by Jefferson David Tant
Whit Sasser, a friend who preaches up in Appleton, Wisconsin, recently had a short piece in the church’s weekly bulletin titled “Measuring Acceptability.” His good comments have encouraged me to add some thoughts of my own, as well as to build on some writing I have done on the matter of personal evangelism in the past.
As for myself, do I ever get discouraged about the lack of souls added to the Kingdom? The answer is “Yes.” I am reminded of earlier years and good numbers of people who were converted after just a few Bible studies, even some after just one study. I remember sitting down with a young woman in Montego Bay, Jamaica. At the end of that one study, she began weeping. Why? Perhaps weeping for joy at learning the truth, and also for sadness at having been deceived.
Then there was the storekeeper and his wife whom I talked with whenever I shopped at their little discount store. After some length of time and pestering them, they finally agreed for me to come to their home for a one-night study. They thought if they agreed to do that, I would then quit pestering them. We had the study. Then they said, “We want to know more.” That led to their baptism into Christ not long after.
And there was the young woman I sat with on a bus trip. We had some good conversations. My trip ended in Atlanta, and she was going on to Columbia, South Carolina. I asked for her phone number, as in a few weeks I would be nearby in a gospel meeting. I called her as I passed through Columbia and gave her the address and time of services for the church where I would be preaching. Sunday morning she and her live-in boyfriend came through dense fog for the service. Lunch at the preacher’s home. Bible study. To the church building to baptize the two of them. When the meeting closed, on the way back home, I stopped at the store where she worked. She told me she was taking off work early that day so she and her boyfriend could get married.
I could for some pages, but these few stories illustrate the joy and encouragement that came from people responding to the gospel. People responded to both preaching and personal evangelism. Those days seem to be rarer now in the United States, while in some nations the gospel is warmly received. The Philippine Islands would be such a place where my wife and I have been so encouraged in our work there for over two decades.
So, what about our situation in the United States in the 21st Century? Are there reasons to be discouraged? Obviously so! The decline of belief in God, the rise of violent anarchists, the goal of many educators to destroy any faith in God in their students, etc. These factors, along with others, certainly are discouraging.
Please consider the fact that times like this are not new. How many years did Noah preach? We are not told specifically, but he was building the ark for 120 years, and it would be certain that people would come to watch this idiot building this huge boat when there was no water nearby. Peter called Noah a “preacher of righteousness” (I Peter 2:5). And how many souls were influenced by Peter’s preaching? Eight, counting himself. I would think Noah would have been discouraged, but he did not quit.
When you consider the preaching of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the others. Were the people encouraged to follow God by their messages? Obviously, not all were. Consider what the writer of Hebrews said about them. “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated” (Hebrews 11:37). Did they become discouraged to the extent that they gave up and quit preaching and teaching? We know they did not. And consider the apostles. So far as we know, John was the only one who experienced a natural death.
Consider Paul’s writings about his own experiences. “Are they servants of Christ? --I speak as if insane--I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:23-28).
I could go on, but I am sure you get the point I am making. Being discouraged, encountering hardships or persecution are not the reasons to give up. All we are asked to do is to spread the gospel, and we leave the rest up to God. And remember, it is not just the preachers that are to spread the good news. The Great Commission gives that responsibility to every Christian. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).