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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Stories of the Thirsty
The Need to Focus on the Fertile Soil

By Jerry Wiles, President Emeritus, Living Water International
Special to ASSIST News Service

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- It is amazing, and sometimes surprising, how many people are receptive to discussing what it means to have a relationship with the Lord and become a follower of Jesus. So many people today seem to be resistant to institutional religion, even institutionalized Christianity. However, they are open and eager to explore what it means to know God personally and discover a relevant relationship with Him. Time and time again we see how the Holy Spirit bears witness to His Word, the Story(s) of Jesus, when presented in a sensitive way. It’s not complicated, and it is something we can all participate in.

Fellow travelers are often open to the Lord when engaged in conversation in an appropriate manner

“Have you noticed any signs of spiritual awakening or spiritual interest in the region?” That question, asked of an airport shopkeeper, opened the door to an interesting and meaningful conversation about the Lord. The young lady began to share with me about her upbringing in Ireland and the religious conflict in that country over the years. She had become discouraged and somewhat disillusioned because of the lack of Christ-like character among the professing Christians she had been exposed to. However, she was very interested in hearing about and experiencing a personal and intimate relationship with the Living God.

We should never write people off, or assume they are unresponsive, simply because they do not receive our message initially. However, it is valuable to recognize the principle we learn from the parable of the Sower, recorded in Mark 4, and seek to discern the condition of people’s hearts and their level of interest. The hard, shallow or crowded hearts will respond very differently than the fertile, receptive hearts. That doesn’t mean we should not sow the Seed of God’s Word in all of those, but once we discover the open, receptive and fertile hearts, we can focus more time and attention on them.

In other words, we should sow widely, but focus more on those who demonstrate openness, interest and curiosity, and have a teachable spirit and attitude. Not everyone will receive the Good News of Jesus, but everyone should have the opportunity to hear, understand and respond to Him.

A lingering situation can often become a divine appointment when we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit

I recently had a lengthy layover in London’s Heathrow Airport and had the opportunity to engage three different people in conversations about the Lord. All three were interested and open to discussing their spiritual interests. While each of them shared some of their negative experiences about religion, they were receptive and interested in learning more about the life, Spirit and teachings of Jesus. One of them was a lady who said she loves Jesus, but was not yet a follower of Him. I could have very easily missed those opportunities, had I not simply asked questions and listened. Listening to people, and listening to the Holy Spirit’s witness in our hearts, are both important in being effective ambassadors of Christ.

Many times we have to get past people’s preconceived ideas about religion, church and/or Christianity, and focus on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. Sadly, many in the Church, or institutionalized Christianity, do not demonstrate the Spirit and character of Jesus. In addition, the majority of professing Christians do not show a passion for sharing Jesus. A study conducted years ago showed that the vast majority of professing Christians have never led another person to faith in Christ. Someone has said that there are probably more lost people who are prepared in their hearts to respond and receive Jesus, than there are believers/followers who are actively reaching out with the love and truth of Jesus.

One of the reasons that many followers of Jesus do not attempt to share their faith is that they have preconceived ideas that people might respond negatively if they make the effort. It’s easy to stereotype and profile people based on outward appearance. We may think they might resist our message, and therefore, we don’t even make the effort to reach out to them, but in many cases they are prepared by the Holy Spirit and will be fertile soil for the seed of the Word of God.

Mission America Coalition’s LOVE2020 -- www.love2020.com -- has a powerful, but simple emphasis on Prayer-Care-Share. As we pray for people and opportunities, we can fully expect that God will answer our prayers. We seldom know how others are praying for the people we may encounter in those normal traffic patterns of our daily lives. Simply asking people how we can pray for them will often lead to life-changing conversations. God is especially interested in meeting the felt needs of lost people, so they will realize that He is real and concerned about them. Again, don’t expect everyone to be equally interested, but look for the fertile soil – the receptive hearts. Even in the Body of Christ, not everyone has the same level of passion and desire for the things of God and His kingdom work.

