By Jerry Wiles – I met a man in Nashville while passing through a revolving door at an entrance to a downtown hotel. I smiled and greeted the man as he was exiting, and I was entering the hotel. Immediately the man turned around and followed me into the lobby to ask me a question. “Do I know you? Have we met before?” he asked.
“I don’t think so, but we may have a mutual friend,” I replied.
“Who would that be?”
“The Lord Jesus Christ, do you happen to know Him?”
Brief Encounters can Change Lives
Well, that brief encounter gave me the opportunity to engage the man in a spiritual conversation. He was familiar with the gospel but had never personally become a follower of Jesus. He was obviously interested and open to the Lord, and we had the opportunity to share and pray together and he called on the Lord. I explained that he didn’t have to be in a church building or go through a long religious ritual to enter a relationship with Jesus. We discussed, from Romans chapter 10, what it means to confess, believe, and call on the Lord to be saved.
The Problem of Alienation and Separation
This man is like so many in world today; he was alienated and separated from God because of sin. We know from Scripture that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. He knew about Jesus, but just needed a little encouragement to respond to the Good News.
It seems that one of the big needs in the world today is for believers (followers of Jesus) to recognize that we are all ministers of reconciliation, as we are told in II Corinthians 5. We are representatives, ambassadors of Christ, and can be agents of change, every day, wherever we happen to be. We are indwelt by deity and equipped to be able ministers of the New Covenant.
The Problem of Loneliness
Loneliness is a common problem, especially in our modern Western world, where so many are living in isolation and a lack of community and companionship. Alienation and loneliness are causes of much anxiety and lack of connectedness. Research has shown that loneliness is a problem in marriages, relationships, families and even in churches. It has been described as social pain and has been a motivator for people to seek social connections. Having an awareness of that can be a big help in our efforts to witness and minister to others.
A Prepared Heart
I exchanged a few brief comments with a lady seated next to me on a flight to Central America. I mentioned that I worked with a mission organization called Living Water International and that we help people with clean water solutions and share the love of Jesus with some of the neediest people on earth.
Then she said to me, “Can I ask you a question”? I said, “Sure.” She asked, “What happens when a person dies?” Well, it turned out that her mother had passed away that morning, and she was on her way home to help with funeral arrangements. We talked for about an hour, and I was able to share and minister to her during that time of loss and pain.
Connecting and Listening
We seldom know what is going on in people’s lives until we connect with them and listen. It is important to listen, not only to people’s stories and their pain, but also listen to the Holy Spirit. He will often give us a word that is fitly spoken just for that person’s situation. The more we connect with people and listen to their stories, the more the Holy Spirit will open those divine encounters and many times turn them into life changing experiences.
The Value of Stories and Questions
A valuable lesson we have learned over the years in our orality methods and strategies is how it connects people and builds community. Orality Training events allow everyone to connect, participate and engage by telling stories and asking questions. Not only do the participants learn stories and discover the meaning and applications, they also connect with other people’s stories.
An Orality Training Workshop with a church group of about thirty people, mostly senior citizens, helped them realize how little they really knew about each other. Even though many of them had been attending church together for more than 25 years, they came to the realization that they really didn’t know one another in a deep spiritual way.
Storms of Life, and Answered Prayer
By the middle of the afternoon of the workshop, they were in tears as they heard each other’s stories and spiritual journeys. They shared how they had come to Christ, how they had endured many storms of life and how God had worked in answer to prayer. That group, like many others in our church culture in the Modern Western context, demonstrates how we can be part of a large congregation, an organization or business, and still be living in isolation and loneliness.
Power of Small Groups
It is an encouraging development that increasing numbers of churches and organizations are realizing the power of small groups and participatory learning. The concepts and principles of orality are very important in addressing the problems of loneliness, isolation and alienation. In the business world, there is a growing awareness that community and relationships are important for organizational health. My friend Howard Partridge, author of The Power of Community, has a saying, “We all have a longing for belonging.”
Getting in on what God is up to
One of my mentors years ago, the late Manley Beasley, used to say that one of our biggest needs is to find out what God is up to, and get in on it. Henry Blackaby puts it another way. He says we should identify the activity of God and join Him. Well, we know from Scripture that God is up to reconciling the world unto Himself, He is about redeeming His creation, and that He sent the Lord Jesus into the world to seek and save the lost. He now lives in us, who are born of His Spirit, to carry out that purpose. In Christ, we are new creations, we are in spiritual union with the Living God, and we are complete in Him. Therefore, there is now no condemnation (and no separation) for those who are in Christ Jesus. What a privilege we have of being co-laborers with Him in His eternal purposes.