Unexpected inconveniences could actually be opportunities ordained by God.
The checkout lady at the Panera Bread who happens to be a lesbian. My neighbor who seems to have everything that life could offer — the big house, the Lexus, the beautiful wife, and the straight-A kids. The guy next to me in the gym committing adultery and destroying the lives of himself and his family. My friend who doesn't know Christ who is a mechanic at a bike shop. Phyllis the 78-year-old woman who just lost her husband of 54 years. The atheist. The mocker. The scoffer. The intellectual. The ignorant.
That's a snapshot of my culture. That's what the world next door looks like for me.
These are my people. My mission field. The people I've been called to. The faces of those in your mission field are different from mine, but the state of their souls before God is not. God has called you to a people — the people right next door.
As Christians we tend to give a lot of attention to places like the 10/40 window. I'll be the first to admit that I want people in far off countries to be saved. My consistent prayer has been that the Lord would send workers into that harvest field. Our hearts should cry to God that the whole world would know Jesus. But in our post-Christian society there's an emerging unreached people group. And they're not in a foreign country. They live right down the street.
Frankly, sometimes I think the most unreached people in the world are the ones next door. The neighbors, the classmates, the co-workers, the acquaintances at the shops I frequent — all of them are in need of the gospel.
Colossians 1:13-14 says, "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." What an incredible picture! God is doing the work of transferring people from the clutches of Satan and this world into a New Kingdom. His Kingdom.
I want in on that. The thing is, God has invited me to be involved in this glorious process of bringing people into his Kingdom. I get to play a small part in what God is doing. That's exciting stuff!
I've been sent as a missionary to this specific location to proclaim the message of the Kingdom of His beloved Son. Living like a missionary who's sent by God changes my perspective on life. I no longer just go to the gym, the store, school, the staff party, the restaurant; now I recognize that God sends me. I'm not "just going"; I'm sent.
Being mission-minded changes my perspective. It brings me into a realization that God, the sovereign ruler of this world, is sending me into the pit of this world to transfer people from darkness to his kingdom of light. When I leave my house I enter God's world — a world full of people that don't know Him, a world that I'm being sent to.
Once I'm convinced that I'm a missionary to my culture, the question I need to answer is how I reach these people with the good news of the gospel. How can I be an effective missionary to my culture?
God addresses this question in Colossians 4:2-6:
Continue steadfastly in prayer being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray also for us that God may open to us a door for the word to declare the mystery of Christ on account of which I am in prison that I may make it clear which is how I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Contained within these few sentences is the truth I need to apply if I want to reach my culture with the gospel. How do I reach my culture with the gospel? I pray, I live and I talk.
Paul says in verse 2 that our prayers should be steadfast and watchful. Effective evangelism begins with diligent, watchful prayer. God wants us to talk to Him before we go out in the world and talk about Him.
Paul transitions from a bit of teaching on prayer to asking for prayer. He asks the Colossian church to "pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ." Paul is in prison, but he doesn't ask them to pray for his prison door to open. No, his desire is for the door of opportunity to be opened so that he can tell of the mystery of Christ.
Paul is saying: "I might be in jail but the word can never be imprisoned. Christ is to be preached even in jail. So please pray that as I reach out to these people in this jail that the door of their hearts would be opened and that I may speak the message of Christ clearly to them. Pray for me that God would give me an opportunity to share him with others."
Do you see what a vision for God's kingdom and mission does? It takes something like jail time ... and turns it into opportunity.
Paul loved being a missionary. He loved being a part of the Kingdom because he loved the King. He was so radically changed by salvation that he was more concerned about the eternal destiny of the jailer holding the key to his jail cell than about getting out of jail himself.
Paul believed that he was sent. Rome didn't put him in jail. God did. Why? Because God wanted his Kingdom to be revealed in a Roman prison. To Paul this was opportunity. Effective mission work begins with appealing to the King for opportunities to tell people about his Kingdom and about the gospel that makes relationship with Him possible.
