For months now, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about three people: the woman at the well in Samaria, the demon-possessed man of the Gerasenes, and Saul of Tarsus. Each of their lives had an established definition about them, an order, a rhythm. They each knew who they were, and so did those around them. And all three were simply going about their customary days until Jesus crossed their paths and everything changed.
Immediately after meeting Jesus, these became some of his most urgent and influential spokespeople. Why? What happened?
When thinking about the most interesting and engaging followers of Jesus I’ve met, I wonder what makes their faith so magnetic. Many of us who pump our fists and talk about sharing our faith and preaching the gospel are often frustrated and intimidated in our actual practice of evangelism. The tools or methods, initiatives or campaigns don’t seem to produce results that measure up with our expectations. Then, rather than rethink or reimagine what sharing the gospel might look like, we grow jaded and cynical and hesitate to talk about Jesus with anyone. At least I do.
What was different for the Samaritan woman, the Gennesaret demoniac, and Saul of Tarsus? How did they go from racist Samaritan, demon-wracked crazy man, and killer of Christians to some of Jesus’ most powerful evangelists?
I keep coming back to an answer so simple it feels too underwhelming to be right – too basic, too elementary. But I can’t think of a better one. Here it is: Jesus changed the lives of each one, and they told everyone who would listen how he did that.
Of course, someone like Saul of Tarsus, who swept through the Greek world as the Apostle Paul, shared more than just his life story. He gave us whole volumes of the New Testament and Christian theology. But as we follow his life in the book of Acts, it is indisputable that he repeatedly and habitually shared his personal story when he peached. Jesus had radically changed his life and continued to do so, and Paul told people how.
The Samaritan woman, to whom Jesus gave dignity, acceptance and surely eternal life, went and told everyone what she’d seen him do. And many believed because of her testimony, her story.
The demon possessed man, after being healed by Jesus appears to have become the prominent gospel preacher in that region. He went and told people how much Jesus had done for him. And weeks or months later, when Jesus returned, crowds of people rushed out to meet him because they had heard and seen what he could do.
As followers of Jesus, do we know our own stories? Do we know how to tell others all that Jesus has done and continues to do for us? Is it possible that the apparent weak spot of evangelism in the U.S. is that we don’t know how to tell our stories, tell what Jesus has done for us? Have we forgotten how to share this with others?
These three people have led me into a season of personal reflection. I’ve been trying to articulate how I would tell my neighbor, Jake, how Jesus has changed my life. How Jesus affects my day-to-day experience; how he influences my work, family, marriage and friendships. I’ve been working on words and phrases that are not “churchy” or weird, but that would connect with him, that he would understand.
Our stories are powerful. No one can argue with our story, with our experience. They can argue with Jesus if they want. But it’s hard to argue with someone who does beautiful things in our lives.