Among conservatives this usually happens subtly, not blatantly. No self-respecting evangelical would ever admit to such a loss of confidence, but too often that attitude is betrayed by the way that some minister.
It is easy, when little or no visible fruit is seen, to doubt whether the word of God is enough in the work of evangelism. Is the gospel enough? Can we really trust the Spirit of God to use the word of God to accomplish the purposes of God? What about when it seems like nothing is happening? When there is no visible fruit from sincere gospel labors?
The promises that God makes about his word are true even when evidence seems to suggest otherwise. It is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrew 4:12) even when we cannot see it working in these ways. And the gospel remains the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16) regardless of how much or little the immediate, visible effects are. One of the outlandish and encouraging promises that God gives us about his word is found in Isaiah 55:10-11:
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
The Lord has recently given me several clear demonstrations of the truth of this promise. Over the last few weeks I have been contacted by people who sat under my preaching more than a decade ago, each with a unique story about the power of God’s Word working in their lives. One of them is Gayle, who, when I first met her, was a practicing witch.
Thirteen years ago, Gayle worked for one of our deacons, who later moved with his family to a Muslim country and helped plant the first evangelical church among an unreached people group. Sam and his family befriended her and faithfully witnessed to her. I also got to know Gayle and had several opportunities to explain the gospel to her. She was a follower of Wicca, and proudly displayed a “Born-Again Pagan” bumper sticker on her car. Gayle was always open and willing to talk about spiritual things until she finally understood what she was hearing.
After one worship service she was visibly shaken (and shaking). Her face was red, and she was angry. She asked me, “Did I understand you to say that if I don’t trust Jesus Christ, then I will go to hell?” I explained to her that she had indeed understood me correctly and that the fact that God had caused her to understand that was a display of his mercy and kindness to her, providing her an opportunity to repent and trust Christ.
I’ll never forget her response. She said, “I cannot believe the audacity of anyone who would make such a claim! Who do you think you are? I will never step foot in this church again!”
Over the ensuing years I have had sporadic contact with her. She was interested in the welfare of her former boss and his family, knowing that they were living in a dangerous place and would occasionally call to check on them. Our conversations were always polite, but she never allowed me to engage her about the state of her soul.
A couple of months ago Gayle called me to tell me the rest of the story. Over the last decade her life began to spiral out of control. In fact, she came to a point where she resolved to kill herself. With pills in hand, she decided inexplicably to walk down the street to a church before swallowing them. A maintenance worker saw her and began to talk to her. She eventually agreed to meet with a minister and ultimately came to trust Christ Jesus as Lord. She is now a faithful member in that church in a nearby city.
In our phone conversation she said, “You know, through the years I couldn’t stop thinking about the things that you and Sam said to me. God has shown me how wrong I was and how right you and he were. I want to apologize to you and thank you for giving me God’s Word.” I rejoiced with her and encouraged her to keep growing in the Lord.
It would have been very possible for all this to have taken place without any news of it ever reaching me. I thank the Lord for his kindness in allowing me to know how his word accomplished a saving work in Gayle’s life more than a dozen years after it had initially been planted in her life.
Keep Pressing On
How many other stories are there like this that could be told about the power of God’s word bearing fruit long after it was first planted or watered in a person’s life? How many wayward children have returned to the Lord whom they once rejected and bowed in submission to his lordship in obedience to the word that was faithfully preached to them years earlier? How many more will yet return, in answer to the fervent prayers of moms and dads, perhaps even after the praying ones are silent in the grave?
What encouragement this truth ought to give to pastors, evangelists and witnessing and praying Christians everywhere! We must continue to preach, teach and share God’s word, trusting the Lord to do his work in own time. Who knows what testimonies might return to us in future years about the power of God’s word at work in imperceptible ways right now? And how many such testimonies will never be known until eternity?
So regardless of how much or how little fruit your evangelistic efforts are currently bearing, keep pressing on, with full confidence in the promise and power of God’s word. Let the Apostle Paul have the final word:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).