If you’ve been alive for at least 18 years, it’s likely that you’ve heard once or twice or more the Good News of the Gospel about Jesus, Son of God, come to take away your sins. You’ve probably heard or been led through or been offered the sinner’s prayer to ask Jesus into your heart so that you are saved from eternal damnation.
I have been on both ends of this scenario, walking down the steps of Cleveland Stadium to pray with one of Billy Graham’s disciples and accept Jesus into my heart, receiving a Psalty Bible and a cassette tape of praise songs. I’ve handed out tracts (with candy) at Halloween… yeah, I was that person in your neighborhood, Akronites. They were really big candy bars, at least.
I don’t think I’ve ever actually tried to lead someone through the traditional sinner’s prayer, but I have felt that edge of adrenaline rush when someone came to me seeking solace or direction, and I could offer them some direction, out of my own experience. I don’t think I’ve ever told someone, “Jesus is the answer.”
I’ve never been a pat answer kind of person.
Nothing in life has ever seemed that simple. Scratch the surface a little and the perfect layer of soil reveals all kinds of pebbles, clay, grubs, and broken glass buried that needs to be tended to, needs to be addressed. I can go around all day shouting, “Jesus is the answer!” and I am pretty sure that no one would ask me what’s the question.
Even if Jesus is the answer (and I like to think that Jesus answers quite a few of our questions about life, suffering, pain, love, and peace), memorizing some simple formula for praying a person into the Kingdom or being prepared to hand a stranger a sheet of paper with the path to Hell mapped out intercepted by the bridge to Heaven, well, I’m just not convinced that is the most effective way to share good news.
If you are going to be an evangelist, for Jesus or whatever your cause is (Confession: lately, we’ve been more evangelical about diet and nutrition than Jesus), I think perhaps the best model for evangelizing comes in today’s advent passage. The shepherds have just witnessed a miraculous event: angels came down and shared an amazing message with them. The shepherds investigate – is it true what has been said? – and only after investigating for themselves do they venture out to share with others what had happened to them.
It’s my belief that the general hurting population doesn’t want to hear, “Jesus is the answer!” The most powerful messages delivered to me came from other hurting people who opened up and shared a piece of their vulnerable stories to show how God had entered into their lives in some way. These were often not “I was sick and now I’m well” stories; more often than not, they were “I was very broken, and now I am in the process of mending” stories. Somewhere along their journey, probably when they were near their lowest, God intersected their paths and even in the darkness, hope began to spring forth, the hurt began to heal, peace brought a calm to the storm, and grace washed away pain.
It’s from that place the real journey begins – and that journey, if it’s honest, will be riddled with investigative questioning of God. All emotional responses are on the table. Share that exchange with God, some real, authentic experience you’ve had that took your relationship with God and your own spirit and soul to a new place, and then, well, people might hear you.
It makes me think of this little excerpt from the Johnny Cash movie, Walk the Line:
Sam Phillips: You know exactly what I’m telling you. We’ve already heard that song a hundred times. Just like that. Just… like… how… you… sing it.
Johnny Cash: Well you didn’t let us bring it home.
Sam Phillips: Bring… bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing *one* song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ *you* felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with believin’ in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believin’ in yourself.
Johnny Cash: [after a pause] I got a couple of songs I wrote in the Air Force. You got anything against the Air Force?
Sam Phillips: No.
Johnny Cash: I do.
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” – Luke 2:15-18
Advent Activity: Catch Up on Something
So… I think tonight we’re supposed to wrap Christmas presents, but since we haven’t actually bought Christmas presents yet, that might be a bit of a challenge. If I’m feeling well enough, I might take the children to the store to shop, but this cold/flu thing has me running on nearly empty and I don’t want to overdue it. We’re also supposed to deliver Christmas cookies… ha ha ha.
Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018.
Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.
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