A friend of mine and I were driving past a street preacher last week when he asked whether they are effective. Does anyone ever listen to them? Does that message get through to anyone? I’ve heard this sentiment before and it’s one I held for a while myself. I’d quicken my pace as I approached them, making every effort not to make eye contact lest they direct their potent message my way. I’d hurry away, feeling a bit bad for them.
When Simon asked though, for that’s my friend’s name, I shared what I know now. We are naturally wired to count success based on numbers – to us, a street preacher like that is only successful if he reaches out to say 50 people during his day in the sweltering heat. We’d consider him effective if whenever we looked up to distract ourselves from the snail-paced traffic, we’d see him surrounded by tear-faced men and women, on their knees begging that he asks the God he serves to save their souls from eternal damnation. I’ve never seen this happen before but wouldn’t that be something! Right there on Jinja Road, near the traffic lights. That’d be a successful street preacher.
The God I see in the Bible though is the kind of guy who’ll go through all that trouble for one person. I see that He counts one soul a huge, huge success. That street preacher could be on the street all day for one person. That person may not be you.
Christ gave parables about the lost coin and the lost sheep.
Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15: 3-10 (NIV)
Every time I read this, whenever He asks rhetorically, “Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”, in my head I go, “Um, No, Jesus, he doesn’t.”
Unfazed, Jesus asks of the lady who lost her coin, “Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me” I still go, “Ummm, that ‘rejoicing’ might cost more than the coin! Hehehe. Nope, Jesus, she doesn’t.”
But that’s me. Him, Christ, God, He’s committed (sweeping the house, going out to look for the sheep- there’s effort and being deliberate right there) to finding that one sheep. That one coin. You. Or that guy. Or that lady. You just might not be the reason that guy’s out there shouting…But someone is. That kind of calculation and focus has a definite goal, a soul He’s winning over.
From how fast we usually go past these guys, we usually only hear snippets of what they are saying. The temptation is to think that because of how little we hear, that message cannot be effective. That would be true if we were listening to a man’s words. God’s word though, from what I’ve seen, is the kind where even one verse can tell an entire story about the situation you are going through. You who drove past, windows up, Nicki jam pumping, may have missed it. That lady dealing with some things that are weighing her down, those words might be a huge boost. That other guy might be mulling over the few bits he heard. The word may only plant a seed – do a Dicaprio inception, and the rest is done somewhere else by something else.
That street preacher, by our standards, isn’t pulling his weight. I’d ask him to organize a flash mob and as the crowd gathers, bam! drop the word on them (and then find a way to fence them off so they can’t flee till they hear it all. Muhahahaha). Thankfully, he listens to someone else. Given the success indicators of the guy he serves, he is probably successful….but you aren’t the target. It’s not him, it’s you.