to echo the words of our Lord, as he prayed for those who were crucifying Him, those for whom He was dying for,
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
That powerful prayer of our Lord is a poignant reminder to me, as I grapple with being a witness to people who are opposing the faith and persecuting God’s people in our country today.
Additionally, I’m reminded of Jesus’ challenging words from the Sermon on the Mount, the very first time he spoke in public, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).
The Apostle Paul added perspective on our mission field—people—even our enemies, in Romans 12:17-21, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Father, as we seek to reach people in our sphere of influence with the gospel, give us Your heart, a heart that breaks for the lost. And by Your grace and the power of Your Spirit, help us love our enemies and overcome evil with good. Amen.