Over the years I’ve never apologized for expecting my students to share Christ and report on it. Personal evangelism is caught more than taught. This semester I’ve had some wonderful stories of witnessing and salvation. Then, a former student and a fellow employee here at SEBTS sent me this amazing story of God’s faithfulness in long term witnessing relationships. Be encouraged by this story of Daniel and his friend:
As a student in your evangelism class, I remember well the stories of people who would simply share the gospel once with someone, and that someone would repent of their sins and trust in Christ alone. I also remember thinking, “God, why can’t I ever see this happen?” Why does the Spirit always lead me to speak to hard hearts and hard cases?
Not long after thinking that, I met a man that I now consider a friend and brother in Christ. At the time, he was an incredibly smart drunk. When he was sober, we had very good conversations about politics, world history, and world religions. Whenever I attempted to share the gospel, it was like I was hitting a raw nerve. He wanted to have nothing to do with the gospel, but he allowed me to give him a Bible. Because he was so inquisitive, I gave him my HCSB Apologetics Study Bible. He said that he would take the Bible as long as I promised not to be pushy. So, I just gave it to him and basically shut my mouth. I think I put something like this in my evangelism report… “Shared the gospel. Shut me down. Took a Bible though. Who knows what God might do?”
My friend was an incredibly good cook, so I invited him to cater a Christmas party for my small group. I did this so that he would be around Christians and because he needed the money. He arrived to my house a bit intoxicated, but he still catered the event. I paid him significantly more than he had requested at the time just because I wanted to bless him and show him the love of Christ.
Because of his addiction to alcohol, my friend did really well at his job for a season and then crashed and lost his employment. This has happened several times over the last eight years. He had an incredible amount of loneliness and bitterness in his soul. He was angry at his ex-wife as well as his brother, who did well financially and never helped him. His mother was an alcoholic before she died, and he had not spoken to his father in decades.
All along, my friend would sometimes remind me that I was the only person who cared if he was alive or dead. Eventually, a relationship he had with a live-in girlfriend deteriorated, and he left. One afternoon when I got home from a long day on the road for Southeastern, I noticed that I had a text message from much earlier in the day that I had missed. It was a note from my friend, and it seemed to be a suicide note.
My heart sank, and my mind raced. My wife met me at the door, and I was feverishly calling my friend and getting no answers. For years, I had occasionally texted my friend little notes: “I’m praying for you today.” “I know it may seem impossible, but God really does want you to know and enjoy Him.” “Hope you are having a great day.” Sometimes he would respond; sometimes he would not. I had not heard from my friend in a while, and I thought he was dead. I remember begging God to keep him alive.
Well, it turned out that my friend had not followed through. When I caught up to him, he was angry that I had tried to contact anyone else that I could find who might know of his whereabouts or how to help him. When I explained that, as an ordained minister, that I had an obligation to determine what was going on and to report the incident, he calmed down and began to share that his life was a total wreck – no job, no friends, no family that cared, no girlfriend, no money . . . no reason to live.
He allowed me to treat him to breakfast near the bedroom he was renting the following week. I spent two hours just pouring out my heart and the gospel. He was unmoved and distant. I thought that was the last time I would ever see him. I had given up on being patient. I had given him the full-bore gospel. He had asked me not to years before, but the gospel is what he needed. What was I to do? I erred on the side of telling a man who had just threatened to kill himself about how he could have true life.
Months went by, and I began to vacillate between second guessing my approach on the one hand and just begging God to move on the other. I remember praying for my friend on the way home from work one evening and, suddenly, a text message appeared from him. Because I work at Southeastern, I had asked colleagues to pray for my friend as well.
But, this was a fleeting moment of hope. Things got worse. He lost another job. He couldn’t pay his cell phone bill. I paid his phone bill so that he could make and receive phone calls and possibly get another job. He did. For a while, he was sober, and he was the leading employee in the new business. Then, he returned to alcohol, and the job was lost, and I did not hear from him again until I received a call from his former girlfriend notifying me that he had attempted to take his life. He was nearly successful. The self-inflicted injuries took a week of hospitalization, and there is no medical explanation for why he regained consciousness and called 911.
Along the way, there were the expected legal difficulties – fights, DUIs, etc. But, after failing in his bid to take his life and while facing the legal consequences of his actions, he sent me a text. He wanted to go to church with me. I was so excited! I texted my colleagues at Southeastern and asked them to pray. And, like so many times before, he did not show up for church.
But, he came the next week. I was teaching through Hebrews on the better covenant and the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. He stayed for corporate worship, and he surrendered his life to Christ!
That afternoon, I took him to lunch, and he began to tell me of all the ways God had been trying to get his attention. He had met several other Christians along the way, and “it seemed at times like God was trying to talk to him.” His car had been given to him by a Christian. He met a Christian while in the hospital. He passed a sign owned by a Christian businessman with the exact same message on the sign as what he had read in the Bible that morning. The list of “coincidences” bore the signature of a sovereign and loving Father.
As it turns out, there is a former drug addict who is a bachelor in my Bible study class who has eagerly come alongside of me in the work of encouraging and discipling my friend. I will have the joy of baptizing my friend on January 11, 2015. At some point in the future, he will be ready to tell this story himself, and I’m sure he will do a much better job!
Who have you given up on that needs to hear from you?