“Jesus wants to bless you like He blessed me. All you need to do is come forward and say a little prayer with me.”
I was half listening to the woman giving her testimony and half watching the expressionless faces of those I was serving food to. My husband, Glenn and I were helping with an outreach in Phoenix just a few days before Christmas. The event was planned by an organization whose purpose is to meet the needs of low income families and present the gospel “after their stomachs were full.” This outreach was being done in an empty lot in the heart of the city and the turnout was very good. Flyers had been handed out a few days before advertising a free meal and Christmas presents for all children attending.
“Let me tell you about what Jesus did for me,” the woman with the microphone continued. “Before I got saved, I had a terrible marriage. My husband was no good. But then I got saved and Jesus got rid of my old husband and gave me a new one and this one is ten years younger than the old one! He can do the same for you! Just come forward and pray a little prayer with me.”
My eyes shot over to the area where the children’s gifts were stacked high. No, none of them looked big enough to contain a new, young husband. Maybe she had a catalog and every woman in the crowd that came forward to say the prayer would be able to place their order. This was perhaps the worst presentation of the gospel I had ever heard. It grieved the heart of God and it is very doubtful that any true salvations occurred that day. What has happened to Christianity in the West that people can think this kind of invitation is attractive or necessary to bring people to Christ?
A few years ago I was at a flea market and came across a man demonstrating the amazing Wizamatic Vegetable Chopper. A small crowd had gathered and right before our eyes he made salsa in less than five minutes by just throwing the vegetables under the gadget and pushing down on the plunger a few times. He asked the group of us that had gathered what we would expect to pay for such a valuable kitchen appliance. Before he told us the price though he showed us how easy the Wizamatic was to clean, told us all the ways we could use it and assured us that we would need to find a new hobby because we would be cutting our meal preparation time by half. Still he would not tell us the price because today, just for us, he was going to throw in a professional paring knife (the kind used by trained chefs) and an all vinyl designer cover for the chopper.
I don’t know what happened to me. I have never fallen for these kitchen gadgets before but for some reason that day I believed the salesman when he said this vegetable chopper would make my life easier. And besides, even if the Wizamatic did not live up to its claims at least I would still have the professional paring knife and designer cover. I took my gadget home and used it with satisfaction the first and second weeks but by the third week I was thinking that either I had a disease that was causing my arm muscles to deteriorate or the blades on the chopper were getting very dull. By the fifth week I knew what my new hobby would be: weight lifting. Finally the blades were so dull I could cut nothing but ripe tomatoes so I stored my Wizamatic away and threw out the paring knife that was badly bent from use in less time than it took for the chopper to go dull. I had been taken in. I should have known the chopper was not valuable because other items had to be thrown in with the deal before anyone would buy it.
Haven’t we done the same thing with “selling” Jesus? This woman at the outreach was trying to make Jesus more appealing to her audience by throwing in other tempting items. She assumed that the women in the crowd would not take her up on her offer to pray a little prayer unless she spiced up the deal with a new man. Not only that but her “testimony” spoke of a God that responds like our culture – if you can’t get along with your spouse what you need is a new one. The tragedy is if these women would have agreed to say a prayer only because “today, just for them” a new husband was going to be thrown in with the deal, they would not have experienced true conversion. The only way for the lost to be found is for them to see that they are in desperate need of a Savior and are willing to forsake all to follow Him.
The injustice being done to the Savior and to the lost is obvious here because this example is so extreme. However, as I have thought back on my own witness to people, I’ve found that I am guilty too. How many times have I felt that I had to spice up the gospel to make it more desirable to people? In doing this I led them to believe that Jesus is not enough so I have to throw in His blessings with the deal. This can easily happen when we share our testimony (which we should be doing). The problem is we can often communicate the message that the best thing about Jesus is His assets. The best thing about Jesus is Jesus!
