Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Calling them to Christ

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to have a love for the lost? This is a term we use as part of our Christian jargon. Many believers search their hearts in condemnation, looking for the arrival of some feeling of benevolence that will propel them into bold evangelism. It will never happen. It is impossible to love ‘the lost.’ You can’t feel deeply for an abstraction or a concept. You would find it impossible to love deeply an unfamiliar individual portrayed in a photograph, let alone a nation or a race or something as vague as ‘all lost people.’

Don’t wait for a feeling or love in order to share Christ with a stranger. You already love your heavenly Father, and you know that this stranger is created by Him, but separated from Him, so take those first steps in evangelism because you love God. It is not primarily out of compassion for humanity that we share our faith or pray for the lost; it is first of all, love for God.

I agree that it is impossible to love the lost, well, maybe. I have known faithful Christians, usually women (my wife, recently deceased, was one), who make it a priority to pray for the lost. Since I have never really done this myself, except when praying from a prayer book litany, like the St Augustine's Prayer Book, I can't know what exactly they are feeling. Did my wife love the lost? I think she did, but only because whenever she met anyone who she thought was lost, that is, needing Christ, she did not hesitate to witness to them to the extent that they would allow it.

I am actually the same way. My experience, since my conversion at age 24 (I am now 65 and still at it) is that when I encounter anyone with whom I must engage in whatever kind of relationship, be it business, or church, or sharing a seat on the bus, train, or airplane, I look closely at the person and open a friendly conversation, and the longer I am with that person, the more (usually) I come to love them. That is what propels me into telling them about the Lord, each according to what the Spirit gives me. A tiny poem I wrote when I was just saved expresses this in one of its lines...

There was a boy
Sent off to war
Who fell in love
With everyone he saw

Though my tomb stone has already been carved, except for the end date, and it's too late to add my poem as an epitaph, this little poem is what I want people to remember me by when I'm gone. The second stanza goes like this...

Went up well armed
Helm, sword and shield
Himself to fight
On the body's field

Back to the topic, I suppose there are many kinds of personalities, and maybe it's true that most people don't automatically and irresistibly 'feel' a sympathy for others, especially strangers, that would propel them into 'loving the lost' in a one-at-a-time manner. In that case, I suppose it's best to share Christ just because one 'loves God.' Again, though, I find this kind of rationalisation a bit unconvincing.

As long as I've been a Christian, but even before I was 'born again' as an adult, the memory of my Christian childhood is very strong about one thing—you show that you love God by loving the people around you. That was something impressed on me by my grandparents and parents more than by the clergy or the church, though my experience there was always very positive. (I have no bad memories of church.)

Sometimes I think that 'loving the lost' can be used as a kind of cliché to justify a lot of what are really quite un-Christian ways of approaching unbelievers. What motivates me is not so much 'love for the lost' but just 'love for a fellow creature' which includes respect for them as they are when I meet them, and which keeps me from mauling them for Christ culturally, socially, and religiously, instead of calling them to Christ.

And that last thing, calling them to Christ, can be no more or less than the call that I have received. It's all I have to share, and it will have to be enough.

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