Feb 8 2013
It was a popular coffee shop, especially at lunch times. I found a seat for one on the far side and pulled out a laptop. While it was starting up I gazed around the room. A lady sat reading in the corner opposite, but her eyes kept drifting above the book as she looked at people coming and going. I sensed she was lonely and was there just to be among people. In the middle of the room was a middle aged couple. He was looking at a newspaper while she had a women’s magazine. Neither spoke to each other the whole time I was there. It seemed like an unhealthy situation. Just then a man in a business suit walked in at high speed and sat. He snapped his fingers for a waitress. Then another man emerged who had been trying to keep up with him. The first talked abruptly, he seemed really stressed. Suddenly he left as fast as he came.
Do you ever watch people? Do you notice the little things that reveal something about their situation? Jesus once looked at a crowd and was filled with compassion because he noticed that “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36).
♦ If we do a study of the people Jesus took an interest in, we see he often noticed insignificant people; the kind that often get ignored. He noticed a widow putting two small coins in an offering (Lk 21.1-4), he noticed a Samaritan woman fetching water at a well (Jn 4.4-30), he noticed a short tax collector in a tree (Lk 19.1-10). He also noticed special things about these individuals. He noted that the widow gave all she had, that the Samaritan woman had been abandoned by five husbands, that the short tax collector in the tree was a rejected member of his society.
Should we show an interest in strangers and their situations? If we model our lives on Jesus, the answer is yes! But how can we learn to be more like Jesus in this respect?
First we need to be interested in others. This seems obvious, but sinful humans are naturally selfcentered. It’s so easy to know our neighbour is struggling and not get involved. It’s so easy to keep our head down at the office and not find out how others are really doing. Paul said, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2.4). The Father was able to use Jesus to help people because he was genuinely interested in people.
Second we need to notice the demeanour of others. That is their look, behaviour, body language, and way of speaking. If we are genuinely interested in being like Jesus we will be willing to train ourselves to do this. Here we are referring to using natural discernment and awareness to help others. Jesus didn’t need supernatural insight to see two coins drop into an offering box, or to see a short guy in a tree. This was just natural interest and awareness in what others were doing. But out of a natural interest in others came the opportunity for the supernatural. And this brings us our next point.
Third we need to be aware if God is saying anything about the people we are noticing. The Father revealed to Jesus that the two coins were all the widow had to live on, that the Samaritan woman had had five husbands, and that the man in the tree was called ‘Zaccheus.’ I believe that if we will show a healthy interest in others, God will speak to us about them.
Now, Jesus said the crowd looked like ‘sheep without a shepherd’ and we know that Jesus is the great shepherd and that it’s our job to introduce people to him. So let’s talk for a moment about sensitivity in sharing about Christ.
Don’t you find insensitive sales people irritating? You go into a store to get toothpaste. You grab your usual brand, but there stands a sales lady who wants to convince you take different one. Now do you really want to stand there listening to the difference between two toothpastes? When sales people irritate us it is because they are simply not interesting. But a good sales person will create interest.
A beautiful sales girl once approached me in a busy shopping mall in South Africa. She said “Can I ask you a question?” How could I refuse! She said “Are you married?” Being single she really had my attention! Now if I said I was married she would have had a product for my wife. But since I said I was single she showed me a men’s deodorized hand cream and asked if she could try it on my hand. Before I knew it I was having may hand massaged by a beautiful young girl while she gave me all the details of this strange product. This girl really knew how to get a man’s attention!
Churches also use natural wisdom of this kind to get unbelievers interested. They show movies or put on a stage show with a band and then present the gospel at the end. They know that an unbeliever will enjoy a good movie rather than a sermon; they are being sensitive to their situation and meeting them at their level of interest. But Jesus modelled a much more effective way of getting people’s attention. He did miracles and gave people personal words from the Father. If you can heal someone or reveal the contents of their heart by revelation, you have their attention! Learning to hear from God for unbelievers is a powerful ingredient in evangelism (I have shared bits on how to hear God in other posts. See here)
Let’s finish by showing the importance of being sensitive to where people are at when we share Christ with them. Below is what is known as the Engel Scale. James Engel developed this scale to illustrate our journey from no knowledge of God to spiritual maturity.
4 Communion with God
3 Conceptual and behavioural growth
2 Incorporation into the Body of Christ
1 Post-decision evaluation
0 New birth
-1 Repentance and faith in Christ
-2 Decision to act
-3 Personal problem recognition
-4 Positive attitude towards the gospel
-5 Grasping the implications of the gospel
-6 Awareness of the fundamentals of the gospel
-7 Initial awareness of the gospel
-8 Awareness of a supreme being
The scale clearly demonstrates that coming to faith in Christ is a process, and that we should be sensitive to the level a person is at before we attempt to take them higher. The big mistake ‘Bible punchers’ make is that they don’t consider the persons level before speaking to them. It’s no use telling people at -8 that they need to be ‘saved.’ That’s for people at -3. People at -8 are liable to say “Saved from what?” The scale also shows us that we should not always expect someone to get ‘born again’ after one conversation. Our job is to move people one or two steps at a time.
Now there is one exception to all this. Miracles and words from heaven blow this scale wide open. If you heal someone or give them a personal word from God they could move from -8 to 0 in a matter of minutes. Think of the Samaritan woman, she was so impressed that Jesus knew she had had five husbands that she not only believed in Jesus after one conversation but became a witness inviting her town to come to hear him.
If we are going to be like Jesus we must take an interest in others, we must be sensitive to their situations, and we must try to hear from heaven on their behalf.
After Jesus noticed the crowd was ‘harassed and helpless,’ he said to his disciples “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.” I think this was a big hint because he soon turned them all into harvesters. May God do the same for you and me.
Other Illustrations: 2 Wimber Videos
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