Spring break trips by college students to Daytona Beach and other parts south have become infamous symbols today for full-out hedonistic pleasure. And Sunday I was talking with a young college student from our church who was home for the weekend, and told me he too was heading to the beaches when his spring break came around in the next couple of weeks.
However, this young man was going on spring break with Cru, planning to do ministry to the folks on the beaches from all over the country. I know a little bit about these excursions – in the 80’s, my sweetie went to Daytona Beach with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ back then), and the organization has been heading to Florida to minister to college students for decades. It’s the kind of spring break activity that a pastor can endorse.
Now, for those non-Cru students heading for the sand and sea, we know that there will be a lot of “good times” and laughter and such on the beaches, for surely sin brings pleasure and at least temporary happiness. But of course, for every one person who leaves feeling “fulfilled” from fun, there will likely be an equal number heading back to school quite a bit more broken than they were before, now to carry scars from the “sun and fun” for the rest of their days.
So I’m thankful for the ministry my friend will be doing in a week or two, sacrificing his spring break to reach out to the prodigals and, by the grace of God, bring them home to a loving heavenly Father.
And though I never made an evangelistic spring break trip myself, I’ve done enough cold contact evangelism to know the greatest possible pitfall for believers engaging in such work – it’s discouragement. After two or three people tell you that they’re not interested in doing your survey, or hearing your story, it’s possible to start thinking that no one will ever want to talk. And as I was reading Acts chapter 16, I saw a principle that he and the other Cru weeklong missionaries would do well to keep in mind.
The author of Acts, Luke, tells us that it is a Sabbath day, and Paul along with his friends (one of whom seems to be Luke himself – he starts using “we” in this chapter) are looking for a place to pray in the city of Philippi, where the Holy Spirit has recently led them. So they head down to the river, hoping to find a peaceful, scenic place to seek God. Now, there are some women down by the river and Paul and friends begin to engage them with the gospel. It’s a wonderful scene, and results in the baptism of Lydia and all her household.
But I was particularly drawn to the place where Luke tells us the key to the “success” of this missionary encounter by the river. We see it clearly in verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Acts 16:14 (ESV)
Apparently, it wasn’t Paul’s eloquence or theological knowledge. No – the Holy Spirit who had been guiding them all along the way continued leading them (and leading her!) to a fruitful encounter by the waterside. This is always the great key to evangelism.
Now I found out in my conversation on Sunday that my young friend is using a different tract on the beaches than Diane used 30 years ago. Cru is updating and that’s good, I’m sure. But when you get right down to it, there is an even more important consideration than the tract or particular technique a missionary uses.
It’s knowing that the “no one comes to Me except that the Father who sent Me draws Him.” (John 6:44) Keeping God’s sovereignty in mind enables us to move to the next person on the beach knowing that God may be moving in that heart even though the last one was not interested. And it encourages us to do one other thing. You, see, there is an old saying: “Before you talk to men about God, be sure you talk to God about men.” And if there were ever any advice to offer a spring break missionary, or anyone for that matter looking to reach out to a neighbor or a loved one who is far from God, by far the best piece of advice is this: God does the work. He changes lives. So more than anything, we need to ask Him to open hearts today…just like He opened Lydia’s heart some 2,000 years ago.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 4th: Acts 17