Skepticism and negativity fade away when people experience the impact of Orality Training

A friend once told me that he was in a situation in which he wanted to share the gospel with someone, but he realized that he didn’t have any gospel tracts or his Bible with him, so he missed the opportunity. Sometimes we may limit how God works through us because we think we need literature, technology or other resources in order to share our faith. We are blessed to have so many wonderful tools and resources available to us today. However, having the Word of God hidden in our hearts, and a basic understanding of the creative and unlimited capacity of the Holy Spirit, can make a big difference in our being able to communicate the Good News of Jesus and make disciples. Those who participate in Orality Training begin to see that we can go anywhere with just what is in our heads and hearts and bring people to Jesus, to get them on the journey of following Him.

A Living Water worker in the Central African Republic recently said, “We used to show the Jesus film at our water projects, but now we can’t do that since the rebels stole our equipment.” He went on to say, “Thankfully, last year we received Orality Training, so now we tell stories from the Bible at all our water projects, other training events and wherever we encounter people. We can do that anywhere, and at any time.” Our workers find that the people in the communities love to hear the stories, and they learn them well enough to retell them. They discuss them, ponder and reflect upon them. The workers there were excited to observe the impact and the transformation that is taking place in the people’s lives.

Pastors and church leaders become passionate about implementing Orality Training

A worker in another African country where we work had this to say about his experience with orality, “LWI organized an Orality Training for churches in my area. I was invited. At that time, I did not know what Orality was all about. Yes, I knew about storytelling. I learned that by telling simple Bible stories, one can take the good news of Christ to everyone, whether they are literate or not.” It doesn’t take much time to tell a few stories and ask a few questions.

I had a long layover at an airport in a South Asian city and engaged some follow travelers in a casual conversation. After chatting for a few minutes, one young man asked my traveling companion and me about our purpose for being in their country. That opened the door for telling some stories about Jesus of Nazareth and discussing some important spiritual truths. It was a very positive experience, and the men seemed to have a genuine interest. As I reflect on that encounter and others I’ve had over the years, I’m more convinced now than ever that people everywhere are much more open than we might think of talking about the Lord and spiritual things when approached in an appropriate manner.

I am also convinced that when followers of Jesus have a passion in their hearts to see others know Him, and begin to make the efforts to reach out to others, they will see the power of the Holy Spirit confirm His word. One of the motivating factors in my own life to share the gospel was being around people who habitually and spontaneously talked about Jesus. Being alert and observing people in our normal traffic patterns will make a big difference in recognizing those divine appointments.

Small groups retelling and discussion of stories are key factors in learning and disciple making

In Living Water’s Orality Training programs, we find that some people immediately embrace the methods with great passion and enthusiasm, while others seem indifferent and skeptical. However, when they have enough curiosity and interest to participate in a training session, the skepticism and negativity seem to fade away. It’s the power of demonstration, participation and explanation (in that order) that captures their attention. Unfortunately, there are those who have prejudged and predetermined that it is not worth their time, or that they are more comfortable continuing to do what they have always done. Not everyone embraces change at the same level.

Thankfully, things are changing, and the momentum of the Orality Movement is growing. Increasing numbers of pastors, church and mission leaders are paying attention. When church leaders see the passion and excitement of their people -- men, women and children of all ages -- they begin to catch a vision of how they can equip, train and mobilize storytelling evangelists at every level of education. Many more are now recognizing that these days are transformational in Church history and that Orality really is changing the face of missions and outreach around the world.

For information about the Orality Movement and training opportunities, visit – www.water.cc/orality or www.orality.net.


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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.
Jerry Wiles serves as president emeritus of Living Water International (http://www.water.cc) Living Water is one of the world’s leading faith-based water solutions organizations with operations in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Having gotten involved in orality-based evangelism and disciple making strategies in the 1980s, he has been a paradigm pioneer in the orality movement and presently serves on the advisory council of the International Orality Network. Wiles has more than 35 years experience in ministry and international mission work. He can be contacted at JerryWiles@water.cc

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