Independence Day (in the States) is just a few days away, and our Project Ezra 4th of July event is already in progress. Many of you will likely participate, and I know many of you have participated in the past. For those of you not planning to join us, or who may have considered public scripture reading but have never participated, I hope a story from my reading this last Saturday will be an encouragement to you to do so.
Saturday afternoon, after I got off work, I headed out to join a group from our church at our outreach booth at the Silicon Valley BBQ Championship. I had not attended this event in the past, so I didn’t know what to expect. I was praying for good crowds and plenty of people to talk to. By God’s grace I was able to find parking quickly and found our booth just as quickly, which is unusual at large events. When I arrived, there were a fair number of people at the event, but the “Free Speech” area, where booths such as ours were set up, seemed a bit isolated from the main event area. We were tucked into a corner by one of the park play areas, and though there were a couple entrances nearby, few people approached our booth, and the walkways were wide enough that it was easy for people to pass us at a good distance, so it was harder to get tracts into people’s hands.
This has a tendency to discourage me. Though I have been in similar situations many times, I much prefer larger crowds and heavy foot traffic. If I’m going to be passing out tracts, I want to get as many out as I can, and I would always prefer to open-air preach when there are more people to listen. But instead of getting frustrated, I reminded myself that God is not limited by small crowds or light foot traffic, and he puts each of us into exactly the place He needs us to be, regardless of our perception of the situation. So I took a breath, grabbed a stack of tracts, and started praying, trusting that He would bring those who needed to be there, who He had prepared for a divine appointment that day.
I had several good conversations, and handed out a few tracts. I was considering doing some open-air scripture reading, but they still had a band playing nearby, and they were too loud for reading to be very effective. So I kept tracting, and had the opportunity to talk to and encourage a couple of believers who had come to visit the event as well. One of the best parts of working a booth at a festival is the fellowship with other believers, and I always enjoy it. Then, just as the event official ended, and the rest of the team was starting to break down the booth, I asked for prayer from a couple of the men, and then stepped up onto my box to read.
I decided to read the beginning of 1 John, the same book we will be using for our 4th of July reading. It’s one of my favorite passages to use as a springboard for an open-air gospel presentation. I believe it has an especially strong impact on those who profess faith but live a worldly life. I read the first chapter, and the beginning of the second, and as I was getting ready to transition into the gospel, and man came up to talk to me. I’ll call him Joe, since I didn’t ask his permission to mention him here. Joe took my hand, and asked if I could pray for him. Sometimes people will do this as a distraction technique to stop the preaching, but one look at Joe and I could tell that was not the case. I stepped off the box to talk, and it quickly became clear that Joe was the reason, or at least the primary reason, that I was there that day.
The reading of the word always has a powerful impact, and cuts to the heart. It’s not by accident or hyperbole that it’s called a sword. But that impact is not always visible. With Joe, it was. He was broken over his sin. He said he was an alcoholic, and needed help. He said he had tried to quit, and couldn’t. He wanted to know what he could do. Some of the other team members, including one of our church elders, noticed what was happening. I beckoned them over, and as they gathered around Joe and laid hands on him to pray, I explained to him that there was nothing he could do, and that he needed to surrender himself to Christ. I told him about the amazing love of his creator, who despite our sin, humbled Himself, took on human form, and died on a cross so that we could be cleansed of our sins. I encouraged him to turn from his sins, and fix his eyes on Christ, trusting Him alone as the only means of salvation. I urged him to cry out to God to save him. And as we prayed for him, with tears running down his face, he did just that. It wasn’t a fancy prayer, but it was from the heart, and I believe it was sincere. We were able to spend a few more minutes with Joe, encouraging him, and inviting him to join us at church. I think he will, but even if he doesn’t, I believe God did a work in him that day, and pray that we will see him in glory.
The encouragement I would like to share is this. Yes, I was able to share the gospel with Joe. Our team was able to gather and pray for him. But I firmly believe that by the time we started our conversation, the work was already done. The impact, the thing he needed to hear, was the truth of the word of God, bringing to mind his rebellion against God, and breaking his pride. It was an amazing privilege to talk with him, and to be used in that way, but it was God who changed Joe’s heart, and I believe He will continue to change Joe’s heart, as He has for me and for many of you. And I got to be there and see it! There is no greater privilege, no greater joy that I can imagine, than that.
So be encouraged in your evangelism. If you have not shared your faith through the public reading of scripture, I would encourage you to. God’s word will not return void. This story is just one among many, and many other members of Project Ezra have had similar experiences. God is glorified is the speaking of His word, in the obedience of His children, and in hearts being changed by the gospel. May He be glorified in you today!!