Reaching the lost might sound like a daunting, even hopeless task in an atmosphere that is already teeming with discord, distrust and disenchantment. Some people speculate that what our world is going through now is the beginning of End Times. If that is true, then as followers of Christ our mission to reach the lost should be more adamant than ever. If it is not true, then it’s a good opportunity to test our faith and put God’s Word to practice.
But do you have what it takes to the reach the lost? The answer is yes. Jesus has already given believers everything they need to not only share the Good News but also to be effective witnesses of his power, authority, mercy and love. What’s more, as His disciples, He’s given us instructions on how to go about this even in the face of adversity.
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Realize We Are Sheep Among Wolves
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus warns: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”
In Matthew 10, Jesus gives very stark directions to his disciples as he sends them out to preach the gospel. He tells them to be careful and warns of the hard road before them. Jesus was sending them to preach to the Jews first. This included the Pharisees who would be like “ravaging wolves.” In many ways, living for and telling others about Jesus can feel like we have been sent into a land of predators and left as prey. But Jesus has not left us defenseless.
He tells his disciples to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” What does He mean by this? The advice seems contradictory. Weren’t serpents synonymous with Satan? Not necessarily. Serpents have the attribute of shrewdness. This quality in and of itself isn’t evil. Rather, how this quality is used can be for either good or evil. In this case, Jesus was telling his disciples to not be sheep-like in their attitude, but to instead be sensible and prudent. Snakes persevere by using their “head” and keen senses. They avoid unnecessary exposure to danger.
At the same time, Jesus was also telling his disciples to be like doves. In the Bible, doves are pure, harbingers of peace, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, tender and devoted to affection. Someone who is dove-like would not use sinful ways to escape danger. They are not self-seeking.
As we go out into the world to reach it for Christ, we must find a way to balance this mix of wisdom and innocence. We need to use wisdom to avoid traps unbelievers may set for followers of Christ. But we should also avoid unnecessary things that irritate, offend or provoke unbelievers. Because we know that Jesus has already overcome the world (John 16:33) we can rest assured that as our Shepherd, He is watching over us and is in control.
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Trust the Holy Spirit
Jesus also says, “do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say” (Matthew 10:19-20). For the most part, the disciples were not educated or esteemed men. They were fishermen, political activists, and even a tax collector. How could they speak and defend themselves against the knowledge and status of the Jewish religious leaders? The answer was simple: Jesus working through them via the Holy Spirit.
In the same way, as we go out into the world to tell people about our Savior, we need not worry about our qualifications and eloquence. Our own testimony of coming to know Christ will speak volumes (Revelation 12:11). This does not mean we shouldn’t be prepared. Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Spending time reading our Bible, praying and reflecting on God’s word prepares us to speak about Him to others. But we should not fret about what we should say at any given point in time, or — worse yet — let the fear of what we should say keep us from saying anything at all when the time is right.
Be Prepared for Spiritual Battles
A little further down in Matthew, in verse 34, Jesus makes a statement that seems contradictory to his nature. He says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
At first reading, this statement doesn’t sound loving, nor does it seem like something that applies to reaching the lost. It sounds like war. In a way, it is war. Jesus didn’t come to bring the type of rose-colored glasses view of peace that ignores evil for the sake of superficial harmony. In Ephesians 6:10-18, we read about the amor of God, which includes the Sword of the Spirit, the word of God. When faced with something that is counter to His Word, we have a duty as disciples of truth to not let it stand. This will often put us in conflict and disagreement with unbelievers.
What do we do in these instances? First, we remember who our real enemy is — Satan. Watering down the truth of God’s Word doesn’t help anyone in the long run, but we must also be mindful to separate actions from the person and not have an attitude of condemnation. When we speak to others out of a longing for the best for them rather than out of our own self-righteousness, God’s truth is more easily heard.
Second, we need to remember that we have Jesus’s peace, which comes from above. He is the peacemaker. John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
Now that we know to be prepared to use discernment to win others, along with the knowledge that hardship will be par for the course, how do we go about reaching the lost? Paul gives us some good insights in his letter to the Corinthian church.
