From the day Jesus called his disciples, there was an explicit agenda for who they were and what they were about – Jesus told Peter and Andrew, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He makes that same call to us.
Several years ago, my ten year old son and I went fishing in a farm pond. He soon lost interest and went off to play. I decided to pick up his rod and cast out, and seconds later I caught the largest bass I had ever seen. He came running over shouting, that’s not fair – that’s my rod! I told him, if you want to catch fish you have to keep your line in the water.
A young boy was sitting on the bank of a river with a cane pole and a can of worms. After a while a car load of teenagers drove up, and they all got out with their waders and expensive rods and reels and boxes full of flies. They all splashed out into the water, shoving each other and shouting, splashing their rods in the water… and catching nothing. They looked over and every few minutes the little boy was pulling another fish in and casting back out. One of the boys walked over and asked him how he did it – we have much better equipment than you, but you’re catching fish and we’re not. The little boy looked up and said, “You’re fishing for fun, and I’m fishing for fish.”
“Potential” is one of those tragic words -- it promises such great things. We’ll say of someone, “He has great potential” usually meaning he is capable of doing something but hasn’t yet. Potential is just packed into this auditorium. People who know the one thing that’s most important in life. People who could bring this valley to Christ. But if that potential is never released, if it’s kept in the can it isn’t of use to anyone – least of all to God.
If we’re waiting for the mood to hit us, for the perfect moment to share our faith; if seeking the lost and sharing our faith are occasional, haphazard activities in our lives, mostly done out of guilt or desperation – then we will remain ineffective. We can’t wait until the mood hits us or the setting seems perfect – that won’t happen. Only when it becomes a way of life, woven into the fabric our daily living will we become “fishers of men.”
Paul had a unique perspective on the process of sharing the gospel with the lost. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:2-6)
For Paul, opportunities were everywhere – they were open doors that had been opened by God. He prayed for them and he watched for them. And when those opportunities arose, he prayed that he would respond to them, speaking clearly and fearlessly.
But at the heart of opportunity was prayer – he prayed for the people he wanted to reach, he prayed for open doors in their lives, he asked others to pray for him. I often hear people say, “Nobody I know would be interested,” or “Everybody I know already has their mind set in cement.” Are you praying? Praying for people specifically, praying for opportunities in their lives -- being ready with your life, ready with the word?
Opportunities aren’t always clearly marked with neon signs and banners -- they are often subtle, and the opportunity to share our faith is often accompanied by an opportunity to serve someone.
How did Jesus reach people? (Jesus’ tacklebox)
1) Jesus was available
Whether it was an adulterous Samaritan woman at the well, a high ranking member of the Sanhedrin named Nicodemus, a rich tax collector named Zacchaeus, a Roman centurion, or a leper – Jesus was available. He could have excused himself as being hot and tired and not in the mood for a conversation, but instead, at that well outside of the little town of Sychar, this Jewish man spoke to an outcast Samaritan woman (who wouldn’t have gotten the time of day from a Pharisee.)
Some folks are so busy and so important, you have to get through 2 or 3 secretaries and receptionists just to leave a message. But Jesus was with people and among people. The very criticism which discredited Jesus among the Pharisees, that he ate and drank with sinners, is the very key to understanding Jesus’ effectiveness – he cared for people and he made himself available to them.
And if we’re not spending time with the kind of people Jesus spent time with – the “tax collectors and sinners,” we’re not around the people who are looking for a savior.
2) Jesus was sensitive
If anyone could be excused for bulldozing through life, mission-minded and task-oriented it would have been Jesus. But people mattered to Jesus. People didn’t get in the way of why he came, they were the reason he came. And because they mattered, he cared about their needs, he was sensitive to the hurts and struggle they were going through. He had a keen sense of what the needs were in people around him.
Walking through the middle of a surging, crushing crowd of people, Jesus stopped and said “Who touched me?” He was sensitive to where people were hurting, even this woman who hoped just to touch the hum of his cloak and be healed caused the procession to come to a crashing halt. “Who touched you?!! You’ve got to be kidding...” Jesus looked at her and said, “Your faith has made you well.”
He knew the struggles and sin and needs of the Samaritan woman at a well outside of a town where she was despised and ostracized. And when his words reached inside and touched her where she really hurt, her life was changed forever. She ran back to the town and told them to come see a man who told me everything I ever did! And they came.
