I met Jan on the trolley in Amsterdam. I was making my daily trek to the Internet Café to connect with friends and family back at home. As I looked at the passing canals, my eyes came to rest on Jan, standing near me. He was looking around and looking dejected. I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to talk to him.
I said something like “Such a beautiful city.”
He asked if I was just visiting. I told him I was in Amsterdam for a conference sponsored by Billy Graham at the main hall in town.
He opened up quickly. He had been religious in the past, but not now. He had lived in Amsterdam for four years and had found it difficult. He asked me if I had ever been to the red-light district. I told him I had passed by it but not gone into it. He started to share that he had visited it a few times. “Sometimes I get lonely and just need something.” He then admitted that visiting the Red Light District had ruined his last serious relationship with a woman. She hadn’t understood, and he hadn’t gotten over the breakup. He was hurt and angry still. And the end result was that he was achingly lonely.
Our stop came. As we got off the trolley, I asked if I could pray for him. He welcomed my prayers. “Certainly can’t hurt,” he quipped.
So amid a light mist outside an Amsterdam trolley station, I stood next to Jan and prayed. I cried out to God for Jan’s loneliness and pain. I prayed for God’s blessing and healing in his life. I asked God to minister to the lonely places that had led him to seek comfort with prostitutes, a quest that had resulted in even deeper loneliness. I prayed about his broken relationship with a woman and his pain, anger and even bitterness over it. I prayed for his peace and for him to find his way back home to God. I prayed for him to be strengthened and convicted to face the hard issues and wrong choices in his life and be reconciled to others.
Already at Work
At the end of the prayer time, Jan just stood there with a tear in his eye, saying he hadn’t felt such a presence and peace for years. God was present, and this man knew it and responded. I could see that he could have stood there next to me in the presence of God for as long as I was able to stay. When it was time to go, I left with deep joy filling my heart. I had gotten to collaborate with what the Holy Spirit was doing. I hadn’t made it all happen. I had merely responded to God’s work in another and God’s work in me.
Was it a risk to ask Jan if I could pray for him? Yes. He could have said no, or we both could have felt very awkward. But the chance of him taking a step toward God was well worth the risk of me feeling rejected. Because it’s not about me. It’s about God.
God was already at work in Jan before I got there. God worked powerfully in Jan’s heart while we stood and talked and prayed together. I don’t know what’s happened since, but I am convinced that God has continued to work in Jan’s heart, wooing him and convicting him and pursuing him, I was just one link in the chain of God’s forging. I only had to play the part that God had nudged and called and invited me to play. And God could have used the experience even if Jan had said no.
Nothing would transform our pictures and practices of evangelism like rediscovering the role of the Holy Spirit and learning to go along for the ride.
Discovering and collaborating with the Holy Spirit in witness would also revolutionize our sense of the authority we ourselves have as witnesses. God goes before us. God is there with us. God remains after us. God redeems and God intervenes. Our authority as witnesses emerges out of our union with Christ through the Holy Spirit. Whenever you speak of Christ with another, you do not stand alone. God is with you, in front and behind, before and after. We can rest in that authority and be secure in God’s presence with us to convict, to heal and to save. Witness is not about us. It’s about God, and God’s presence in the journey of others.
Taken from Reimagining Evangelism by Rick Richardson. Copyright (c) 2006 by Rick Richardson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com