One of my favorite nursery worship songs is “This Little Light of Mine.” The little kids love to sing the verses, “Hide it under a bushel? No!!” and “Won’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine!”
It’s a great song. But it’s really hard to do in real life.
I have to confess that shining the light of Jesus has always been the “weakest link” in my nearly 40 year spiritual journey as a Christ-follower. Although I have the privilege to have led dozens of people to Christ and planted lots of seed, I still feel like I am fall short in this area of my life. I’m afraid to get to the end of my life and I’ll be like Oskar Schindler (from the movie “Schindler’s List”) who, at the end of saving over 1,000 Jews from death, weeps regretfully over the fact that he could have saved a lot more if he wasn’t so self-absorbed. I fear there are people who might not know Christ if I keep “hiding my light under a bushel” or “allow Satan to blow it out.”
My church calls this shining of Christ’s light, “Compassionate Outreach.” It’s the Spirit inspired and Biblically mandated activity of going outside of ourselves to help others know the life and love of God in Jesus Christ. Other groups call it “evangelism” – which means “sharing the Good News.” But we also include the “actions” of the Good News (showing compassionate love to others through meeting needs), as well as the message (that God invites us into His eternal life as we receive forgiveness of sins through Christ and following His Lordship).
But as I said earlier, it’s easier said than done. The reason for the difficulty is that there are tremendous spiritual, cultural and pragmatic forces working against Christ-followers to share the Gospel with others. Our culture frowns on people who act spiritual and are too “outward” with their faith. We sense the fear of being labeled a “Bible thumper” or “weird religious fanatic” by others. Spiritually, there is an enemy who knows that if we effectively help others become Christ followers, his dark work is severely threatened. So Satan and darkness furiously work at keeping our faith “inward” and keeping the Kingdom of God contained.
The pragmatic obstacles are varied. One pragmatic obstacle is confusion over the “how” of evangelism. Many have this complex scenario in their minds that involves memorizing scripture, giving a “spiel”, and personally leading a person to pray the “sinner’s prayer.” Or we think that evangelism means we need to manipulate people into believing something they don’t really want to believe in. Maybe we got these ideas from our well-meaning churches or leaders. But I don’t think that’s what Christ had in mind when He told us to “let our light shine.”
Another pragmatic obstacle is that some of us are never “present” for unbelievers. We spend all our time relating with people who are already Christ-followers. It is so easy to stay in the “safe” confines of church activities and fellowship. Sometimes we don’t see our work or neighborhoods or community as places to build significant relationships with others. Sometimes we just don’t have the “time.” This is a very big challenge for those who are in ministry.
So what do we do?
As I confessed, this is my weakest area, but I have found these things to be helpful in growing in the habit of Compassionate Outreach:
1. Pray for God to open our eyes to see the “harvest.” The “harvest” is a word-picture of the lost people in the world whose hearts God is moving. In John 4:35, Jesus tells his disciples to “open their eyes to see the fields ripe for ‘harvest.’” There are people around you and me who need Jesus. We just need to see them (and not pass by on the other side). So we pray for God to open our eyes.
2. Meet with a fellow Christ-follower to pray for people who need Christ. When I pastored organic house churches, I met with other members one-on-one to share the names of people we know who need Christ (usually 3-4 people) and then we’d pray for them. We had a prayer guide that listed several short Scripture-based prayers that were focused on helping these people hunger for God, realize their need, and want to respond to Christ. We saw amazing and incredible results and opportunities when we prayed weekly through this prayer guide. (Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would a copy of this prayer guide)
3. Just start conversations with people who are not (yet) Christians. As you see people at work, doing yardwork in your neighborhood, or watching your kid’s soccer game, go over and start a conversation. You don’t have to go deep and you don’t have to share anything spiritual (unless God opens a door). Just be a friend and pay attention.
I think Compassionate Outreach might be easier than what we make of it. In fact, I think we are probably doing it more than we realize. But I also think we need to have it on our mind, in our hearts and in our prayers so that we can recognize when God is at work on the hearts of those who don’t yet know Him. And then we can shine a “little light” so they can see Him.