What the Good News Looks Like
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I remember the first time it dawned on me to love people in such a way that they know how God feels about them. One summer when I was working with students, I was invited to speak at a high school retreat on the Columbia River in central Washington State. … As [my friend, Jeff, and I] were sitting there praying about the session to come, I had a strong impression that God was telling me, “I want you to show these kids what I think about them.” That sounded great, but honestly I had no idea what that meant. I figured I would try to communicate it when it was time to speak.
When I stood up to speak, all fifty [young] campers seemed to be locked in a profound stupor. None of my jokes worked, none of my stories, nothing. From the football player to the shy girl in braces, they all just stared back at me. High schoolers can be intimidating when they look at you like that.
Why couldn’t I communicate “Here is what God thinks about you”? I had been trained to speak and called by God to communicate His love to these kids. And there I stood, feeling like a fool.
So we just started hanging out with the campers. Jeff and I played football, got to know them one-on-one, interjected a little hope where we could, helped the big kid get up on water skis after the forty-second try. Mostly we were just present with them during the weekend, the whole time assuming that our reason for being there had not materialized and that nothing was happening.
It wasn’t until the last night, when all fifty kids lined up to say good-bye to us, that Jeff and I realized that somewhere during the weekend, the window of redemption had opened. One by one they came to thank us for being friends, for listening, for playing. Most of them were crying, even the football player.
Jeff and I drove away humbled and in awe. We felt like the disciples must have felt when Jesus sent them out. A lot of times they didn’t know where they were going, or why, or what they should do when they got there. They just went, and as it turned out, going was what mattered most.—Rick McKinley1
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”—Romans 10:13–152
The famous American evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899) once said, “The preaching that this world needs most is the sermons in shoes that are walking with Jesus Christ.” Some say that what Moody meant was that most people won’t go near a church, so the only way they’ll hear the gospel is if someone takes it to them. Others say he meant that most people form their opinions about Christianity and what it has to offer them not by what is preached but rather through the examples they see—how Christians live rather than what they say. Possibly he meant both, because both are true.
People need to hear the gospel and have it explained, but they also need to see an example of someone living it. The words are necessary, but to be most effective, witnessing must go beyond words. Only the Holy Spirit can work in people’s hearts to help them decide to receive Jesus and be saved, but to understand what God is offering them and to believe that it can happen to them, most people need to see how He has already worked in someone else’s life. You could talk for hours about all that God could give or do for the people you’re witnessing to, but unless they see an example of those things in you, your words would probably fall on deaf ears. They need to see that He has changed your life for the better and given you something that they don’t have and can’t get on their own.—Shannon Shayler and Keith Phillips3
In winning people, you often have to inspire their faith in you before they can believe in God or receive Jesus, because they probably won’t be able to understand or believe what you have to say about God unless you show them by some visible tangible work that puts your words into action and your faith into effect, that makes it fact and not fiction, a sample, not just a sermon.
There is a true story about a Christian and an atheist who were walking down the street together, discussing God. The atheist was ridiculing God and saying, “If there were a God, there would be some proof. There should be a difference between us that people could see. If you really have God and I haven’t, that beggar there, for example, should know just by looking at us. Let’s see who he asks alms of.” And as they walked by, the beggar leaned clear across the atheist who was walking closest to him and stretched out his hand to the other man and said, “Oh man with God in your face, please give!” People need to see Jesus in us. We need to let the light and love of His Spirit shine through. The way to do that is to stay close to Him, constantly loving Him and thanking Him for all His goodness to us.—David Brandt Berg4
In one of the Psalms we are told that light is sown for the righteous.5 … The figure of sowing is striking—light coming in seeds, planted like wheat, to grow up for us out of the soil. … This means that the good things of our lives do not come to us full grown, but as seeds. We know what a seed is. It contains only in germ the plant, the tree, or the flower which is to be. In this way all earthly life begins.
When God wants to give an oak to the forest, he does not send out a great tree; he plants an acorn. When he would have a harvest of golden wheat waving on the field, he does not work a miracle and have it spring up overnight; he puts into the farmer’s hands a bushel of wheat grains to scatter in the furrows. The same law holds in the moral and spiritual life. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; which … becometh a tree.” So a noble life begins in a little seed, a mere point of life. It is at first only a thought, a suggestion, a desire; then a decision, a holy purpose.
God wants us to go forth every day as sowers of light and gladness. Whether we mean it so or not, we are sowers, every step of our way. The question is, what kinds of seed do we sow? The Master tells the story of an enemy who, after the farmer had scattered good seed over his field, came stealthily and secretly sowed tares among the farmer’s wheat.
What seeds did you sow yesterday? Did you plant only pure, good, clean, gentle, loving thoughts, in the gardens of people’s lives where you sowed? It is a pitiful thing for anyone to put an evil thought into the mind of another.
God wants us to sow only good seeds. Seeds of light! He wants us to make this world brighter. Seeds of gladness! He wants us to make the world happier. Some people do neither. They sow gloom, discouragement, wherever they go. They sow sadness, pain, grief. If we are this kind of sower, we are missing our mission, we are disappointing God, we are making the world less bright and less happy.
But think of one who, wherever he goes, sows only seeds of light and gladness. He is a sincere lover of men, as his Master was. He never thinks of himself. He never spares himself when any other needs his service. He is eager only to do good to others, to make them better, to make them gladder. Let us be sowers of light and of gladness always and everywhere. Thus shall we help Christ to change deserts into rose gardens and to fill the world with light and love.—J. R. Miller6
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.—Matthew 5:14–167
Published on Anchor November 2013. Read by Jon Marc. Music by Daniel Sozzi.
1 This Beautiful Mess (Multnomah, 2006).
3 One Heart at a Time (Aurora Production, 2010).
4 One Heart at a Time (Aurora Production, 2010).
5 Psalm 97:11.
6 The Glory of the Common Life (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1910).