Seeking People on the Stretch for God
I’ve been reading Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Discipleship. He shows something amazing. In the book of Acts the evangelistic strategy is to focus on people who have been prepared in some way to be receptive. For example:
The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost unleashed the gospel on a host of spiritually-sensitive Jews who had come from at least 15 different nations to worship the God of the Old Testament.
The next big harvest comes in Samaria (Acts 8:4-25) where Jesus had earlier laid a foundation by his witness (John 4:4-42).
The Holy Spirit sends Philip to an Ethiopian eunuch who is reading the scroll of Isaiah and is puzzling over whom chapter 53 is talking about!!! (Acts 8:26-39).
The evangelistic breakthrough with Gentiles outside Jerusalem comes with Cornelius, who feared God and gave alms and prayed and had a vision of God’s messenger (Acts 10).
When Paul launched his missionary career he followed the pattern of going first to the synagogue in search of some receptive Jews or God-fearing Gentiles (Acts 13:5, 14, 42f.; 14:1; 17:1, 2, 10, 17; 18:4, 7, 19, 26; 19:8).
On his second missionary journey his planning was checked twice by the Lord. The Holy Spirit forbade him (for now) to speak the word in Asia (Acts 16:6) and the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go to Bithynia (Acts 16:7). Instead, Paul saw a vision with a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us (Acts 16:9). The focus was again on the spiritually receptive.
In Philippi there was no synagogue. So Paul found a place where women prayed outside the city and joined them, and one was converted (Acts 16:12-14).
Of course, there were times when Paul simply “Argued in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there” (Acts 17:17). But there does seem to be enough of a pattern to encourage us in our own evangelism, as Coleman says, “to look for those who want to move for Christ. Life is too short to expend excessive time and energy upon apathetic people.”
This seems right to me—not that we ignore the spiritually callous, but that we focus on the one who seem to be groping for God. To put it another way, we are partners with the Holy Spirit and we should be alert to those who are beginning to be awakened by his grace. Seek out those who are on the stretch for God and concentrate energy on their development. Coleman is no doubt right when he says, “I am convinced that a few such persons are within the influence of every Christian.”
On the lookout with you,