I remember back when I was in university trying hard to share the gospel with others as a young Christian. At times I would sense that the Lord had laid an individual on my heart and what followed were my urgent attempts to share the gospel with them. At times I would pray desperately for opportunities to inject the gospel into our conversations but would often find none.
Perhaps you have found yourself in a similar situation with a friend, a family member or a loved one. You prepare for the chance to mention the gospel, but the chance never comes. Or when the opportunity does present itself you do everything within your power to make the gospel as pleasing and attractive to said person as possible. Maybe you’ve even felt like Paul; becoming all things to all people in the hopes that some might be saved (1 Cor 9:19~23).
When faced with such a situation, I feel as if the entire burden of reaching out to the person has fallen on me and if only, I try ‘this’ or ‘that’ method perhaps the person would be convinced and be saved. Still despite all these attempts, it can become discouraging when nothing seems to change.
However, God’s plans for people never fall along our expectations and Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:25-30 shed some light on God’s methods.
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)
I’ve always been struck by the words of this passage because of how profound they are. Firstly, the truth has been hidden from the wise and understanding, being reserved for those who have a child-like faith instead. More importantly, these words also state that no one can know God (and therefore receive salvation), unless Jesus chooses to reveal the truth to them (v27). If that is the case, then isn’t it entirely within Jesus’ power alone to save someone? We can bring a friend to church, give them a Bible, send them beautifully designed bible verses on WhatsApp or paint the gospel in as attractive terms as possible, but unless Jesus chooses to reveal the truth to them it won’t matter how much we do. That isn’t to say that our efforts are in vain, but rather that we need to trust more in Jesus’ role in opening a person’s heart to the gospel, then our skills alone.
Back in my University days when I laboured away to share the gospel, while I believed I was entrusting the outcome to the Lord, more often than not I was really depending on my own abilities instead of God’s grace. This is clear to me now because It certainly felt like a personal failure whenever I could not accomplish my goal of “leading people to Jesus” as I so desired to. Rather than desiring quick results and being frustrated in the process, I should have searched my heart and surrendered the outcome to Jesus while thanking Him for the opportunity to be a part of that person’s salvation plan instead.
Furthermore, even though the words in verses 28-30 speak of Jesus’ ‘light’ yoke, compared to the heavy legalistic yoke of the Pharisees, I think it could apply very much to modern day Christians as well. Often, we too can get caught up in self-imposed requirements that get unnecessarily tied to our sense of worth as a child of God. In this case, how many people have I shared the gospel with? In addition, an unclear understanding of our relationship with God or the status of our salvation doesn’t help either as it can drive some to do as much as possible, just to be certain, and getting tired and burnt out in the process.
In comparison, the image of a being securely ‘yoked’ with Christ, following His direction where He leads and trusting His decisions for us as we evangelize others is a superior one. Not only can we trust that whoever He has led us to share the gospel is someone He has chosen to save, we can also ‘rest easy in His guidance as we journey together with them.
When I reflect back upon the few times when I actually played a part in someone’s salvation journey a few things stand out. Firstly, I often was only involved in a short portion of their journey, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6. Perhaps I planted, or I watered or I added fertilizer, but God made the seed of the gospel grow. Secondly it is the relationships I’ve had where I wasn’t actively trying to evangelize people where God’s goodness has been revealed most naturally and had the most impact. These two points stand in stark contrast to how I picture myself heroically and single handedly sharing the gospel with a person so that they fall down in gratitude to the Lord for His grace to them. Rather God’s image of evangelism seems to be like that of the righteous who answered Jesus in Matthew 25:31-40 without even realising what he/she had done. Perhaps when we walk so in step with Jesus, we will naturally do what He has called us to do and that is the picture of harmony and unity with the Spirit that also pleases God?
So my dear brothers and sisters, please be encouraged that it is not Jesus’ intention for us to become burdened and frustrated for the gospel. Rather He seeks to work alongside us as we avail ourselves to be used by Him so that the gospel might be shared naturally through our lives. Let us then rejoice in our humble role with our glorious Saviour and enjoy the rest that He promises and may His kingdom be extended slowly and surely through His church here on earth.
Sean Tan (Missionary to Japan)
March 28, 2021