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Serving Others to Win Them
In 1 Corinthians 9:19, Paul says, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.”
What does Paul mean when he says he has made himself a slave to all so that he can win more? I believe he was telling us to put aside our own wants and customs in order to serve the lost so that they could be saved. Galatians 5:13 reads: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Paul was free — just as we are free — because of the sacrificial love of Jesus. He is calling on us to show the same kind of sacrificial love toward others, and here he is telling us to do it in specific ways. He says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. . .” (1 Corinthians 19:20-22).
While our modern culture is drastically different from the one that Paul lived in, we can still apply the same principles. How do we do that?
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Be Shrewd in Reaching Out
First, we should identify the non-believers in our lives and ask ourselves how we can be shrewd in reaching out to them. Sometimes this will require us to go outside our comfort zone. You might find yourself sitting in a bar next to a coworker (even if you are drinking a Pepsi while they drink a beer.) You might end up on a fishing trip with a neighbor, though you really don’t like fishing. Perhaps it means going to an art show where your cousin’s art is showcased, even if you don’t find most of the art appealing.
Many Christians keep to their own social circles: church, small groups, other Christian friends. But we should also put ourselves in places and situations where we have the opportunity to interact and develop relationships with nonbelievers. We can’t win the lost if we don’t find them first. This could mean using the gifts and resources God has given you to serve others. For example, my husband loves basketball, can relate well with children, and is a great leader. He’s used those attributes and gifts to be a youth basketball coach. This has given him opportunities to develop relationships with both with the kids he coaches and their parents. What skills and abilities do you have that can be put to work in your community to develop relationships with others?
Be Dove-Like in Our Relationships
Second, we need to get to know people so we can understand them. If we don’t know anything about someone’s past, what they like or dislike, and how they view the world, then how can we find ways to relate to them, and them to us? This means spending time with others and asking questions without an agenda. Have you counted how many questions Jesus asked his followers? (Hint: it’s somewhere around 290.) When we listen to others non-judgmentally and with a heart for understanding and empathy, they will feel valued for who they are.
Third, we need to be sensitive to the views, beliefs, and fears of others. If your neighbor finds your music annoying, don’t play it loud when they are in their backyard. If your mother-in-law is afraid of getting in a car accident, don’t drive over the speed limit while she is in the car. Sometimes being sensitive to others is realizing when they need you to simply sit with them while they go through a rough time.
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Be Humble and Open
Fourth, share your own struggles. In Philippians 2:3, Paul states: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.”
Becoming weak to the weak can mean sharing your own struggles, both past and present, with others who are going through a hard time. This isn’t always easy because it takes humility and openness, but it’s often the best way to create a bond of understanding between two people.
When we do these things, we are following Paul’s example as he summarizes in 1 Corinthians 10:33 “For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”
As a follower of Christ, our relationships with others is a far better testimony of who Jesus is than anything we could possibly say. By putting others first, we open up the door to share our own experience and the wonderful salvation of God.
The Yoke Is Easy and the Burden Is Light
Reaching the lost is a big task to undertake. It can feel too difficult, messy and heavy for us to bear. Yet, as believers, it is what we are called to do. How could we not long for others to share in eternal life? How can we let broken, hurting people think they are alone and forgotten in the world, when they are actually loved beyond measure by the creator of the universe?
We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). It’s God’s love that will strengthen us and His wisdom that will guide us. He is with you, carrying you through and giving you rest from the burden as you brave an unbelieving world and make the sacrifices to reach the lost.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
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Melanie Campbell is a member of Oregon Christian Writers and ACFW. Her debut novel, One Woman Falling, won the Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Award and is a finalist for the Selah Award. She lives in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley with her husband, their three children, and several spoiled pets. You can learn more about her writing and sign up for her newsletter by visiting her website at melaniecampbellauthor.org. You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.