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Praying for Outreach Eyes

February 22, 2012 No Comment

by Robert Bugbee

“I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Jesus came in a vision one night and said it to His servant, St. Paul. He knew this man needed to see something his eyes were missing. Paul was in Corinth as a missionary. The work wasn’t easy. Paul was apparently discouraged. Based on what the Lord said that night, His servant was perhaps tempted to quit preaching. Maybe Paul figured the work wouldn’t go well, even though quite a few people believed to begin with. We don’t know exactly what was churning in Paul’s mind and heart, but the Lord knew there was a fact this man needed to see: “I have many people in this city.”

Christ realized that if His messenger would look at Corinth through Christ’s own eyeglasses, it could provide him with the energy and love he needed to keep at the task. Jesus did not prescribe a particular program or method to reach people. He did want St. Paul to go at the work with Christ’s own eyes and mindset.

Sometimes I wonder how active members of our congregations view their church and the communities around them. Maybe you’re tempted to look at your congregation and think wistfully about years gone by, to feel regret that some things are not exactly the way they were 30 years ago. Maybe you look at the neighbourhood where your church is located and see nothing but houses you drive past on the way to services, inhabited by strangers you don’t know and do not think about very much.

Even if the Lord doesn’t awaken you in the night to speak in a vision, have you stopped to ponder how the same neighbourhood looks through His eyes? You might see people He created and into whom He has poured much care, sustaining their lives, even if they don’t realize it. You could see men and women, boys and girls for whom Jesus bled and died on the cross, people He yearns to have close to Him. I’m sure many of those dwellings house families enduring tensions, worries about money, sorrow over a recent death or some terrible illness, or just a loneliness that makes folks wish somebody cared or they had a place to feel as though they mattered.

Have you ever stopped to ponder how the neighbourhood looks through God’s eyes?

If you viewed the surrounding area through eyes like that, it may well change the way you see your home congregation. It can become a place where God’s children make a point of praying regularly for people in their community, and where we look for a way to open the door and invite people in. You may start seeing it as a witness the Lord intentionally placed where it is, one He’s ready to use as His instrument to get the saving Name of Jesus into circulation.

I’ve not said much about strategies, programs or events. That’s because what worked in one place may not work in another. Door-knocking that seemed effective in the 1960’s and 1970’s might lead nowadays to irritation and resistance. I’m speaking here about the eyes and heart to reach out. These treasures grow when we begin to see other people—and ourselves—more in the way the Lord sees them.

With due respect to organized strategies, it’s reported that one of the strongest outreach tools is when a Christian speaks to a friend, when one person invites another. So this matter of getting the eyes to reach out is not just for the business agenda of your church council or congregational meeting. It’s personal.

God set you into a certain “community,” too, didn’t He? You are surrounded, not so much by houses, but by people in your family, co-workers, folks you meet at sporting events, clubs, and in other relationships. How do you see those people? After you answer that question, ask yourself another one: How does the Lord see them? You already know. He loved the world. He gave His only Son to be our Rescuer. Christ sent His people into the world to teach and baptize, because He wants to draw more of them to the saving faith.

God set you into a certain “community,” too, didn’t He?

Have you looked at your circle of friends and acquaintances through those eyes? Can you imagine what a great thing it would be to see them the way Christ sees them, much as He was hoping Paul would see the big, scary city of Corinth? I imagine then you might begin naming some of these people in your prayers. You could find yourself taking an interest in their lives, especially in their eternal well-being. You might start grappling with how best to give witness to your faith in Christ, and asking God to create the right moment to do so.

I don’t know exactly where this could lead. It brings no guarantees. (After all, even gifted Paul didn’t accomplish as much in Athens as in Corinth!) But eyes like this are a blessed, needed thing, not only for congregations as a whole, but in your life and mine.

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Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is President of Lutheran Church–Canada.

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