Where do opportunities come from?
Three Scriptures bring before us areas where opportunities come from.
Prayer. "Praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance to speak " (Col 4.3). Paul requests prayer that a door of opportunity to "speak the mystery of Christ" would be opened by the Lord.
Exercise. "As wise, Redeeming the time" (Eph 5.15-16). Ultimately it is the Lord who creates opportunities, but Paul emphasises the necessity of being filled with the Spirit and of being wise in redeeming the time or, in relation to our subject, of redeeming opportunities.
The sovereign will of God. His will opens doors as in Revelation 3.8: "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it".
We can be involved in the first two but the last one is God. Even if we do not pray and are not exercised, God can, and does, create opportunities because He is far more interested in the souls of men than we are. Some might say, "God may not want us to do this or that". But that ought not to stop us praying or being exercised; in fact, we are encouraged to be so. The Lord did not wish Paul to go into Asia or Bithynia in Acts 16.6-10, but Paul was nonetheless exercised about going. God can and does at times overrule, but regardless of that He would have us pray and be exercised about redeeming opportunities.
So do not let the devil or the flesh tell you or even allow your mind to entertain the thought that there are no opportunities today, or that this is a day of small things when no spiritual work can be carried out. Let us pray and be exercised, looking to the Lord to give us those openings for which we must search and which we must be ready to grasp. Remember the words in Esther 4.14 " such a time as this"! Frame those words in your mind, write them out, memorise them, consider them often until they become part of your routine thinking every day. The Spirit of God may use them to renew our minds and thoughts so that we would view every circumstance of life as falling into the category of "such a time as this". Who knows but that we may have been brought into certain circumstances for just such an opportunity to be made available to us!
Opening a Conversation
Although more than 95% of Christians believe that personal witnessing is a very important part of Christian living, studies have shown that less than 5% of any Christian group do it on a regular basis. It is usually carried out in an ad-hoc manner, and often long periods intervene without us speaking to anyone about their soul. If an opportunity arises, one so obvious that it cannot fail to be recognised, then we will usually take it. What we are doing is being reactive; that is, we are responding to a situation if it arises. We are always waiting for something to happen, or waiting for someone to speak to us, or waiting for others to bring up the subject which we use. This is because we do not wish our approach to be offensive, overbearing, or insulting to those to whom we are witnessing. I am especially thinking of those close friends, neighbours, family members, and work colleagues with whom we have to spend time after a witnessing encounter. One of the greatest fears that we have in speaking to those close to us is the thought of somehow offending them and hardening them against the gospel, so we usually just wait and revert to speaking to God about men rather than to men about God.
I have found it extremely helpful to break down the witnessing encounter into a series of steps so that we can analyse each step and focus on the points where we need most help. This can also help guide us through witnessing to someone in a way that gives us confidence as to where we are and where we are going with the conversation. Here are the steps, built on the acrostic of the word "GOSPEL" which we saw in the opening article:
G rasp the opportunity
O pen a conversation
S wing to spiritual things
P resent the Word of God
E ngage the conscience
L eave the issues with God.
Using the divide and conquer principle we can work on each step separately and conquer each in turn. We have already considered the first point "Grasping the opportunity". I do not think we need gift, ability, or even courage for that. As already suggested we simply need to be looking out for them and be tuned in spiritually so that we spot those opportunities as they arise. Grasping an opportunity is the first step and it involves the mind, perceiving or realising that there is an opportunity to speak for the Lord. Now, when we have grasped the fact that there is an opportune situation or circumstance, we need courage and wisdom to speak to someone as we progress on to the next step.
Getting started - the hard part
In a recent survey, some of the brightest young Christians in the locality were asked to grade four steps in terms of difficulty. They were:
The vast majority of these young people marked the opening of a conversation as being the hardest thing to do. They indicated that it was twice as difficult as any other point. You might like to ask yourself the same questions. Consider the scenario: you are standing at a bus stop beside a stranger waiting for the bus to arrive. There is no one else around. What is your difficulty in seeking to witness to that individual? If you are like the majority then it is right at the beginning, starting off, knowing just what to say to open the conversation. You will possibly wait in the hope that they will say something, you might even pray that God would make them say something. Now I do not know if you have ever been there, but I have and I suspect that possibly most have been also, because this initial point of opening a conversation is the one where we need most work, most teaching, most encouragement. I have been looking at this and asking myself the question, "Why do we find this point so difficult and what can we do to get around it?".
This is where I have found it most helpful to break down the witnessing encounter into individual parts so that we can clearly define where the problem lies. As we pursue this study we will identify what is perhaps the main reason for finding it so difficult to start a conversation, and also suggest one way to overcome, or at least begin to overcome, this hurdle.
Here we have the definitive passage on "one to one witness" in the New Testament. We have the Lord Jesus and the woman of Samaria, and we can see all of our points clearly set out as we read down the passage.
The woman went her way and told the men of the city, "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?"; so she clearly believed His word. Next month we will consider this conversation in greater detail.
To be continued.