"Share Good News - by Invitation"
March 18, 2007 John 4:27-42
Breaking the Silence at the Muffler Shop
So, there we sat, two strangers, thrown together by circumstance...exhausted. Well, not quite exhausted - our mufflers were in the process of being repaired. The retired gentleman and I sat a couple of chairs apart in the waiting area at the shop in Goderich on the sunny spring day. I worked away studiously on material pulled from my briefcase, while he sat with arms crossed and with pleasant demeanour soaked in the sunshine and whatever else went on. An introvert by temperament, I gradually became aware of a nudging from the Lord that I should speak to the gentleman and even broach the subject of spiritual matters. Scarey! I'd never seen him before in my life! It was much easier to just keep on with my own business.
But the nudging persisted. What to say? How to break the ice? Not being too daring, I started with a safe subject - something based on our shared experience. Namely, the fact that we were both sitting there in a muffler shop. "Been here for service much before?" I queried, newcomer to the establishment as I was. He readily answered he had; and the conversation unfolded from there. He had retired to the town from Toronto some 7 years earlier.
A pause developed as I wondered how to turn the conversation in a spiritual direction. Actually he managed it, referring to the Bible I had open for doing some sermon preparation. "Working on some material?" he asked. I explained I was a pastor studying the passage in John about the woman at the well for a sermon. Rather than taking too much of a plunge, I asked, "You connected somewhere?" He acknowledged he didn't attend much, but his granddaughter was very involved at a church nearby. A musician. Ah, something more in common: for a while we shared about our musical female progeny, since my own daughter had gone to a couple of music teachers in Goderich, too. I had been to his church to pick up shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child; he had helped drive some full ones to the depot in Kitchener.
We were developing some common bonds, but I still hadn't been very direct in terms of where he was concerning Jesus. Come on, Ernest, ask him. So after another pause, I swallowed and, referring to my open Bible, inquired whether the "living water" Jesus talks about in the passage had been this gentleman's experience. THERE, I'd asked it. I'd finally broached the most important subject, the one with eternal significance. There wasn't a stunned silence as I feared, or a look of shock and withdrawal; actually, he kept talking but on a slightly different subject. Didn't seem upset at all by the question (perhaps he didn't quite understand what I meant). We were interrupted by the mufflerman coming to tell me my vehicle was finished. When we parted company, although it would hardly classify as a 'success' evangelistically, the gentleman seemed to genuinely appreciate our conversation; we shook hands and he warmly bade me goodbye. From total strangers we had gone to the point of shared experience, discovering commonality in life, and the spiritual door had been opened a crack. Bridges had been built.
Have you been there? Have you felt a desire or nudge to share spiritually with someone, but didn't quite know where to start? The harvest is ripe, if we have eyes to see and willingness to speak out about what our own experience has been. In our Scripture lesson from John 4, we see Jesus striking up an unexpected conversation of a spiritual nature with a total stranger...who in turn runs to invite those she knows (crossing her own bridges) to meet a most astonishing man who may be the long-awaited Saviour. She models for us how to share the Good News by inviting others to participate in a joint experience.
Priority of the Pickings
Charles Spurgeon the famous preacher said, "Our great object of glorifying God is to be mainly achieved by the winning of souls." Witnessing was important to Jesus: His great commission was that we "make disciples ...baptizing ...and teaching them..." (Mt 28:19f) He reminded His disciples after His resurrection that "repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations...[and added] You are witnesses..." Telling the message was high priority for our King.
Look at the verses in John 4(31-38) between when the woman leaves for the village and returns with her neighbours. Jesus has a discussion with his disciples which isn't just 'filler': it's a perspective that's essential for us to have as a foundation when it comes to sharing the Good News. The disciples try to get Jesus to eat something, but He says (32), "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." What's that? V34, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work." The Son is about the Father's business; whatever God's doing, that's what Jesus is focused on. What kind of work is meant? Here, in particular, the Father's 'work' is identified as reaping a soul harvest, in vv35-38. "Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." He wasn't talking about the agricultural harvest - that was still a few months away. Jesus speaks of the reaper 'drawing his wages' - getting real reward. "Even now he harvests the crop for eternal life" - ah, He's talking about a soul-harvest, not material. He tells His followers He's sent them to reap what they haven't worked for; they're reaping the benefits of the labour of others, such as Moses whose 5 books the Samaritans used as Scripture; the Holy Spirit, whose inner voice convicts sinners; and Jesus, who had just been interacting with the woman.
