When you witness for the Lord, there is no such thing as win, lose, or draw. Yes, there are times when you feel that you could have done better. There are times that the Devil seems to have the upper hand, but even if you have several people commit their lives to Jesus, you didn’t save them. Jesus did.
After becoming a Christian in the fall semester of my senior year, I gave my weak, wimpy testimony a few times. A track and field friend and I joined a Lay Witness Mission team in northern Mississippi. We would work with the youth while the older adults would work with the adults, sharing testimonies. As my friend would say, “Let’s go to ____. Turn the church upside down and shake really hard.” For about a year and a half, we did a lot of weekend travelling. A lot of people dedicated their lives to Jesus, but I never felt that my contribution was worthy.
After this time, I was invited to become the youth (19, at the time) member of the board of directors for a youth mission in Tupelo, MS. For about a year, I attended board meetings and studied scripture. The board memorized a lot of scripture.
If it weren’t for the military commitment, I envisioned this to be my life’s work. This was during the war in Vietnam. The military commitment hung there like a dark cloud, putting all of my desires in the shadows.
Through my college years, I had pamphlets in the glove compartment of my car. Others came to me for extra pamphlets rather than the source of the pamphlets (knowing that I would have extra), but I had never bumped into anyone on campus, and in that moment, led them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I wondered what I was to do. Why did God build a yearning to share my faith and yet, leave me with nothing to show for it?
My problem was that I was thinking of myself instead of God. Even with Evangelism, especially with Evangelism, God is primary, and we are privileged to be along for the ride.
During my senior year of undergraduate work, my old gang from the Lay Witness Mission team asked me to meet them at a community college dorm in central Mississippi. We were going to have a two and a half day conference on sharing the Good News. No one over 25 would attend. I was one of the old guys at 21. While feeling defeated as a Lay Witness, I went just to renew acquaintances that I had rarely seen in two years.
The conference was well organized until one of the leaders awoke on Sunday morning with a great idea. Instead of having a worship service and an altar call at the college for the 18 and 19 year olds that were in attendance, we would put our new-found knowledge and skill into action. We would leave the campus at 10:00am when everyone in the nearby town would be in church (Sunday school and then worship). We would knock on doors. If anyone was home, they needed to hear the word of God. This was an erroneous assumption and highly judgmental, but it made sense at the time.
The problem was that as a conference ‘leader’, I led a team into the town. I led three 18-year-olds with wide-eyed excitement down our assigned streets. I was praying for no one to be at home. How could I show these youngsters that I could lead someone to Jesus when I never had? Yet, halfway down the block of the second street, an elderly lady answered the door.
I asked if we could come in and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them. She started to mutter “no” and she tried to close the door in my face, but her husband yelled from the couch to let us in. I entered and sat next to the old man whose big head was balding. Beads of sweet were forming on the bald spots, but he had an odd smile on his face. The smile was menacing, not natural in any respect. He looked like a mange-ridden wolf, ready to devour me.
I tried not to make much eye contact. I went through the pamphlet without reading it. I had all of that memorized. That is when the battle began.
The old man chuckled and then started throwing arguments at me. He used a combination of biblical misquotes and taking biblical snippets out of context. It says in James 4 and in 2 Timothy 2:23 not to argue, especially with a fool, but I had to teach these three young people how to defend one’s faith. I quickly asked, “Lord, help me.” I pressed into the fray. At that moment something from my military training came to mind. “A hero is scared, just like everybody else. He just runs in the wrong direction.”
To each argument that the old man raised, I gave one, two, or even three biblical responses that refuted his argument. When he misquoted the scripture, I would get upset at his misquote. Yet, something inside me said not to tell him that the ‘not’ that he left out of his misquote totally changed the meaning. No, I simply gave parallel texts to show that he was wrong.
While this was going on, the three youngsters (understand that I was only three years older) stood near the door behind me. They never said a word. The man’s wife stood barely within my peripheral vision, wringing her hands. She may have been crying. Finally, she cleared her throat to speak, but her husband, anticipating what she would say, said, “No need. These young people can go.”
I thanked the man for his time, and the four of us left. The wife was mumbling apologies. As we left, the man started to laugh. No actor could ever portray the Devil laughing any better than the hate-dripping laughter of this old man as we closed his front door.
I looked at my watch, wondering how many more houses we would have to visit, but I was shocked to see that we had been in the man’s house for well over thirty minutes. It was past time for us to report back to the college. We would be late.
When the conference leader asked me how it went, I nearly collapsed. I said, “Not well.”
The three 18 year olds finally said the first words from their mouths in over an hour. Almost in unison they exclaimed to me, “What do you mean?” To the leader, they said, “Thank you for letting us go with him. He was a rock star! We met a man that attacked our faith, and he stood there and had an answer for everything that the man threw at us. We have never seen anything like it!”
All I could think of was the biblical admonishments to not quarrel. All I could think of was that the man did not accept the words that he heard. No one was saved by faith that day, as far as what I had experienced. The man’s laughter would haunt me for weeks. Then the thought of my own school work popped into my head, and I feared that I would be up past midnight getting my homework done. As usual, I had taken an overload of coursework. I packed and went home utterly defeated.
Now let’s look at win, lose, and draw. The argument with the old man could be considered a draw. No one convinced anyone else of anything. I may have convinced myself that I was unworthy, and ill prepared for such a confrontation. In that sense, I felt utter defeat once more. Yet, who won?
In all of this, God won. Did he gain any converts? Maybe not from the old couple, but those three 18 year olds were certainly on fire. Who knows what may have happened in their lives since that day. Maybe they became preachers, evangelists, or members of a Lay Witness Mission team. Did they see something other than the broken person that I thought that I was?
And what of me? That was the problem. I felt defeated, but 40+ years later, the facts of the encounter are now becoming clear. I had written before that when the argument started, I had at most five minutes of biblical memorization beyond the two minutes of working through the pamphlet. Where did the other 30 minutes of scripture come from? How did I have answers to questions that I had never considered? How did I have scripture, not just spoken word-for-word, but the book, chapter, and verse, when I had never memorized those verses?
I did not have the skill or knowledge to stand in the fray that day. Jesus did. I felt backed into a corner by the sudden change in the agenda for the conference, but I went willingly. In mortal fear, but no one was holding a gun to my head. I could have suggested that we only knock at houses with no cars parked in front. Several of the other ‘leaders’ found no one to talk to. I was the ‘lucky’ one.
If I had not the skill or knowledge to argue and Jesus did, the only explanation is that Jesus used my body to stand up to evil that day. The Holy Spirit guided me to find the scripture from 21 years of the Bible being read to me or my own study of it. I felt defeated, because I was looking for a convert. But I don’t evangelize. The Holy Spirit convicts the listener of their sins long before the evangelist knocks on the door or says a word. God uses a willing participant to say the right words. God brings the person already convicted of his sins to the point of trusting God, and then the person submits his will to God. I repeat; I don’t evangelize. I become a willing participant. That day, I was an empty vessel that the Holy Spirit filled. I put myself in a position where I could be ridiculed. In some places of the world and at times in the USA, that could result in death, but you must be willing.
God dwelled inside me so strongly that day that I had over thirty minutes of scripture to recite. I couldn’t tell you today what any of that scripture was. God was totally in control. I was aware, but not really. Did the three young people with me see a visible change?
Isn’t that what sanctification really is? As we see something wrong in our journey with God, we surrender that one more thing to Him, making us more like Jesus each time. Someday, I’ll be to that point again of God in total control, and me without sin. This time, to stay. A willing participant in a total surrender to Jesus and His Love.