Evangelism is a process, not an event. Paradoxically, the process is made up of separate events which God uses in an individual’s journey to faith, and how God brings people to Himself is infinite in variety. In his book The Heart of Evangelism, Jerram Barrs notes: “God has created each individual in His likeness, and He is a God who delights in diversity; so there is an infinite number of ways His image can be expressed. Just as each person is unique, so the way in which God draws each person to Himself is also unique. Every Christian has a story to tell.”
My initial responses to the gospel in college were outright rejection, but during my junior year God used a backslidden Christian on campus named Greg to move me to begin searching for truth. Then there was a TV advertising salesman named Herb, who spent a summer witnessing to me while I was doing an internship in my senior year. A year later, three months before I came to faith in December of 1987, a man named Steve witnessed to me on an airplane, challenging me to ask the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob if Jesus is the Messiah. I did, and God answered my prayer! Hallelujah!
As we noted in our last study, Jesus’ parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-23) sheds light on the process of spiritual sowing. We’re called to sow gospel seed, which is the word of God, and that takes time. The soil is the condition of a human heart, as Jesus explained, and is where the seed lands. As one Bible commentator notes, “The soils do not represent individual moments of decision as much as a lifelong response to God’s word.”
Think about it in the physical realm. A farmer sows seed—that’s an event. It rains one day—that’s another event. The sun comes up day after day and feeds that seed—those days are individual events. It rains another day—that’s an event. And so on.
We may not know the condition of a human heart or have knowledge of a person’s previous exposure to a Christian witness, but God does. God calls us to engage and sow gospel seed, the word of God, believing in God to do what only He can do—bless our efforts.
We also sow and water seed through prayer and good works.
Prayer should permeate everything we do spiritually, including our witness. For we should, if we don’t already, go to God on behalf of people before we go to people on behalf of God! Additionally, prayer demonstrates our dependence upon God to do that which only He can, which is to open up the eyes of the blind, to convict a person of sin (John 16:7) and do the work of regeneration (Titus 3:5) in the life of one who believes in Jesus!
If we have the opportunity, demonstrating God’s love will enhance our proclamation of truth. For if I tell you about God’s love found in Christ and then fail to show that love, then my testimony is weak, and you may think me a hypocrite.
However we sow, it is God alone who brings the increase. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). The same is true for us. Remember, God calls us to be faithful in sowing. The results of that sowing we entrust to Him.
In the spring and summer of 2013, my wife Lori and our two children, Elijah and Shoshanna, and I tried gardening for the first time. Biting into our first spring onion was thrilling. We learned about the process of gardening. When you garden you have to plant seeds at the right time, you have to water just enough, you have to tend your garden regularly, and you have to believe that your hard work will yield a harvest.
Giving too much information too soon, sharing all your biblical knowledge and everything you know about Jesus and the gospel is counterproductive. It’s possible to nullify seed that’s been sown. A reasonable amount of water is necessary for growth as in a light summer shower or controlled watering, but a deluge from a big storm or a fire hydrant will wash the seed away.
That same garden that provided us delicious onions in the springtime washed out in an East Tennessee summer rain. Water is good. Too much water is not good. We shouldn’t overdo the process, unload everything we know and share it in one sitting. Instead, we sow and water as the Holy Spirit leads, while leaving the results to God. In general, people who trust in Christ typically need several exposures to the gospel message before believing in Him.
If people are spiritually thirsty, we shouldn’t usher them to a fire hydrant. Rather, give them a refreshing cool cup of water. Respecting the process will allow people to process what they hear and move toward Jesus as they’re exposed to biblical truth.
While a missionary in New York City, I was working with a Jewish man named David, an elderly man who had a scientific background. He was an agnostic engineer with no religious upbringing. He wasn’t sure God existed, but he was curious and open. I worked with David for a year, meeting him once or twice a month. I shared scripture with him in addition to articles and books that provided evidence of God’s existence. Along the way I challenged him to pray a “seekers prayer”: “God, if you’re real, please reveal Yourself to me.” I have found it a good way to share with the agnostic, the seeker, and even the cynic or skeptic.
After a year of periodic meetings, I was at David’s house in Queens one afternoon. He said, “Larry, I’ve come to a place where I believe in God.” That was huge. From there I proceeded to share the truth claims of Jesus. When I moved from New York to Tennessee, David still hadn’t trusted in Jesus, but he was definitely moving toward the light of Messiah Jesus.
Even Paul, though saved in a moment on the Damascus Road, had people spiritually sowing into his life. He heard the gospel in Acts 8 from Stephen’s testimony even as he consented to Stephen’s stoning. Paul’s persecution of the church wasn’t due to lack of gospel understanding but rather because of it. He simply rejected the truth until his conversion in Acts 9. There may have been believers who tried to share with Paul and who may have even been praying for his salvation. For Jesus said, “Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Every person is on a journey, including you and me, and evangelism is a process. So enjoy the journey, understand the process, and trust in the Lord as you sow and water—leaving the results to God.