Opportunities

Colossians 4:3-6 

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.”

 “Potential” is one of those tragic words.  It promises such great things.  And when that potential is realized amazing things can be accomplished.  Potential is just packed into this room.  Dozens of people who know the one thing that’s most important in life.  We have the potential to change the world (at least our little corner of it in this valley).   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 telling others about Jesus 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 of our daily living will we become “fishers of men.”

Illustrations:   You can fish or you can play / Fishing for fish or fishing for fun

Paul had a unique perspective on the process of sharing the gospel with the lost:

Col. 4:3-6  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.

Eph. 6:19-20  Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Paul saw opportunities everywhere.  They were open doors that had been opened by God.  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.  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 out to people?  To use his imagery of “fishers of men” what was in his tackle box?  The Gospels are filled with the stories of Jesus’ interactions with people and how he responded to their needs.  One of the most instructive is his encounter with a woman at the well in Samaria:  John 4:5-26

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”  (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. ) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”  “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:5-26)

I want you to notice four things with me about the way Jesus interacted with this woman that made all the difference in the world.

First, notice that 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, a blind beggar, or a leper – Jesus was available.

He could have excused himself that morning as being hot and tired and not in the mood for a conversation, but instead, 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 two or three 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.

Second, Jesus was sensitive to what was going on in people’s lives.

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 very reason he came.  And because they mattered, he cared about their needs, he was sensitive to the hurts and struggles 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 asked, “Who touched me?”  He was sensitive to where people were hurting, even this woman who hoped just to touch the hem of his cloak and be healed and disappear into the crowd.  But suddenly Jesus stops the procession and asked, “Who touched me?”  Peter said in disbelief, “Who touched you? You’ve got to be kidding – everybody is touching you.” But Jesus knew that someone, in incredible pain, with incredible faith had touched him, and so he looks out into the sea of faces and finds the eyes of the woman who had been healed, and tells her, “Your faith has made you well.”

He knew the struggles and sins and needs of this Samaritan woman at the well.  She was despised and ostracized by the good people of the town.  She was there in the middle of the day because that’s when no one else came and she wouldn’t have to endure the stares and the whispers.  But when Jesus spoke with her, his words reached inside and touched her where she really hurt, and her life was changed forever.

Some people seem to have a sixth sense of where the needs are.  They are indeed amazing folks.  But it isn’t just something you are 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 nosiness – but a real concern, upon which you act.  It’s often, simply a matter of paying attention.

The third thing that characterized Jesus was that he was a servant.

No other quality so captures the heart of Jesus, who came, “not to be served, but to serve.”  One who “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 isn’t the church taking meals to Mrs. So and So?”  “My neighbor could sure use someone to come and visit him.  Could you call and make an appointment?  That’s just not my thing.” 

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.

The fourth thing about Jesus was that he was creative with how he treated people.

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 until all her accusers were gone.

·         When it was an untouchable leper, he reached out and touched him.

·         When it was his friend Lazarus who had died, he wept with his sisters, Mary and Martha.

·         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.  But 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 like Jesus in how to reach out most effectively to each need that we encounter.

If you are going to be a fisher of men, let’s spend a few moments talking about what you need in your tackle box.

You need a heart for people.

People mattered to Jesus.  Nobody was ever a prospect, he never dismissed people as not worthy of his time.  Unless we care about people and have the same willingness to serve, we will never be effective in sharing our faith.  People matter more that schedules and convenience.

You must have a burden for the lost.

We are conditioned to be tolerant, which is 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.” (Jn 8:24).  And 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 Th 1:8-9).  God takes sin seriously.  He wants everyone to be saved and to be in a relationship with him.

But we’re not convinced that God really means it, and we will not take the good news to people we don’t think need it.

A burden for the lost involves two elements:  Awareness and urgency.  Our eyes must be opened – we need to see people the way God sees them – as souls who are lost without a Savior.  We must see, not just the needs of people, but their one ultimate need.  We must become “soul-sensitive” – seeing people, not from a worldly point of view, but through the eyes of eternity.

You need a love for God’s Word

The ultimate focal point of sharing our faith is God’s Word – not just content, but the heart of why and how we share.  You don’t need to be a theologian or a Bible scholar, but if your life isn’t anchored in God’s Word, if you aren’t spending time laying his word upon your heart – you don’t have anything worth sharing.

Finally, you need an opportunity to speak.

If you would share your faith – when you have responded to needs, when you are living the life, because you love the word – at some point you must speak.  Speak a word for Jesus.  Speak what is most important in your life.  Listen to Paul’s take on this:  It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (2 Cor. 4:13-15).

There is no substitute for perseverance and consistency.  Keep your line in the water, keep speaking the Word, keep sharing your faith.  The opportunity will come, God will open the door.  Will you be ready and waiting?  Will you speak clearly and fearlessly as Paul prayed he might?

Song – “Lead Me to Some Soul Today”

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