Opening a conversation (Jn 4.1-42)
We see how the conversation between the Lord and the woman of Samaria is very natural, logical, and seems to flow quite easily. We want to use this passage as the foundation text for our consideration. There are a number of important points to note in this witnessing encounter with the woman.
This was a planned opportunity (v.4)
"He must needs go through Samaria". As we are considering how to create those opportunities pro-actively, note that the Lord planned this opportunity. He went to a place where He knew He would meet this woman. She had no idea that anyone was even thinking about her, but the Lord was; He was planning to speak to her.
His friendly manner (v.7)
He was friendly, courteous, and pleasant to her. He was not pushy or abusive, nor did He have a "holier than thou" attitude although He knew all about her sin. Her lifestyle would have been repulsive to Him, yet
He did not "buttonhole" her (v.16)
The Lord ordered the conversation in such a manner that at several points it would have been possible for the woman to have walked away. At the start, when He first spoke to her, she could have just ignored Him and left. Later, when He said to her, "Go call thy husband", she could have said, "Ill go and get him", and simply departed and never come back.
He got her to admit her sin (v.17)
In the course of the conversation the Lord brought her to the point where she acknowledged her sin. He did not do this by accusing her or pointing the finger at her. He used the right manner and the right words, and she admitted that she was living with a man who was not her husband.
He revealed to her Gods interest in her (v.23)
In saying, "The Father seeketh such to worship him", He let her know that God the Father was interested in her as a person and was actually seeking her.
He brought Gods standards before her (v.24)
"They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." It is often necessary to speak of absolutes, because Gods truth and standards are themselves absolute.
He left her, in a sense, standing in the presence of God, or at least conscious of where she stood in relation to God, realising that she had come short, that her life did not measure up, yet knowing that He was interested in her and was seeking her.
It is felt by some to be a pity that the disciples came back so early, for the conversation was ended by their presence, and they clearly did not understand or perhaps even approve of His talking to a Samaritan woman. We would love to have heard the rest of the way in which the Lord would have spoken to the woman about her soul. However, enough had been said. Had the conversation continued, the attitude of the disciples would not have been helpful. As we meditate on this passage of personal witness we are rebuked by the interest in the souls of individuals and by the compassion of Him who came to seek and to save that which was lost.
Following the pattern (Jn 4.7)
There is value in considering closely how the Lord opened the conversation. Notice that He started in the natural realm speaking about natural things. He knew all about her life, her sin, and her great need of forgiveness and cleansing, yet He did not begin there. He began the conversation speaking about natural things. "May I have a drink", was his opening line. This is extremely instructive as it allows us to mark two things; firstly, He introduced natural things, then, secondly, at a later stage He gently swung the conversation to spiritual things which gives us the second two points in our list.
Following the Lords example then, we see that we should not engage in conversation by speaking first in the spiritual realm, but rather in the natural. This makes sense because "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2.14). The only way the natural mind of a man would have any interest in spiritual things is by the Spirit of God working within him. That is why we begin in the natural realm, we engage in natural conversation. Every person to whom we speak, whether saved or not, will be able to relate initially to the natural conversation. They will not be offended, turned off, or hardened, and it will pave the way for the good seed of the gospel to be planted. We do not know who will be interested or to whom God has been speaking, but once the conversation has begun then we are on our way to possibly finding out. This is how the Lord did it, and I take it as a pattern for us to follow.
Not following this pattern is possibly why we have the greatest difficulty here because we somehow feel that we have to, as it were, "go in for the kill", and we are looking for something spiritual to say. To start the conversation speaking about spiritual things paralyses us since we do not know what to expect as we have not firstly established a rapport or a conversation in the natural realm.
Using this approach is courteous, and, by implication, asks permission to engage in conversation. Second, it allows us to use spiritual wisdom so that we can discern when to introduce gently a spiritual topic. Remember, when we introduce spiritual things we are turning on a great light and it is only being courteous not to do it immediately without warning. To walk up to someone and immediately start talking about spiritual things is like shining a light into their face without warning. That will produce a bad reaction; people will not respond well. Most will actually just turn away or become upset, and the door of opportunity will be firmly closed.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be awakened by someone shining a torch into your face? That is what it is like when you approach someone and immediately start speaking about spiritual things. There is great danger that they will react very badly.
To be continued.