I heard Douglas tell his testimony three times. Once he told it to me. Then I asked him to tell it on video. However, I messed up…and there was no audio… so I had to get him to tell it a third time. Each time I picked up different details. In the last version, the one I have on video (hope to post those relatively soon…), there was one detail he didn’t really capture that actually really meant a lot to me, so I will write about it instead.
Douglas was with a bunch of day laborers, hoping to find work one day. He had a magazine on hand – just a guard against boredom, not anything he was particularly interested in. That magazine, however, had scripture in it, and another man in the crowd looking for work, Obed, saw it. He asked Douglas if he was a Christian and Douglas said yes, but Obed was discerning and realized Douglas had no idea what he was talking about. So, Obed looked for an opportunity to share Jesus with Douglas, or at least get him to someone who could. Obed had an idea. He suggested to Douglas that it seemed there was no more work to be had at that place, so maybe they should go across town to another side of the industry and try to get work there instead. Douglas agreed.
On the way to the second location, Obed asked casually if Douglas would mind if they made a stop at the church which was conveniently on the way – he needed to give some keys to his pastor. Now the truth was, there was no need for Obed to give keys to the pastor, but Obed needed an excuse to get Douglas in front of the pastor.
Hindsight what it is, Douglas laughingly says how it seemed the pastor and Obed were completely tracking with each other in the ruse. He seemed to know immediately why Obed brought Douglas by – and it had nothing to do with keys or finding work. It was all about bringing Douglas to the pastor so he could hear about Jesus. The pastor immediately invited Douglas to have a seat. He too asked Douglas if he was born again – and this time Douglas felt a conviction that he had to tell the truth. Obed had already disappeared, wisely discerning that he would only be in the way. He introduced those two and slipped out of the room without Douglas even realizing it – only to reappear after they were finished talking and Douglas had come to Jesus. He wasn’t far – he was just out of sight, listening and waiting and surely praying for the conversation those two would have.
As Douglas told me the story, he pointed out several times that Obed was not the one who could have led him to the Lord, and Obed was wise to know it. For whatever reason, Douglas would not have listened to Obed. If I understood it rightly, Douglas needed someone who was better versed in the Bible, someone who was more intelligent and educated, someone who could handle his objections and doubts and questions. Maybe he also needed to hear from someone who appeared to have some authority. In any case, Douglas was very clear that Obed could not have led him to Jesus, and also that Obed had the wisdom to know that from the start. Knowing that, Obed didn’t try to share Jesus with him himself, instead, he arranged a meeting with Douglas and someone who could.
Just to be clear, Obed wasn’t fearful. He wasn’t shirking his responsibility to share Jesus and asking someone else to do it. He definitely wasn’t a coward – he started the conversation. He saw the magazine and asked about it and asked Douglas if he believed… He was bold. But he was also wise enough to know that he wasn’t the right one to continue that conversation, for whatever reason. Additionally, Obed was very cunning. When he saw he wasn’t the right person, he immediately worked on a plan to get Douglas in front of someone who was.
So Obed was bold. He was wise. He was cunning. He was also passionate and showed persistence and a sense of urgency in this. Even though Douglas said he was saved, Obed persisted. He didn’t accept the brush off. He backed up and took another approach…but he kept on coming. And he did it right then. He didn’t wait for another day. He acted with a sense of urgency.
I am so struck by the way Douglas talked about Obed’s wisdom in not sharing the Gospel with him, but in asking questions and arranging that meeting with the pastor. I’m sure this was so striking to me because I’m trying to find the balance between some pretty extreme pendulum swings. Let me explain.
I grew up with Campus Crusade, and Evangelism Explosion ringing in my ears. I was constantly being challenged to share my faith with EVERYone. Time is short. There’s no guarantee of tomorrow. It’s my job to share Christ with everyone I meet, on a plane, my neighbor, my roommate, friends, strangers…you name it. And I think there was GREAT value in those messages, but sometimes I found that it seemed we were (I was) sharing our faith because we “had” to, and so we did our duty without questioning if maybe the time or place wasn’t right. I’m not saying we didn’t also want to share our faith, but that when we combined our love of the gospel with our duty to share it, we may have lost a sense of sensitivity to the Spirit’s timing. Just as, in learning formulas and methods of sharing the Gospel, we may have lost the idea that we may have different roles in the process (you know, one plants, one waters – 1 Cor. 3:6).
