“Is This Effective?”
“I don’t think open-air preaching is effective.” Many professing Christians believe this way. I respectfully submit that every Christian who believes this way does so from the perspective of a worldview that is less than biblical.
Whenever a professing Christian approaches me while or after I have finished preaching and hits me with the “effectiveness” objection, I ask him (or her) to define his terms–to explain to me what they mean by “effective.” The usual immediate response is, “Well, how many people come to Jesus Christ.”
I then follow with this question: “How do you know with certainty if a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ?” The answer: “Well, I can’t know for sure.”
I follow this with my next question: “Then why do you expect me to quantify the results of my open-air preaching when, using your own definition of ‘effectiveness’ you can’t quantify your own?”
I explain (hopefully gently) to the professing Christian that I lead every human being to whom I communicate the gospel to Jesus. Of course, a look of stunned amazement and incredulity appears on the professing Christian’s face.
“Yes. I lead everyone with whom I communicate the gospel to Jesus Christ.” I say. “I take them right to the foot of the cross and then I trust the Sovereign Lord to do what he will with those to whom I have preached the gospel, for His own glory.”
My alarm clock sounded at 4:30 AM. I needed to be at the North Hollywood Metro Station by 6:00 AM. My friends, Daniel Amaral and Joey Cusenza would meet me there for a morning of open-air ministry. The plan, as always at the metro station, was to preach the gospel in the open-air, distribute gospel tracts and bibles, and engage people in gospel conversation.
I arrived at the Metro Station shortly before Daniel and Joey. I took the few extra minutes to replenish my ministry box with English and Spanish bibles. With my “Are You Ready” cross under my arm and the handle of my rolling box with my sound system atop it in my hand, I made my way from my car to the spot from which I usually preach on Lankershim Boulevard.
As I walked toward Lankershim Boulevard, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a young man walking toward me from the entrance to the subway. I could tell by the angle of his approach that he simply wasn’t walking in my direction. He was going to head me off and talk to me.
When he arrived at my side the young man turned in the direction I was walking, almost keeping in step with me.
“The Lord really does work in mysterious ways.” The young man said.
While I haven’t heard it “all,” I’ve heard a lot. I can say with all candor that I have never had a stranger approach me, before sunrise, and make that statement. Frankly, for a moment I thought I was about to be “jacked” (i.e. mugged, robbed, etc.).
“Okay.” I said hesitantly, all-the-while keeping my eyes on the young man’s hands. While names will never hurt me, stick and stones and knives and guns most certainly can.
“I was hoping you would be here this morning.” The young man said.
We walked to the sidewalk on the east side of Lankershim Boulevard, adjacent to the Metro Link Station. When we came to a stop I asked, “What do you mean when you said, ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways?'”
“Not long ago, you were out here preaching and you gave me a Bible to give to my girlfriend.” He explained. “After I gave her the Bible, I thought to myself that I should have one, too. Just this morning I prayed. I asked God that you would be here so I could hopefully get a Bible from you.”
That brought my defenses way down.
“Sure!” I exclaimed. “You bet you can have a Bible!”
His name was Judd.
I gladly handed Judd a Bible. With the same enthusiasm, Judd tucked the paperback copy under his arm. He was wearing a dark-colored jacket with a “METRO” patch over his left chest, indicating he worked at the station.
Judd proceeded to tell me that he was “born” Roman Catholic, but that the religion never meant much to him. He said he had no Christian background, yet he knew that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and that he needs to “repent.”
Judd looked at his watch.
“Do you know what the gospel is, Judd?” I asked.
Judd’s cell phone sounded, indicating he had just received a text.
“No. Not really?”
“How much time do you have? I don’t want you to be late for work.”
Holding up his phone, Judd answered, “Yeah. That was my boss. I’ve got about four minutes before I have to get down to work.”
“Okay. Great.” I said. “Here’s the gospel.”
For the next few minutes I proclaimed the gospel to Judd as succinctly as possible, with urgency. When I finished, I asked, “Does that make sense?”
“Yes it does.” Judd replied.
“I know you have to go, but I have one more question for you.”
“Judd, is there any sin in your life that you love so much you are willing to spend eternity in hell so you can enjoy that sin today?” I asked.
“Then repent. Cry out to God for mercy. Believe the gospel while God has given you time.” I pleaded.
Judd allowed me to give him a hug before he literally ran to work.
Illustrations of God’s sovereignty– His perfect, complete, unhindered, rule and control over all things–was on display for any Holy Spirit-regenerated pair of eyes to see. It cannot be denied.
Judd and I did not meet during the early morning hours of this day at the North Hollywood Metro Station by chance. God did not simply look down the corridors of time and know where we would be and what we would do. He ordained it. God did not simply set the wheels in motion and then back away, waiting to see what each of us would decide to do. He orchestrated every aspect of our lives and synchronized them so that Judd and I would be exactly where He wanted us, when He wanted us there.
God, according to His sovereign will, prepared my heart and mind to be involved in His work–a work that would initially take me by surprise, but was certainly no surprise to Him. God determined what I would say and how I would say it. He was sovereign not only over my words, but also every inflection in my voice. He was sovereign over every stammer, every pregnant pause, every moment of hesitance in thought and/or speech.
God, according to His sovereign will, prepared Judd’s heart and mind to be involved in His work–a work that would initially take Judd by surprise, but was certainly no surprise to God. He not only determined the how, when, and where of my encounter with Judd, but God also prepared Judd’s heart to hear and understand the gospel message. And God has also determined, from eternity past, if what Judd heard today would be an aroma of life for life resulting in his salvation, or if what Judd heard today would be an aroma of death for death because God has determined to allow him to die in his sin.
It is my understanding of and trust in God’s sovereignty that allows me to engage people like Judd in conversation without fear of pushing people away from Jesus. I have neither the power or authority to do so! It is my understanding of God’s sovereignty that allows me to enjoy evangelism, recognizing that salvation is completely a monergistic work of God. It is not a synergistic work in which God, the evangelist, and the lost person cooperate to reach a desired end. God’s plan is already determined. He uses me however He sees fit. And He will show mercy and compassion to whomever He has determined to show mercy and compassion. He will save whom He will save for His own glory. This being the case, I never have to worry about my performance. I never have to worry about “getting decisions.”
Because God is sovereign, I am free! I am free to love God and love people as God has intended. And when I fall short of His glory, I need not fear that my human frailty will in any way thwart the sovereign will and plan of God in anyone’s life.
Of course, God’s sovereignty does not give me license to sin. His sovereignty does not give me license to run roughshod over people’s lives. I cannot blame God’s control for my lack of it. Loving God and loving people means I am to do both according to God’s design, according to His instructions, according to His Word. God is in complete control and I am completely responsible for my actions. When I fail, the blame is mine. When I succeed, the glory is His!
Yes. God is sovereign. And today I was allowed to see glimpses of His sovereignty during a conversation with Judd.