Some people seem to have a sixth sense of where the needs are. They are indeed amazing folks. But it isn’t something you are just born with or aren’t, it is something you develop as you tune into people. It is a sensitivity to what is going on in peoples’ lives (not to be confused with nosy-ness), but a real concern – upon which you act.
3) Jesus was a servant
No other quality so captures the heart of Jesus, who came “not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” Paul writes that he “took the very nature of a servant.”
Not only was Jesus sensitive to the needs of people, he acted to meet those needs. So many of us see needs around us and, with the best of intentions say, “Somebody really ought to do something about that,” “Why doesn’t somebody take care of that need.” And we call down to the church and say, “Why don’t you arrange to have meals taken over to Mrs. So and So.” We call the preacher and tell him “My neighbor sure could use someone to come visit him. I would do it, but I just don’t have the time… I’m not sure what to say… that’s just not my thing.”
Listen, if serving isn’t your thing, you need a new thing, because if serving was the heart of Jesus, it must be the heart of every one of his followers.
4) Jesus was creative
What amazes me most about Jesus was that he didn’t just rubber stamp people. He never treated two people alike. He didn’t just say “I’ve seen it before, I’ve got the answer for your problem right here.” Jesus was creative in the way he reached out to meet the needs of people.
When it was a blind man, he made an eye salve out of spit and mud. When it was a woman caught in adultery, he quietly wrote in the sand. When it was an untouchable leper, he reached out and touched him. When it was his best friend Lazarus who had died, he wept. When it was this Samaritan woman at the well, he asked for a cup of water, and began to tell her about living water that would satisfy her completely.
So many times we have one way of doing things. When all you have is a hammer, everyone looks like a nail. There is such a variety of needs, and such a variety of opportunities that reveal themselves in a thousand different ways. We need to think with Jesus in how to reach out most effectively to each need that we encounter, and treat every person as a unique individual who matters to God.
What You Need – (stock your tacklebox)
A Heart for People
People mattered to Jesus. No one was ever a prospect, but a soul who needed a savior. And unless we care, unless we have the same willingness to serve people we cannot be effective in sharing our faith. People must matter more than schedules and convenience, more than our pride or fear.
A Burden for the Lost
We are conditioned to be tolerant – that’s good, but it makes us hesitant to think of others as “lost.” It sounds so judgmental.
But Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
Paul wrote, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:8-9).
Jesus saw the lostness of people – they were sheep without a shepherd.
We will not take the good news to people we don’t think need it. A burden for the lost involves 2 elements: awareness and urgency. Our eyes must be opened to lostness. We must see, not just needs of people but the one ultimate need. That means we must become soul-sensitive – that is, we see people not from a worldly point of view but thru the eyes of eternity.
A Love for God’s Word
The ultimate focal point of sharing our faith is God’s Word – not just the content, but the heart of why and how we share. You don’t need to be a theologian or Bible scholar, but if your life isn’t anchored in God’s Word, if you aren’t spending time/ laying it on your heart --you don’t have anything worth sharing.
An Opportunity to Speak
If you would share your faith – when you have responded to needs, when you have lived the life, when you have loved the Word – at some point you must speak. Speak a word for Jesus, talk about what is most important in your life.
And there is no substitute for perseverance and consistency. If you would be a fisher of men, keep your line in the water, keep speaking the Word, keep sharing your faith.
The opportunity will come, God will open a door – will you be ready and waiting? Will you speak clearly and fearlessly as Paul prayed that he might?
Diana and I had lunch a couple of weeks ago with a couple who were passionate about sharing their faith and bringing others to the Lord. And he said, he always asks fellow believers, “Who is your one?” That’s a great question to end with this morning: Who is your one? Who is the person that you are praying for and talking to about the Lord? Who is it that is on your heart that needs a savior? I hope you have one.
But if you don’t, I want to challenge you to be thinking and praying about that this week. They may not even have walked into your life yet, but as Paul says, God is always sending you opportunities – you need to make the most of them. Keep your eyes open and your heart tender – let your conversations be filled with grace and your words seasoned with salt, so that when your “one” comes, you might share with them the incredible love of your Lord and Savior, who also wants to be their Lord and Savior.
Song - “Lead Me to Some Soul Today”
Lead me to some soul today,
O teach me Lord just what to say.
Friends of mine are lost in sin
And cannot find their way.
Few there are who seem to care,
And few there are who pray.
Melt my heart and fill my life
Give me one soul today.