On occasion Yvonne and I have been out for a walk after Mr Hubbard has harvested rutabagas up the road from us. Rutabagas are big and basically round; often numerous ones have rolled off the truck or harvester, there are plenty of them just laying in the field or along the roadside, there for the taking. If you love that flavour, that would be an excellent opportunity! When Jesus says, "Open your eyes and look at the fields - they're ripe," He means, "Come and get it!" To His X-ray vision discerning the hurts and hopes and needs of a limping humanity, the offer of God's love and salvation ought to draw a lot of interest from ordinary folks.
The pickings are high priority for the Prince of Peace. It turned Jesus' crank to be active in helping others understand He was their Saviour. When we look at other people, we can gain confidence knowing that God has already been working in their lives through circumstances, Scripture, and His Holy Spirit to convince them of their need of Him; they're already 'in process'. Many are 'riper' for harvest than we think. But we won't know if we don't ask.
Today we're not looking in detail at Jesus' conversation with the woman, but a short summary is in order to set the stage for her response. And Jesus shows insight in how He manouvres the conversation, avoiding side-tracks and getting pre-empted. In several ways He builds a bridge into this woman's life, making it easier for her to trust Him and to cross over into a saving relationship.
He reaches out first of all by even speaking to her. In v27 John notes the disciples' surprise to find Jesus talking with a woman. One of the sayings of the Rabbis was: "A man shall not be alone with a woman in an inn, not even with his sister or his daughter, on account of what men may think.A man shall not talk with a woman in the stree, not even with his own wife, and especially not with another woman, on account of what men may say." Jesus took the risk and broke the gender conversation barrier.
He interacted with her even though she was poor, a lower-level peasant who didn't have servants to draw water for her. He spoke to her even though He, a Rabbi, probably already sensed that she was an outcast morally speaking, having had five husbands and now 'shacked up' with her latest paramour. He spoke to her even though she was a despised Samaritan, a genetically impure mixed-breed forbidden by Scripture. The animosity between Samaritans and Jews went back centuries: Jews had refused to let the Samaritans help rebuild the temple post-exile. The Samaritans built their own temple on Mt Gerizim about 400 BC, which the Jews burned in 128 BC. The Samaritans didn't recognize the whole Old Testament as Scripture, using only the first 5 books, rendering them ignorant of so much. And Samaritans on occasion would detain Jews travelling through their territory. Jews routinely travelled miles at great hardship to avoid Samaria altogether - and yet here Jesus is reaching out to a village, through this woman. He was all about building bridges and finding ways to connect, not keep one's distance.
Note how He initiates the conversation: they share a location - the well. He requests a drink - natural enough. But it opens up an avenue for Him to talk about satisfying the thirsts of more than just this life. In vv10and13 He offers the living water that only He can provide. The woman shows a misunderstanding, thinking He'd save her simply from drawing daily from the well(15). In 16-18 He unmasks the woman's deepest needs by referring to her husband; He proves how special He is by talking about her numerous divorces as if He's known her for years. The woman, sensing His prophetic abilities, tries to dodge the issue with the "where's the right place to worship" question: but He points to a new way. Finally, when in v25 the woman tries to close the discussion saying Messiah will make it all clear when He comes, Jesus gives His fullest self-disclosure, saying explicitly He's the Christ. He builds bridges so well that all roads of conversation end up pointing to Him as the answer to her needs.
Vv28-30 show us something about this woman's witnessing style: "Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.Could this be the Christ?" They came out of the town and made their way toward him." She invited - "Come, see a man..."; they came. She didn't give an intellectual proof; she didn't try to convince them; she just asked the question, and invited them to draw their own conclusions. "Could this be the Christ?" - whom they'd been awaiting so long.
In Becoming a Contagious Christian, Bill Hybels, Mark Mittelberg, and Lee Strobel identify 6 different styles of evangelism. They point to the woman at the well as an example of the "invitational style" of witnessing. They say, "People who have an Invitational Style of evangelism are quick to include others in their activities. They show hospitality to the people around them. They are also persuasive." The invitational person enjoys meeting new people; they tend to be committed - they strongly believe in the activities and causes they're involved in; and, they see outreach events as excellent opportunities for sharing Christ. The authors comment, "You probably all know someone who can make things sound exciting or interesting, so that when they invite people to do those things, the response is almost always yes.Imagine using this skill to invite friends to an event where they would hear about Christ!"