That was one side of the pendulum, but for all the beautiful things that came from that, the lack of sensitivity also hurt a lot of people. Now the pendulum has gone to the other extreme of relationship evangelism – also a beautiful thing, but it has its own challenges. People were so afraid to offend, they never found ways to have the conversation at all. Patiently waiting for the right opportunity can easily become procrastination. Rather than becoming good at sharing our faith, because that seems formulaic, we just invite people to church in hopes our friends will “catch” Christianity by proxy, or from the pastor’s presentation. We saw our zeal and boldness hurt people, so rather than learn to temper them with love and wisdom, we have let them go altogether and become timid and lazy.
We invite our non Christian friends to come to church so church can save them. The thing is, we often do that because we are timid ourselves. We do that because we don’t feel equipped. Rather than become equipped, rather than trust the Lord, rather than pray for courage, we take the cop out. We put our hope in the church, the pastor, or some more spiritually savvy friend, to save the lost, rather than in the Holy Spirit who may choose to work through us instead. The pendulum has swung too far.
This is what I love about Obed. He’s right in the middle of that pendulum. He didn’t shirk his responsibility, nor did he assume responsibility that wasn’t his. Obed was perfectly willing to do the work himself, he just had the wisdom to know when it was his job to share Christ, and when it was his job to make an introduction. I don’t know why Obed wasn’t the right person to lead Douglas to Christ. But I can say that Douglas said many times that he knew that Obed wasn’t the right person for that. He knew that he wouldn’t have received the message well from Obed. He felt Obed was wise in this, not cowardly.
I don’t think I would have thought twice about Obed if Douglas hadn’t made such a point of Obed’s discernment. I might have assumed Obed didn’t know how to share his faith, or that he was timid. But Douglas made a point about it. He didn’t see Obed as timid. He saw Obed as bold, passionate and discerning. You know, by the time they left the pastor’s office, there was no work left. Obed had no intention of getting work on the other side of town – he gave that up so that Douglas could meet Jesus. This is a man who was passionate for Douglas’ salvation.
This encouraged me so much because I have wrestled deeply to find the place of courage and obedience and sensitivity between the pendulum swings. I have been in situations where I felt God had a calling on someone’s life, where I felt that God intended salvation for a friend of mine…but where I also felt with certainty that I was not the person to share Christ with them. Not that I wasn’t to demonstrate Christ to them – that is a given – but that I wasn’t to present the gospel verbally and extend the invitation to come to Christ. On one occasion, I felt very strongly that the person would feel that I was trying to change them, would feel judged and “not good enough” – and that Satan would use those feelings to keep them bound in sin and resentful of Jesus. I felt my job was to communicate unconditional love, and to make an introduction to someone else who was more equipped to have that conversation, both theologically and relationally. There was a relational distance that made that third party a safer place for that conversation.
I felt strongly about that situation – I still do, but sometimes, I must admit, I question it – especially as I haven’t yet seen the fruit. So I question. Was I just being a coward? Was I in fear for my friendship? Was I feeling insecure in my Bible knowledge and afraid that I would be caught without an answer? Was I acting in obedience, or was I avoiding my responsibility?
I think we all have our leanings. Some of us lean towards boldness, eager to share Christ with everyone. Some of us lean towards timidity, cautious to share for any number of reasons. The bold person may need to learn some discretion, to recognize when they are there to share Christ, and when they are there to open the door for someone else to do so. The timid person may need to be willing to step out in faith and do some sharing themself. They may need to learn to do the work, not just the introduction. In either case, we need wisdom and obedience. We need the wisdom to recognize what God would have us do in any circumstance, and the courage and/or humility to obey.
I think deep down it all comes down to obedience: to knowing what God requires of us and being willing to do it. So simple, but not so easy. I pray we would all have an increased burden for the lost, and the passion and wisdom to do something productive about it.