A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking to the Cancer Support Group of Pantai Baptist Church (previously First Baptist Church), a church where I served as pastor in the early ’90s. After I had given the message I asked the group to divide themselves into smaller groups so that they could process what they had heard. Before the group could divide, the brother seated to the right of me said that there was a testimony he had to give first.
He said that perhaps it was God’s will that he got to sit next to me that morning. He said that he first came to see me in 1993, when I was pastor of the church. He wasn’t a follower of Christ then and was struggling with a whole host of serious problems. He shared his struggles with me. He said, after I had listened to him, I told him that only Jesus could solve his problems. He was blown away because I had just lost my first wife to cancer about two months before that. He said I had told him to read a book from the Bible, the book of Job.
The brother then shared that after he read the book of Job he was convicted of the truth of the Gospel and decided to follow Jesus. He took pains to emphasize that he wasn’t convicted of the truth of the Gospel from reading one of the four gospels. He had come to faith through reading the book of Job. Christ worked mightily in his life and there he was that morning, healed and testifying enthusiastically.
I listened with astonishment. I remembered meeting up with the brother and praying with him but nothing else of what he shared. In a way I was glad. If I had remembered this exchange, and the brother’s subsequent conversion, I would have thought myself cleverer than I was. It was God at work. (I am at a stage of life where I am a little bit more immune to such pride.)
But I thought long and hard about the fact that it was the book of Job that had brought him to faith. I think of how we often do evangelism — trying our best to get to the benefits of the Gospel as soon as we can. Indeed, often our evangelism is tinged with triumphalism — we are the ones with the truth and we are now dispensing the truth to those who do not know better.
Perhaps we should take our cue from Job’s friends, especially what they did when they first saw Job after all the tragedies that had befallen him:
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. (Job 2:11–13 NIV)
I feel that we should use our ears more in evangelism. We need to listen much more. I think we talk too much in general and that includes our evangelism. We disobey James 1:19 all the time. We are quick to speak and slow to listen.
And while it is true that Christ is the answer, the questions of life are often complex and resist simple explanations. Till the end of his life, Job did not know of the wager between God and Satan, and the real reasons behind his suffering. But he met God. Sometimes, the people we are trying to reach are going through horrendous pain. We know that, indeed, only Jesus can help and heal but we should not minimise or oversimplify the pain that people are going through.
Perhaps the first step in reaching out to people is to sit with those in pain and weep with them, not as some evangelistic gimmick but because the love of Christ constrains us — because we really love the person we are trying to share Christ with. It shouldn’t be that difficult to weep with those who weep. Christian or not we share the same broken world where all sorts of terrible things happen and where there are times when life is very unfair and confusing. In a post-modern world that has a more heightened aversion to BS (cattle excrement), all attempts at speaking the truth must be done truthfully. We need to seriously pray and think about how we can use books like Ecclesiastes and Job to build bridges for the Gospel.
Perhaps it was apt that I heard my brother’s testimony at a cancer support group meeting. There are few groups that are more honest than a group of people struggling with cancer. Like Job, sometimes we do not understand why bad things happen to people, but perhaps as we weep together, we discover that the Risen Christ walks with us (Luke 24:13–35).
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