Many unchurched people are literally waiting to be asked to investigate Christianity. George Barna in 1988 wrote, "A recent national survey we conducted among unchurched adults indicated that 25% would attend a church if a friend ever took the time or made the effort to invite them. That's 1 out of 4 adults. If the unchurched population in this country [the United States] is roughly 60-70 million people (our best estimate), that means 15-18 million adults are waiting to be asked to go to church!" For Canada, the total would be corresponding less; but even if you took 1/10, that's still nearly 2 million unchurched Canadians who would respond to an invitation.
Do YOU have an invitational style of evangelism? The Willow Creek material offers a questionnaire to help people determine their personal evangelism style. You would class as "invitational" if the following statements apply to you: "When I make plans to do something, I really like including new people.Even if I know the answers, I'm more comfortable having someone who knows more than I do explain Christianity to my friends.If I knew of a good Christian outreach event that my friends could relate to, I'd really work hard to get them to come.I look for Christian concerts and events to invite my friends to.When I see, hear, or read something I really like, the first thing I think of is other people I know who would enjoy it or get something out of it too.[and]It would be one of the highlights of my week if a friend accepted an invitation to a Christian event."
Here's a one-minute video clip showing an example of invitational evangelism at work in a locker room...[VIDEO] Didn't it seem natural for Kevin to be inviting his friends? He was pretty persuasive, wasn't he?
The authors offer these cautions for people with this style: "Don't let others always do the talking for you. You, too, need to be prepared to share Christ's love. And don't assume your job is done when the people you invite show up at church or a Christian event. Ask them what they thought of the event and look for opportunities to start a spiritual conversation." As 1Peter 3:15 reminds us: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."
In the case of the woman at the well, she not only invited the people by saying "Come, see": she was around for interaction afterwards, too.
Beyond Second-hand Faith
V39 says, "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, 'He told me everything I ever did.'" We might call that second-hand or indirect faith - believing because of what someone else has said, sharing from their own experience of the Lord's working in their life. John Westerhoff talks about the belief of children whose parents take them to church as "Affiliative Faith" - kind of an introductory level, believing by association. But real faith at some point needs to become "Owned Faith" - based on your own personal experience.
The Samaritans got this opportunity because Jesus delayed his travel plans to spend time with them. Vv40-42: "So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, 'We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.'" The woman became a bridge of sorts: she initiated the contact, but people crossed over to encounter Jesus for themselves. That's how evangelism usually works: building bridges; sharing your experience of Christ with someone else you already know. They listen first to what WE say because of the relationship established; then as they start to listen to Jesus directly, saving faith becomes rooted in their hearts through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
If you're here today and aren't sure whether you're at the 'affiliative' or 'owned' stage of faith or just 'exploratory', talk to me or one of our leaders after the service. We'd be delighted to guide you into a closer encounter with Jesus so you can say with the Samaritans, "We know that this man really is [- really, really- ] the Saviour of the world." God wants each person to be saved and to come to a knowledge - a personal experience - of the truth, the facts of the matter (1Tim 2:4).
Doing God's Will Outweighs the Risk
Witnessing is risky. But so are a lot of worthwhile undertakings in life. Josh DeGraaf is a Canadian soldier who has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He's the son of Paul and Denise DeGraaf; Paul is an Associated Gospel church pastor in Melfort, Saskatchewan. The parents are very supportive of their son's involvement, despite the danger associated with it. Paul says, "I'm really proud of him - that he's willing to put his life on the line to help others...When he looks at his life he realizes life is bigger than himself and there's more at stake than his own self...My faith is in the fact that Josh is in God's will."
Denise, Josh's mom, echoes this acceptance of her son's high-risk occupation. She admits, "If he dies, of course we'll mourn...There are sadder things than dying.If you live your whole life not obeying God's will and not helping other people, that's a much sadder way to live."
Doesn't that echo Jesus' attitude and priorities? He said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work...[and what was that work?] Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest...The reaper...harvests the crop for eternal life."
May the Lord truly open our eyes this week and show us who we are willing to lay down our lives for - not with a gun, but the gospel, making inroads into the captivity and pain people experience as a result of evil and sin in their lives. Embrace the risk and plunge in with the words God gives you - so others may come to know the Saviour for themselves. Let's pray.