Here's the thing: If you diligently pray for opportunities, they'll happen. So I want to put a warning label on this point. The warning label underneath the point is this: Enter at your own risk. If you pray for opportunities, they'll happen. And often they'll happen at the most awkward, inconvenient moments.
What I've learned, though, is that inconveniences and interruptions in my normal life really are opportunities that God gives to share the good news of Jesus Christ. So let's be watchful and have the mindset of a missionary when we're inconvenienced with delays, car troubles and bad service. Let's be watchful when our plans get messed up and we have to make alternate plans that we're tempted to complain about.
I remember when I began really wrestling with the concept of mission and kingdom, and I began to pray diligently for opportunities to share the good news. My friend Andrew and I were driving cross country from Oregon to the east coast. One of the stops we wanted to make was in Colorado. We tried getting into Rocky Mountain National Park to go camping, but God decided to send 10 inches of snow. In June. Needless to say, the park was closed for camping.
So we holed up for the night in a little town called Grand Lake, Colorado. I think the population was about 100 people and a dog. The one open motel literally looked like it came straight off the set of Psycho. I was totally thinking Norman Bates was going to welcome my friend and me. We got to the room and — I'm not kidding — the room was lit with one bare bulb hanging in the center of the room.
We were dead tired, we were starving, and the only place open was ... The Saloon. I kid you not: The Saloon. When Andrew and I walked through the double doors it felt like the record player scratched to a stop. Everybody turned to look at us. They could tell we weren't from around them thar parts.
Andrew and I hurried over to the corner, doing our best not to make eye contact. Near us was a group of about six people. They probably had 20 shot glasses on their table. They were toasting, one shot at a time. One of the men toasted, "To Jesus Christ and to Satan, his brother."
I had prayed that morning for an opportunity to share the gospel but this was not what I had in mind. Six drunk people in a saloon was not my idea of opportunity. I had in mind some hikers on a beautiful train in Rocky Mountain national park.
I looked at Andrew and said, "You know what? I have no clue what to do. I just know that he just toasted Jesus and Satan, and I know that I prayed for an opportunity this morning." I had a tract in my pocket, which is funny because I never carry tracts. So I walked over, looked at him and said, "You know, I heard you toast Jesus, and this is about Jesus. You might want to read it. I'll be over there. If you have any questions, come on over."
I hurried back, and almost jumped into my chair. I started shoveling food into my mouth as fast as I could (imagine a wood chipper) so we could get out of there. But sure enough, Kevin — the drunk guy — and his girlfriend came over, and we started talking about Jesus. Kevin was belligerent, angry and aggressive. But his girlfriend was open. She asked sincere questions about Jesus and the gospel. Unexpected opportunity had turned to mission work.
God is so passionate about His kingdom that He sent two idiots to Colorado, made it snow in Rocky Mountain National Park so we couldn't camp, led us to a bar, and created an opportunity for us to tell a young lady about His son Jesus. We got to pray with her that night and she made profession of faith in Jesus. We left that saloon convinced that God was so dedicated to revealing His Kingdom and that He would answer the prayers of His people as they ask Him for opportunities.
We left that saloon in awe.
The Bottom Line: Prayer
Opportunities can come in many forms. Sometimes they're in inconvenient moments, sometimes they can come in conversations that take an unexpected change, sometimes they can come during suffering. And sometimes they come when you actually do expect them.
The point I'm trying to make is that in Paul's prayer request we find a key to living a missional life. We pray. We pray that God would open a door for us to share the mysteries of Christ.
What I love about Paul's prayer request is that it is brief and to the point. I think this stands as a great example for us in our daily prayer life and communion with God. Our prayer for opportunities does not need to be an all night vigil of fasting and praying for the lost. I'm not against that if that's your thing, of course, but for most of us it's really not.
So how do I pray for opportunities? Pretty simple. I pray in the morning something like this:
"Father, You love this world so much You sent Your Son to die. Please give me opportunities today to share the good news of the gospel with who doesn't know You. Please give me eyes to see the opportunities, and please give me a love for the person that would compel me to share Your good news with them. Amen."
Copyright 2008 Eric Simmons. All rights reserved.