“Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
– John 4:6-7 –
Do you want to make disciples? I want to make disciples. It is a deep, value-driven passion. I am also evangelistically passionate about great food, my favourite books and movies, and the amazing people I get to live and work with who often shun recognition. Except that with Jesus it is magnified exponentially, because although books and movies and meals and people have shaped my life and I need to talk about them with someone, there is nothing that has shaped my life (and is still shaping my life) more than knowing Christ.
I have been sharing about Jesus (in many ways – not all good) since about age 12. I have realized over the years that some of the assumptions that I have held about evangelism have been waaaay off the mark. I could address a lot of them with some funny and self-deprecating stories (you probably could too), but the one that’s burning on my heart lately is the false assumption I have held that evangelism is always a one-way matter.
Sometimes it is. Sometimes we do something good for someone, and it sparks a conversation, and we are given the opportunity and the power by the Spirit to share while someone else is given the opportunity and power by the Spirit to listen, and they receive Christ. I can think of one instance in a church I pastored where a series of good deeds for a stranger led to a conversation that was, indeed, very one sided. They just wanted to know about Jesus, and I told them, and they received Christ. It was awesome, and unique. And then I helped to disciple them before they moved on to another city.
This has been the exception rather than the rule. I also lived under the assumption for some time that evangelism was best practiced with strangers in captive audience situations, like riding in a taxi or sitting on an airplane. It’s not usually, but that hasn’t stopped me from having some incredible conversations about faith with new seatmate friends and taxi drivers. These have been far from one sided. Usually I end up learning as much from them as they do from me. They have never led to a person openly professing faith, but on my last flight we parted ways having shared very openly about how God was working in each of our lives. I felt the Spirit smile and knew that it was what God intended to accomplish through each of us. I must share with you, as well, that I had felt the nudge earlier that night to pray for my next conversation.
Lately, though, I have found my evangelistic secret weapon. Get ready for it. It is that I am hopelessly unhandy. And I am a homeowner – during a pandemic. Which means that I need help with literally everything. You know who I have found to be most helpful? The people on my street. They have helped me with fence posts and window weep holes and kayak carts and general gardening advice – there is no limit to my ineptitude.
And you know what else I have found? Being in a position of reliance and humility is a great starting point for relationships. Because when someone is helping you, it means that they are already interested in your welfare – and are usually open to you being interested in theirs. Then when they have a project or a hobby, it is nothing weird for you to lean over the fence or stroll across the road with an inquiry and an offer for help – and a conversation. My neighbours and I are not talking much about Jesus yet, but they all know that I am a Christ-follower, and I am learning significant tidbits about their lives and perspectives that are broadening my own. I am content to allow the Spirit to lead and to enjoy the new relationships as they develop.
It is no surprise that in John chapter 4, probably the best model for all evangelistic conversations begins from a position of need. John makes a point of letting us know that Jesus is genuinely tired – humanly tired. In a radical act of humility and inclusivity, Jesus asks a socially outcast, openly promiscuous Samaritan woman for a drink. John even thinks to include a handy note in verse 9 for us non-Jews so that we understand just how scandalous this is: “for Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” Allowing her to offer him a drink opens the opportunity for him to offer her a drink of what he calls “living water” – and the conversation ensues and ends with joy, not only for Jesus and this woman, but for the entire town.
If we were to be honest, during this pandemic, all our needs have been amplified. Is it possible that our weakness is a gift from the Spirit to remind us of both the fragility of stability and the power of the other? Maybe you have taken up a new hobby during the pandemic. Maybe you weren’t well stocked on some essential supply. Maybe that humble knock on the door or greeting over the fence (scary or embarrassing though it may be) is God’s way of sharing His love with you through your neighbour and with your neighbour through you.