Once, after reading the Bible, Gandhi went to a church in his village only to be denied entry. He was told to go and worship with his own people. He said in response that if “he had never met a Christian, he would have become one.” Apparently, blocking anyone entry to a church or even a country because of his or her race or religion is the worst witness, not only to human decency, but to the heart of Jesus.
Jesus once addressed His disciples about this precise issue during the week of His passion when He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
I believe we can discern two critical evangelistic maps from those 29 words Jesus uttered, as recorded in John 15:5.
The first critical evangelistic map we can glean is that prayer and evangelism are inseparable. #Abiding
The truth is, we do not pray as an end in itself, but rather as a means to stay close to Jesus and abide in Him. This is not astrophysics; it is just basic logic: the closer you are to Jesus, the more you’ll lead to Jesus.
Clearly, the usher in India who denied Gandhi entry did a whole a lot of doing without much abiding. A similar spiritual epidemic is infecting our churches, conferences, and theological institutions, subtly and subconsciously, as a parade of religious activity continues to replace God.
This subtle yet very prevalent absence of the presence of God in our spirituality mirrors that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, whom Jesus compared to tombstones in a graveyard where the ancients used to bury their dead (Matt. 23:27).
The second critical evangelistic map we can glean is that prayer allows God to interrupt our plans for His plans. #Pliability
The Apostle Peter, while praying on the roof of the house of Simon the Tanner in Joppa, as recorded in Acts 10:1-48, was interrupted by the Holy Spirit with a vision instructing him to eat non-kosher animals. Peter rebuked the vision, believing it was an attack and seduction of the evil one (I think he was really tempted by the BBQ Pork), saying “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean!”
The Spirit said to him more than once, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Because we have the luxury of hindsight today, we know that this moment was another unprecedented move of the Spirit in the New Testament since Pentecost. The gift of salvation now extended to all the nations of the world (Gentiles) and was no longer exclusive to Israel.
An angel led a God-fearing Roman commander name Cornelius and his family to find Peter. They heard the gospel for themselves and were the first non-Jews to come to faith in Christ. Again, this was unprecedented. For the first time in history, God’s family on earth was no longer culturally singular, but now multicultural! Peter was able to join what the spirit was doing evangelistically in Cornelius and his family because he stayed close to Jesus through prayer.
Conversely, Peter could never have imagined the incredible missiological significance this one divine interruption would have on the global stage one day, as literally billions of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation have now discovered the beauty and glory of Christ as a result.
Mark Twain once said that travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of people and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
This was exactly what Peter experienced when he traveled to Cornelius’s house from Joppa to Caesarea. God began to uproot his deeply embedded prejudice and bigotry and He awakened a new profound love for all the nations!
Doing apart from abiding only ends in us resisting God Himself, but doing while abiding saves us not only from our human folly, pride, and toxic insularity, it also unleashes the manifold wisdom of God in Christ that is reconciling the world to Him once again.
Jesus clearly warns us that if we fail to keenly discern what is emerging from within our own formation, our spirituality will become toxic and hazardous to ourselves and to others. Doing apart from abiding only ends up interrupting God’s work and quenching gospel renewal.
Although there are billions of prodigal sons and daughters roaming the streets, desperately lost in every crevice and corner of the world, God Himself is a prodigal father who will never stop searching for His kids. That’s why the gospel is the good news.
The Father does not categorize. There are no liberals or conservatives, blue states or red states, and even Christians or atheists. He only sees Lost or Found. These are the only labels that heaven counts.
What do we count? How do we keep tallies? Does it reflect Abba’s heart, or something else?