by David Stevens
Most of us know only too well that much of the preaching recorded for us in our Bibles was done under an open sky. From the Sermon on the Mount to Mars Hill in Athens, Jesus and His disciples took God’s Word to the people where they were to be found. Charles Hadden Spurgeon once said: ‘It would be very easy to prove that revivals of religion have usually been accompanied, if not caused by a considerable amount of preaching out of doors or in unusual places.’
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explains that the seed of His Word is scattered out in the field, ‘Out went a sower to sow his seed’ (Mt. 13:3). Of course, it goes without saying that you would never find a farmer scattering seed on his living room carpet!
Open Your Eyes
On their way through Samaria, the disciples were focused on food, but not Jesus, He was focused on the fields and the Samaritans who were waiting to hear Him. ‘Open your eyes and look at the fields!’ He told his disciples, ‘they are ripe for harvest’ (Jn 4:35).
Jesus viewed the crowds around Him with great compassion – ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Mt. 9:36). Our crowded shopping precincts are no different today. Many ordinary folk wander through life without true meaning and purpose. Do we see them as God does, ‘without hope and without God in the world’ (Eph. 2:12)?
A Fisherman Gets Caught
One windy day, too windy in fact for Larry to take his fishing vessel out of port, he went into Dublin and found himself listening to a preacher who was struggling to keep his paint board from sailing down the street. Deciding to give in to the elements and pack up his kit, the preacher noticed Larry sheltering in a nearby doorway reading the tract he had just given him. He went over and the conversation that followed was to be the first of many. Larry was typical of many from large Irish families who take their Catholic faith very seriously. So to be confronted with the claims of Scripture came as a real shock, not just to himself, but to others of his family with whom he shared these same Bible truths. In the course of time, he came to embrace Christ and on the day he was to be baptised, his younger brother appeared and suddenly announced he too had believed and wanted to be baptised. A number of other family members came to the Lord in the years that followed, including his elderly mother. To this day, Larry calls himself ‘the fisherman who got caught’.
Like many we meet, we eventually have to leave them in God’s capable hands…
Sean occasionally appears on the fringes of our open-air meetings. Apparently, he has a long history of stopping by, but sadly whenever the conversation turns to personal faith, he makes a hasty exit. He reminds us of others we have encountered over the years, who have dabbled in various belief systems and come away damaged and disillusioned – ‘always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth’ (2 Tim. 3:7). The Parable of the Sower reminds us to expect ground that is not ready for the seed of God’s Word, so we look to the Lord for much patience in talking to such folks.
One day while I was preaching on the street, a gentleman began to heckle me and accuse me of hypocrisy for not being more compassionate towards the needy. Understandably, this attracted quite a bit of attention and a Dutch student was one of those who joined the swelling crowd. Following this initial encounter, my colleague, Mickey, who has an in-depth knowledge of Islam, spent many hours talking through the gospel with this young Muslim. It was encouraging to see him attending a city centre church soon after. Like many we meet, we eventually have to leave them in God’s capable hands – ‘being confident of this, that He who began a good work in them will carry it on to completion’ (Phil. 1:6).
Another day, I had the joy of talking with two individuals who had listened to us preaching. Evan was over from Germany for a few days making a bone transplant delivery to a Dublin hospital. He confessed to having been born a Catholic but no longer having any faith. He belonged to Amnesty International and argued for the potential good in mankind. Having complimented him on attempting to keep the second of God’s commandments, I gently reminded him that Jesus had said the first was equally important – to love God with all of our heart. Then there was Joseph, who would normally have been playing soccer but was home in Dublin after suffering an injury. He had clearly been listening carefully to the message of the Cross and was more than ready to talk and then take John’s Gospel to read.
It’s not unusual to meet those who once professed faith but who have for one reason or another grown cold. It seems to me that God’s Spirit is lovingly reminding them that the Lord they once loved, loves them still. Then there are those who have only recently found the Saviour, such as the Christian lady who stood through my message and waited afterwards to thank me. I discovered she had come to Christ after watching the GOD Channel on TV in 2006. She had been an ardent Catholic involved in the Legion of Mary and upon her conversion her family had turned their backs on her. The encouragement we received was mutual.
A Spectator’s View
It was lunchtime on Ireland’s busiest concourse, O’Connell Street, in Dublin. Among the buskers and a pavement artist were a small group of people erecting what looked like a half-finished painting, a bit crude but somewhat colourful. They appeared to be strapping it to the street lamp, presumably to prevent it taking off in the warm breeze. Few people seemed to be taking too much notice. The silent statue of James Joyce leaning on his cane a few metres away also looked disinterested. Then the person at the board invited us to watch as he produced a word with only a couple of strokes of his paintbrush, then another, and another. Clearly the few people who stood to witness this curious writing method were also fascinated by the question it posed: ‘Are You Good?’ In the course of the next few minutes the speaker posed two other questions: ‘How Good?’ and ‘Good Enough?’ He pressed home the point that no one on the face of the earth is in a position to face their Maker. However, this is by no means an insoluble dilemma because God has taken it upon Himself to put the record straight and lovingly calls us to come to Him in faith and enjoy the relationship with Him that He longs for. In his concluding remarks the man offered us a leaflet appropriately entitled, ‘Thanks for listening.’ Most who stopped to listen accepted one and some even took the opportunity to enter into conversation with either the speaker or his friends. We dutifully took one and saw that inside it outlined, with Bible quotes and simple illustrations, how we may have our relationship with God restored.
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few
Participation – What Me?
I encourage you to do as we did and become part of the crowd at a similar kind of open-air meeting. It will encourage others to stop, and you can pray silently for the speaker and those around you in the crowd. Who knows, you may even find yourself having a significant conversation with the person standing beside you when the meeting is over, and go home thanking God you took time to stand in the crowd.
If you have never encountered a team using a sketch-board and would welcome the opportunity to learn how you can do so, may I suggest you contact Open Air Campaigners, www.oacgb.org.uk, a group of evangelists who are more than willing to partner with churches and individuals to encourage and train in various types of outreach.
‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send workers in to His harvest field’ (Mt. 9:37-38).