A cherished friend of mine, speaking about her son who had recently returned home and was in a place where he was struggling, said to me once:
“My son doesn’t need for me to lay hands on him or to evangelize him, or to try and verbally teach him the lessons I think he ought to hear and learn. He needs me to be the face of Jesus to him right now, and to just simply love him.”
She is so right and I love that. I have a tendency to be a “fixer”. I want to “fix” every situation and every person I think needs “fixing”, and struggle against my tendencies to do so. In essence my friend was saying to me that if she tried nothing but “fixing” her son’s situation, she could very well wind up losing him instead. This was a great reminder for me with my own relationships.
Another reason I liked what she said is because, if you think about it, being the face of Jesus also applies to our ideas about the “great commission”. We can give ourselves and others huge and damaging guilt trips about how and why the great commission needs to be filled, all the while so often missing the point. Hey, if you are a natural born evangelist, go for it! I encourage you in it and say that is wonderful! I’m hoping my blog posts scatter seeds in a similar way!
For the rest of us who may struggle with this, indeed for all of us, being the face of Jesus to someone applies to all relationships in our lives. Think about the people you crowd into the elevator with, or about the barista who gets your coffee most mornings, the guy that slices your deli meats, or the lady out walking her dog as you jog past. Being the face of Jesus to them means simply living the Christian life in front of them, noticing when they are not there, taking time to listen to what they have to say, or maybe even striking up a conversation when no one else typically does. Letting His life shine through us in such a way, through mannerisms, kind acts or other actions, that people take notice even in times when we have not spoken a word.
Jesus told Peter to “Feed my sheep“. In that moment He did not say to preach to them, evangelize them, or lecture them. He said to feed them, which is an indication to Peter (to us all) to meet the very basic need of people first. It was something he himself cared about greatly, as we see in Matthew 15:32-37 that he is concerned that those who had been following him for days without food would faint on their way back home, and was asking is disciples to feed them.
If I am standing on a street corner shouting salvation to a homeless man who has not eaten in 3 days, what are the chances he will listen to what I have to say?
For us to understand what is a person’s basic need, we have to be looking beyond our personal agenda and why we are there in that moment, beyond the kind of day we are having, beyond all our presuppositions even, and into the person standing in front of us. This happens through continuous prayer and yielding our purposes and agendas to God’s greater purpose in us.
That is how it all starts. If you have not taken the time to form some kind of bond with me, or you cannot even see beyond yourself to notice me as a person, for who I am, why would I give you the right to speak into my life or offer advise? That is a right earned through trust and building the relationship over time.
Within the great commission, Jesus tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples…”. I believe there is a reason why he did not say to go and evangelize, as I see a distinction between evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism is to tell, discipleship is to teach. You can evangelize without discipleship, but you cannot disciple without evangelizing.
What if the Good Samaritan had stopped only long enough to hand the wounded man a bible tract, told him “Jesus loves you man”, and then walked away?
Any one of us can know and understand the basic principles of mentoring, encouraging, coaching, or spiritually parenting one another.
A true pleasure in serving God comes from knowing a person well enough to delight in the small steps they take in their relationship with Jesus, and understanding that its okay when life’s waters get a little “muddy” sometimes.
There is a basic numbers illustration on the difference between evangelism and discipleship. I am an evangelist and I win one person to the Lord every day, 365 people a year. You are a discipler, and you work to disciple one person every year, and that one plus you then go out and win one more each the following year, and so on. Between the two of us over a span of 30 years, what do you think the end result will be? You can do the math yourself. The number at the end of 30 years for the evangelist is 10,950 people – quite amazing! The number for the discipler, however, is far greater. It is 1,073,741,824 (one billion, seventy three million, seven hundred forty-one thousand, eight hundred and twenty-four).
If you think about it, it is far easier to count numbers as an evangelist than it is as a discipler, since a discipler has no way of seeing beyond the one or small number he or she has worked with. I think this may be one of the things that attracts us to evangelism most, because sometimes we tend to put store in and highly esteem things we can count, things we can brag on and that make us look good in front of others. One verse comes to mind: “And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.'” Luke 16:15. No matter what your gifting, a humble heart and approach always yields higher results.
Jesus, who took the time over 3 years to pour into 12 men, and those 12 in turn poured his teaching and message into others, and as a result changed the world as we know it.