As I again drove up to the collection of apartment buildings in the east side of Scarborough I heard the familiar sounds of smokers’ coughs and angry yelling. The people who walked quickly by my van had their heads down, partly to avoid eye contact and partly to ignore the piles of old mattresses, broken tv’s, and other garbage piling up in front of the entrance to one of the buildings. This was my friend’s home and this was the place where we would share the Gospel for the duration of the summer.
It’s easy to appreciate the courage of one who would endure the ridicule of neighbours, the constant phone calls after midnight, and the occasional run in with the building’s staff who were following up on complaints that they knew were nonsense. She endured for the sake of the Gospel. I was just her wingman.
But, man, does it always have to be so hard?
We pressed forward with our attempts at sharing the Gospel week by week. We had a summer filled with Gospel movies, passing out tracks, door-to-door cold calls, free breakfast meetings, and kids programs. Thankfully we had some small success – enough to make us want to continue through to Christmas. As our experience within the complex grew, so did this question: does it always have to be so hard?
In Romans 1:8-17, Paul helps answer the momentous question. There is a souls saving secret revealed that we absolutely need to know about.
Before we get there, we need to understand a little about Paul and the message of the Gospel.
1. Paul is driven by the Gospel
Is it possible to read this passage without lingering on verse 16? If you’re like me and my friend then you also have some, or even many, experiences sharing the Gospel. When we look at verse 16 we cry out (in our hearts so that we don’t scare anyone around us), “That’s right! That’s our war cry! I’m not ashamed! It’s the power of God to save!”
Paul was absolutely driven to share the Gospel. He was so passionate about sharing the Gospel with Gentiles (anyone who is not Jewish) that he longed to reach the heart of the Gentile world, Rome.
Sometimes, it would seem, it does have to be just that hard. And, near impossible.
2. Paul was restricted by the timing
As desperately as Paul’s desire to go to Rome was he could not overcome the challenge to get there. In his letter he writes, “I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so…).” What a heart break for Paul.
But, man, why does it always have to be so hard?
While I was going door-to-door through my friend’s building I encountered a pleasant looking older girl (maybe in her 60’s) with a dog. She looked so friendly and warm when I met her gaze that I easily initiated a conversation. Shortly after I shared with her the reason for my presence in her building, she fully opened her door and released her dog. I had no idea I could outrun a dog. Thankfully I was close enough to the fire escape, and thankfully the door had not yet fully closed, I was able to dash through the slowly closing door and force it shut. That was one of those evenings the question took on more momentum.
At some point someone may be tempted to think that God was working against us. Or, if we were wiser, perhaps we would be tempted to think that God was doing something else. Because, that’s what it looks like to me. And, I think it’s what it looked like to Paul.
3. Paul was released when God was ready
Paul went on to share that he had been prevented from visiting Rome, “until now.”
We had served a full breakfast to a room half filled with tenants. They had been meeting with us for about 7 weeks consistently; enough time for the group to feel that we’re all safe enough. The Gospel sharing movie had just ended, their seventh time hearing the Gospel in a slightly different presentation. It was a rather normal meeting, honestly. Nothing was different from the previous week in my mind, and I was just about to begin a discussion that was similar to the one we had the week before. But, something I couldn’t see had changed. One of the tenants stopped me from speaking, stood to her feet, and with a concerned look in her eyes asked, “What do I need to do about my sin? How do I get rid of it?”
That question changed the group’s level of receptivity in a heartbeat. That day, the entire group made a choice to place their faith in Jesus. On that day my question lost momentum – but just for that day. I wish every day was like that day.
Man, why does it [almost] always have to be so hard?
4. The Secret Revealed
Paul figured it out. In verse 10 he writes, “by God’s will the way may be opened for me.” The only force that could open a closed door for Paul’s ministry was God. As I read Romans it looks to me like God was doing something within Rome to prepare the way for Paul to bring the Gospel to people who were conditioned to be receptive. And, it seems to me that any of Paul’s earlier attempts to visit Rome were blocked because God simply wasn’t ready for him yet – God was still working on the hearts of the Romans.
Once Christmas had passed we transitioned our outreach attempts for my friend’s neighbourhood. We no longer booked community rooms for events or meetings. That one moment wasn’t repeated. But, that one moment began a life of its own. That moment changed our outreach efforts into a vibrant, sustainable group within the building that naturally networked with the other tenants. The Small Group was well received by the tenants, and the members started making their way to our church on Sundays.
Sometimes it’s hard because God’s still working where we can’t see. Sometimes it’s hard because God hasn’t opened a way. Sometimes it’s hard because God is preventing us from going forward. Of course, sometimes it’s hard just because it’s hard and we need to muscle up. It’s tricky, for sure. But, there is absolutely an application that you and I can take away from this passage.
5. Start where it’s easy
Not every Gospel sharing initiative has to be hard. There are opportunities to share the Gospel within easy reach of us.
Yes, we still will probably want to go to hard to reach places. Personally, I still like a challenge. Maybe it’s because I’m a little too thick headed and slow to learn. But that battle cry, “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel…” compels me forward into new Gospel adventures.
Please, lets take a lesson from Paul. Lets take a moment to look around to our immediate proximity. Lets make an attempt to notice the signs of God’s stirring in the hearts of the people around us. Lets start with an easy audience.
Honestly, in today’s culture, with the world growing scarier and darker by the minute, we could use some easy wins.
My friend started Bible College not long after that experience. Saving souls changed her forever.