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The Ministry of Encouragement
by Michael Coughlin
How well do you have to know someone before you can speak truth into their life? I had a phone call today with a testimony I wanted to share with you that helps answer that question.
But first, some background information is required. In 2015, I traveled to Indianapolis to assist Sports Fan Outreach International in preaching the gospel to the Final Four fans. I was speaking with another evangelist when he introduced me to his friend, Pam. Pam open air preached, he said. I don’t recall exactly how the conversation went, but I was asked what I thought of that.
Here is where conventional (or dare I say ‘worldly’?) wisdom dictates that I ought to have offered Pam a cup of Starbucks and gotten to know her situation better. Maybe she’d had a childhood with an abusive father, or had been saved from hearing a woman preacher, right? Surely that insight, as well as building her trust in me was paramount to simply telling her what the Scripture teaches, right?
Well, as you can guess, I disagree. Not that making friends with folks and ‘being relational’ is bad, but I just didn’t have time for that. I was on the streets intending to reach the lost with the gospel and found myself in the conversation. So I gently but firmly explained that I do not believe a woman should preach and shared a couple reasons from Scripture.
She received my explanation and told me that she generally didn’t disagree. Her issue was that, although she thought women ought not preach, the lack of male preachers getting out and doing the work dictated that someone had to. So, in what seemed like an earnest attempt to please the Lord and do His work, she started preaching.
Again, without having more than a 6 minute relationship with her at this point, I explained to her that she was doing exactly what Sarah did when she gave Hagar to Abraham in order to produce the promised child. Sarah, having been given a promise by God, did not see how God would fulfill the promise, so she took the matter into her own hands. Sarah (and Pam), genuinely believed this is how God’s promise would be fulfilled. I don’t pray for a job and then not send out resumes. Simply “relying on God” isn’t an excuse for inaction. But in this case, Sarah (and Pam), had gone outside of the lines God has drawn for us to accomplish things. Sarah committed sin by giving her husband another woman, and Pam was sinning by violating God’s command to women not to preach. In each case, they were not acting wisely. Truly trusting in God is knowing He will fulfill His purposes, and that it will not be by asking His followers to sin. (Note: but He will USE His followers’ sin to accomplish His good will, Rom. 8:28).
Our time together ended amicably. The phone call I had today revealed that God used that conversation in Pam’s heart and she has given up preaching. She continues to evangelize and hand out tracts. In other words, God used the proclaiming of His truth in Pam’s life, by the power of the Holy Spirit –despite the lack of nuance I could afford in my speech and relationship we had time to build. Pam was able to receive my words because Pam was humble and my words were true. It really had nothing to do with my kindness or my desire or ability empathize with Pam, although God may have used those things as well.
As you can imagine, I was greatly encouraged by this in the Lord. (Philemon 20)
There are three primary takeaways I want you, the reader, to think about in regards to this story.
First, I did not need to build a relationship with Pam to speak truth into her life. My reliance on the inerrancy, infallibility and sufficiency of Scripture was the only requirement. Now, that is never an excuse to act ungodly. We also trust that as God gives us opportunities to interact with people, He will use the sanctification we’ve received to that point as part of the relationship. So it is possible I actually was kind and compassionate, etc., my point is that those things aren’t the same as the power of God’s Word to pierce hearts (Acts 4:12).
Secondly, you never know how God is working in someone’s life when you are not there. We are very “seeing” oriented. Sometimes God does a good work when you are not looking. So don’t lose hope. I didn’t need to be in Pam’s life daily or weekly or actually ever for God to use His Word to effect a wonderful change in her.
Finally, I cannot explain how greatly encouraged I was by this anecdote. I spend my life preaching and teaching, discipling and being discipled, and I can tell you the “apparent” success is often bleak. Even joyful moments are often overshadowed by an “I can never do enough” attitude. I hear of a person responding to something positively and I can recall dozens of situations that never appeared to improve. I need this kind of encouragement. So did Paul. So do you. And so does someone in your life. Someone you know needs to know how their work for Jesus Christ has had a good result. Someone needs to know you are thinking of them and praying for them.
While writing this post, I got an email from someone I don’t know too well that said, “Brother, Just thinking about you and praying for fruits of your labors. God bless you brother.” I can only imagine there is someone in your life that needs a similar message. It may prevent you from having to deal with a situation such as I have linked to here.