We have a friend who is an evangelist. I don’t mean a sneak-up-after-dark-and-slip-a-pamphlet-under-your-doormat kind of evangelist. I mean the real thing. He sends out “handbills” by the thousands and invites people to his church to hear him preach the gospel. That kind of evangelist. People come to hear; and they accept Jesus and become part of His church. And the angels rejoice.
But our friend has a rather unique practice: he asks God to send him the most lost, the most broken, the most addicted, the meanest person in town. And he means it. Not so it becomes about who he “converted,” but because it is his belief that the greatest honor comes to God when the wildest hellion surrenders his or her life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and becomes His follower. That’s no doubt what the apostle Paul meant when he quotes God as saying, “My strength shows up best in weak people.” (IICor 12:9LB)
I remember a story from our early denominational history when the evangelist would come to a town and begin asking the people he met, “Can you give me the name of the most honest man in town?” He would contact that man and begin his evangelism there. I think my new friend would begin by asking around, “Can you give me the name of the most vile, uncouth, disreputable character you know?” and he would start there.
Recently my evangelist friend was invited to conduct a series in a town in the northwest part of the United States. True to his normal strategy, he prayed that God would send to the meetings the most unlikely reprobate in the neighborhood. One night, not long into the series, he looked up to see his prayer answered. Walking into the church was a huge hulk of a man, covered with tattoos, reeking with tobacco smell – or something worse; he just looked like he was spoiling for a fight. No one dared even sit near him.
“Aha,” my friend exuded to himself, “there he is, Lord; thank You for bringing him here. Now we need a special measure of Your Holy Spirit to break through all that rough exterior and do the transforming work only You can do.”
As the sermon began, the visitor seemed listless, like maybe he just discovered he was in the wrong place. The people around him were likely thinking the same thing. “What’s this guy doing here? Maybe he ducked in here because he was being chased by the law.”
As the sermon concluded and the preacher began his appeal, no one moved for a few moments. Obviously there were decisions of eternal significance being made. Then someone stood. It was the big man with the tattoos, the one with the earrings and the weird hair. He stepped to the center aisle and made his way to the front. Another followed. And another. It was almost like the big man gave the others courage. It was the biggest response of the series. It was as though many were thinking, “If God can make a change in this man’s life, maybe He can change me, too.”
And a major party began. In heaven.
By Don Jacobsen