Friday, 1 January 2016

Balance in Outreach

     What do you get when you combine two uneducated fishermen and a crippled beggar? Very little of any consequence from the world’s perspective. But when Jesus is added to the mix, a powerful force emerges that significantly impacts the lives and destinies of multitudes.
     It was early summer AD 30, about 3:00 in the afternoon, as a couple of unimposing Galileans headed toward the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Reaching the beautifully ornamented gate on the eastern side of the compound, they encountered a lame man requesting financial assistance. Beyond his physical disability and poor economic state, however, his greatest need was the spiritual condition of his immortal soul.
     Although nothing of any monetary value was available to share at the time, there was something worth so much more. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” the beggar was told, “rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6 NKJV). “Immediately,” the record states, his feet and ankle bones were strengthened, and for the first time in over four decades he was able to stand on his own. Not only that, he began to walk and to leap in the air, entering the temple praising God (vv. 7-11). As a crowd soon gathered, the pair of evangelists recognized a golden opportunity to share good news and spent the next several hours teaching these eager listeners about the crucified and risen Lord (vv. 12-26). By evening, before antagonists could interrupt the evangelistic campaign, multitudes had been won to Christ (4:1-4).
     The two apostles were then taken into custody and the next day brought before the Jewish High Court. Since Jesus had stood before these very same adjudicators just a few weeks earlier, and considering what eventually happened to him, John and Peter were almost certainly on trial for their lives. Yet remarkably they regarded this as another opportunity to proclaim the message of Christ, concluding their address with the challenging words: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (vv. 5-12).
     “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (v. 13). How did these officials know that the two defendants had been with Jesus? Perhaps they had been seen in his company during his earthly ministry. More likely it was because they were exhibiting the same confidence, conviction, and courage that Christ himself had only recently demonstrated before this court. Jesus had made a lasting impression on these simple fishermen, and it showed!
     But Peter and John were not the only ones appearing before the Sanhedrin that day. The greatest testimony presented on this occasion was not anything spoken by either of these preachers. “And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them,” the accusers “could say nothing against it” (v. 14). Someone else who had been immeasurably impacted by the Lord was “standing up” for Jesus!
     When demands were then made that there be no more teaching in Jesus’ name, the two apostles defiantly issued this response: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (vv. 19-20). Apparently these ill-treated disciples were so committed to Christ and so convicted by his message that they simply could not be silent.
     After being further threatened and then released, they rejoined their companions, and the first thing they all did together was pray. Surprisingly they did not ask God to take away the hardships or to make their lives easier. Understanding that tribulation is an inevitable reality when living for Christ in an imperfect world, they dutifully implored: “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word” (v. 29). Doing the Lord’s will, even in the face of adversity, was a priority for these godly servants, and their selfless appeal was answered (v. 31).
     What can we learn from the events recorded in Acts 3–4 to help us achieve and maintain balance in our evangelistic efforts? At least three central points are worthy of our consideration.
Be Truly Converted to Christ
     How seriously do I take my Christianity? Do the people in my life know me primarily as a member of the Lord’s church, or is it in other capacities that I am principally recognized? Is being a Christian something I merely profess but do not genuinely practice? Is it something I engage in only once, twice, or perhaps three times a week? Is my level of commitment and Bible knowledge any greater now than when I first obeyed the gospel, or am I slowly regressing toward spiritual stagnation?
     To be truly converted to Christ means that one’s life has been significantly and observably transformed. It was obvious that Jesus had made a considerable impact on Peter and John, rendering them incapable of keeping quiet about the gospel message (Acts 4:13, 20). And these inspired men expected the same response from other converts (cf. 1 Pet. 1:13-25; 2:1-25; 3:13-17; 4:1-19; 1 John 1:3; 2:6; 3:1, 10, 18-24). If observers see little or no difference in the attitudes and behaviors of one who has been baptized into the body of Christ, something is terribly wrong.
     Years ago as I was preparing to move overseas as a first-time missionary, a lady from my home congregation tried to dissuade me, saying, “But we need you here.” I replied: “You and many other Christians are already here to do the Lord’s work; if I don’t take the gospel overseas, who will?” The excuses that followed made it apparent that this professing Christian was satisfied letting someone else do the Lord’s work where she lived, while countless souls around the world remained in spiritual darkness.
     The Bible says concerning the Lord’s people that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (Eph. 3:17). Since Jesus brings with him the burden of a lost and dying world (Luke 19:10; 1 Tim. 1:15), he simply cannot reside within us if there is no room in our hearts for that burden. For the congregation comprised of members who possess the mind of Christ, evangelism is a top priority, and there are no debates about whether or not outreach programs are to be included in the budget or if the focus of our soul winning is to be local or abroad.
Pray Selfless, Evangelistic Prayers
     When Peter and John returned to their comrades, they promptly gathered to pray (Acts 4:23-30). But unlike some of the prayers that we tend to offer, bursting into heaven with a long list of petitions and self-concerns, the apostles first took the time to praise and acknowledge God for who he is and for all that he has done (v. 24). Though they were facing severe maltreatment, their chief concern was for the success of the Lord’s cause as they asked for boldness to continue spreading his word (v. 29).
     While our heavenly Father most certainly wants our requests to be made known to him (Phil. 4:6), these must surely include the accomplishing of his will. We ought to regularly pray for the lost souls in our lives, including family, friends, co-workers, school-mates, and neighbors. We should also entreat the Lord for opportunities to share our faith with them. We need to be praying for the evangelistic endeavors of our home congregation and for the missionaries and mission efforts we support. From personal experience I can say without reservation that one of the most encouraging things that can ever be said to a missionary consists of five simple words: “I am praying for you.” Our God and his perfect will must always be at the center of our thoughts, prayers, and activities.
Put Prayers Into Action
     Peter and John and their companions, having prayed for boldness to speak God’s word, “spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). As Jesus was preparing to send out thirty-five pairs of missionaries, reminding them of the magnitude of the harvest and scarcity of workers, he declared: “therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:1-2). And having exhorted these disciples to pray, the very next word from his lips was “go.”
     The Lord’s people are often the very instruments through which prayers are answered. It does little good to pray for the hungry if we are unwilling to supply food (Matt. 25:42). How will orphans and widows realistically be helped in their affliction if we pray for them without practicing pure and undefiled religion before God (Jas. 1:27)?  Will it serve any useful purpose to pray for our lost neighbors if we refuse to share with them the sacred message that has the power to save their souls (Jas. 1:21)? Undoubtedly if we pray daily and fervently for those in our lives who are estranged from God, for opportunities to share God’s word with them, and for courage and wisdom to take advantage of these opportunities, it will be nearly impossible to just sit back and remain idle.
     Perhaps we are not taking the world for Christ because too much of our resources are tied up in the local work, which unfortunately has become necessary to compensate for the lack of involvement of a large percentage of those who profess to follow Jesus. If members of the Lord’s church are truly converted to him and are eagerly engaged in evangelistic praying and putting these prayers into action, then local evangelism takes care of itself. This in turn frees up more of our resources to be utilized in taking the gospel beyond the borders of our immediate environs.
     Let us be truly converted to Jesus, and pray selfless, evangelistic prayers, and then put our prayers into action. Only then will we achieve balance in our outreach, and only then will our purpose in God’s kingdom be fulfilled.
--Kevin L. Moore

*This is an abbreviated and modified version of the article published in Balance in an Unbalanced World: the 34th Annual Lectureship of ETSPM, ed. James Meadows (Knoxville, TN: ETSPM, 2008): 212-20.

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