In John chapter 4, we are told the story about Jesus encountering the woman at the well, a woman who was thirsty for more than just water. In verses 13 and 14 Jesus said to this woman; “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
I believe that Jesus was comparing this woman’s need of water to the deeper spiritual need in her. In essence, he was saying to her; “You keep coming to this well because your thirst is never quenched; in the same way, you keep getting a new man to try and satisfy your spiritual thirst but that also leaves you thirsty and unsatisfied. What I have to give is like living water that always abides in you. No longer will you have to keep coming to the well of human affection to try to get some temporary relief. But I will abide in you so that you will never thirst again.”
Notice Jesus did not offer her anything but Himself; not a new man, not a better situation, nor more material possessions. He exposed her need and offered Himself as the answer. This is consistent throughout the New Testament whether it is a one on one encounter or a sermon to the multitude. Jesus and his disciples preached a pure and simple gospel to people who were weary, broken and guilty – those who wanted to be reconciled to God. This gospel demanded that those who choose this road be willing to forsake all to follow the Savior with no extras thrown in.
Those first preachers did not spice up the deal or promise people a happy life. If their message was refused then they prayed for more power – but they did not compromise the message. This is where we fail. When people are not coming into the Kingdom through Biblical preaching or personal evangelism, we feel we must make the gospel more appealing by listing the many benefits that may go along with the deal. Instead we need to take the example of the early church; abandon ourselves to Jesus, pray and be filled with the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that does the work of drawing and convicting. If at least one of these things is not evident when speaking of Christ then either the Holy Spirit is not full in us or He is not drawing the person we are speaking to. Either way, it’s when nothing is happening that we are often tempted to resort to other methods like promising things we should not to get people’s attention.
I have been trying in the last few years to be more careful about how I present Jesus to those who do not know Him. I try to talk about Him rather than talk about what He has given me. I was speaking about Jesus to a young woman named Kia a few months ago. She told me that the “Christian thing” had not worked for her even though she said “that prayer.” When I questioned her further I found that she had been led to believe that she could just say a little prayer, then God was obligated to make all her dreams come true and in addition she would receive a guaranteed ticket to heaven. I showed her from Scripture that being a Christian meant surrendering your life completely to Jesus and that she could not have a Savior if she did not want a Lord.
Kia confessed that she still wanted to practice her sin so I was able to convince her that she was not a Christian and to not to let anyone tell her otherwise. She understands now that He will only accept her prayer of repentance when she becomes desperate for a pardon for her many crimes against the Savior and is so sick of her life that she is willing to trade it in for another – one under Christ’s control. I ended the conversation by saying, “Kia, knowing Jesus makes me complete, quenching my deepest needs and surpassing anything this world has to offer. If you only knew Him you would fall in love with Him too – you just can’t help it once you gaze upon His beauty and goodness.” Before we parted Kia seemed genuinely interested in finding out the truth about God and promised me that she would begin to read the gospels to learn who this Jesus really was.
Someone had tried to sell Jesus to Kia by spicing up the deal with “testimonies” and false promises because they mistakenly thought it would make Christianity more desirable. One look at the places in the world where true Christianity is flourishing quickly dismantles this wrong view. Why is it that nations experiencing persecution are the ones seeing so many radical conversions? What kind of testimonies do they have to share? “I came to Jesus and my family forsook me. I lost my job, I now live in poverty and may soon go to prison for preaching the gospel.” There is nothing in the natural about this kind of testimony that would appeal to people yet they are flooding into the Kingdom. Could it be that what people really want to know is if this Jesus is worth losing all to follow? We must demonstrate with our words and our lives that Jesus is the prize above all prizes; no gift or blessing can ever compare to knowing Him. For a world that keeps going to the well and still finds itself thirsty; the answer has not changed it is still Jesus – Him alone.
Jessica Meldrum has been a national evangelist with her husband Glenn since 1997. She speaks to women’s groups, is a freelance author and wrote the book Floods on Dry Ground: The Story of the Hebrides Awakening. Visit www.ihpministry.com for articles, sermons, books and information on Glenn and Jessica Meldrum and In His Presence Ministries.