Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Luke 19:10b “ . . . and to save . . . “
Jesus sought the lost, confident of success. We, too, should seek with confidence. Pessimism and defeatism are disallowed.
In the USA, people are receptive to hearing the Gospel one-on-one. When we try to share the gospel with the lost, an average of one in four listeners will let us present the whole plan. This percentage has long remained constant.
Of these one-fourth, an interesting change has happened in recent years. As late as 1987, tests showed of this one-fourth, one in ten would accept Jesus and pray to be saved. Every forty times we tried to present the Gospel, one would be saved. This one-in-forty was the etched-in-stone statistic I grew up with.
Now, something amazing and wonderful is happening. Of the one-fourth who listen to the whole Gospel presentation, one in four are being saved. This means for every sixteen times we try to present the Gospel, one will be saved.
Why this increase in receptivity to the Gospel? First, back then we were part of the establishment people were casting off. Second, people have had a generation of trying many other options which have failed. Third, people are seeking for something that works, and the Gospel works.
In our culture, people outside Christ struggle with life’s ultimate realities. Life is a riddle to them. What about death, Heaven, Hell, God, angels, Satan, demons, the end of the world, Judgment Day, marriage, sex, meaning, purpose? They feel there is more, but what? This restless curiosity has caused folks in our culture to be more open to discussing the Gospel now than ever before.
As a result, America has become a topsy-turvy society where lost people are often more anxious to talk about spiritual things than Christians are. There are lost people in our own city more eager to hear the Gospel than we are to tell it.
The world’s thirst for spiritual meaning has made religion a hot topic. It is in the news every day – New Age, the Occult, Islamic fundamentalists, Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham, the Religious Right, individual beliefs of national politicians, interest in angels, psychics, etc. CBS, NBC, and ABC regularly air religious news. Their surveys have shown people are hungry for it.
Folks are fascinated by, and are talking about, religious things. Much of this talk is worthless, but the important point is, people are willing, yea almost eager, to talk about religion. Ironically, at the very time our culture is gabbing about God, conservative Christians have become eerily silent.
We need to jump into this cultural conversation and talk, talk, talk about Jesus. We alone can tell the world what they desperately need to hear, for only Christians know the truth. In this fertile environment, where 90% believe in prayer, if we seek, many will be saved. The only reason a church is not winning the lost is because it has lost the will to win them.
Luke 19:10c “ . . . that which was lost.”
We tend to become angry at the lost quickly, especially when they affront us with obstinate cynicism, and love of sin. It is easy to become testy, but we must remember they are blind to their real need.
They are lost, wandering aimlessly away from God. We must stop being angry at lost people for acting like lost people. They’re on a wrong road. All road signs along their path are worthless in helping them find the right trail.
Pity the lost! They are sinking. Do not view them with disgust or despair. Offer hope. Don’t give up or scowl at the lost. Weep for them. Love them.
First, love the lost by praying for them. Without God’s power, evangelism will languish. Prayer is essential for success. I fear we have lost the vital connection between prayer and seeking the lost.
As modern missions began, William Carey convinced fellow Baptist pastor Andrew Fuller to establish a missions society to promote world missions. Before this, these local Baptist pastors had regularly met for prayer for 8 years. Carey was barely able to persuade them to support missions. It would have never happened had there not been 8 years of prior praying to help prepare the way.
On successful evangelism efforts rests a mysterious power, energy coming from another dimension with such strength it amazes all who see it. This comes on wings of prayer. Cry out as if in birth pains for the delivery of newborn baby believers. For births to happen, someone has to endure labor pains. Only as we travail in birth pains of prayer will new souls be born again.
Missions praying was powerfully displayed in the life and ministry of missionary James Fraser (1871-1937), Apostle to the Lisu. When he arrived among the Lisu, they were divided into two groups – North Lisu and South Lisu. He lived and worked among the South Lisu, but spent half of every day praying for the North Lisu. When revival came to the Lisu, it came to the North.
Second, love the lost by serving them. Love shown to prechristians baffles them, captures their attention. We will win the lost when we serve them beyond their ability to understand. Conveying truth is essential to our mission, but hurts in the listeners seriously obstruct their ability to hear and receive spoken truth. Sad, hurting, hungry people have trouble hearing facts.
Relieving people’s pain aids their disposition to listen. The lost won’t believe we care for their spirits until they first see we care for their bodies. For earthbound creatures, talk of Jesus and Heaven is easier to hear when self and Earth are made more tolerable.
To teach us what our attitude toward the lost should be, Jesus spoke of a lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son. People are lost due to helplessness, like sheep, not like dogs, cows, pigs, or horses, which can find their way home. Sheep, left alone, show no ability or propensity to head home. On their own, sheep are helpless, as likely to run to a precipice as to a shelter. Someone has to retrieve them.
This is where we come in. We know of their guilt, but leaving that to God, we disregard it enough to give ourselves recklessly to the pursuit of finding lost sheep wandering precariously close to a precipice over Hell.
People are lost due to carelessness, like a coin that falls out of our pocket. Do we get angry at money we drop? The lady who lost her coin lit a lamp, swept the house, and searched until she found it. Hers is the proper response. Don’t lose precious time and energy condemning a coin. Do whatever it takes to find the lost.
People are lost due to unwise decisions, like the prodigal son. Shall we gleefully pronounce anathemas on people who make wrong choices because their whole world view is skewed? The father knew his son was wrong – wrong! – but gladly welcomed the lost home.
From childhood people in our culture are taught to depend on themselves, to look inward, not upward, for strength. It is illogical to think people living in this dense a fog can make clear decisions.
I can tell you the day when I for the first time truly understood the sadness and terribleness of someone being lost. At a conference in St. Louis, Ruth and I once took our five-year-old son to a large gym for child care. When we returned to retrieve him, he was gone. A worker remembered giving a boy permission to go down the hall to the restroom, but he had not returned. Ruth and I panicked. As we combed hallways searching for John, seconds seemed like eternities. We walked faster and faster, calling his name louder and louder. I can still remember hearing my own breathing and feeling my heart pounding in my chest. Staff members finally made us sit in the church office while they continued the search.
Only one thing in the whole world mattered. Find the lost boy. We were not angry, we were horrified, obsessed that John be found, and he was.
Handle the lost with care. They are so confused that God, the most blessed reality our minds can rest on, is a painful thought to them. C. S. Lewis said when he was an atheist his most frightening thought was the possibility God existed.
My great-grandfather once got lost in a forest in northeast Arkansas. He became so terrorized that he developed a temporary insanity which caused him to think the searchers yelling out his name were actually wolves howling. He ran from them with all his might and literally had to be manhandled to the ground.
Great-grandpa thought those men were his enemies, but they were friends. He deemed their voices ferocious, but they were precious. He thought their hands would be harsh, but they were gentle. Our lost acquaintances are often in a similar situation. They deem us enemies, ferocious, and harsh.
We must convince them otherwise by running after them as friends, voicing precious words, and handling them gently. After 37 years of preaching, one thing I know – if we don’t love the lost, we can’t help them, for they won’t let us.