Thursday, June 12, 2008

Just One Person

I've been thinking about the aforementioned Christian cliche, about "just one person" becoming a Jesus-follower, and whether that really makes it all worth it.

I think I've already mentioned that when I was very little I wanted to be a missionary. Because I went to Christian schools my whole life, there was a dearth of obvious heathen to evangelise early on. I'm not sure, but I suppose that's one reason I used to write down the names of the actors and actresses in the credits of movies and pray for their salvation. (Not regularly. My intentions were always much loftier than my actual practice, but I really did do this. Another reason might have been to justify praying for the one or two actors per film on whom I had crushes.)

I tell you this, not to highlight what a freakish adolescent I was (though it does that, I realise), but to reinforce the idea that this sense of wanting other people to get to know Jesus has been with me pretty much since I found out that not everybody did. It's been a long time since I've had a really specific sense of calling, but I do feel like getting to love Jesus and trying to share His love with others so that maybe they'll learn to love Him, too, is at the core of who I am and what I've been called to do.

So here's what I'm mulling over right now. Is the "one person" assertion really true? Do I really not mind if I spend my whole life praying and crying over people and only one of them acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God who has everything to do with his or her life? I think I might mind. I think I might feel like a failure. I don't really think I'm the only one who, under similar circumstances, might feel that way, either.

But how does God feel about it? I live in the United States, and everybody knows that here, we succeed-by-numbers. And let's face it. Nobody says that "one person" thing about witnessing to just one person. As far as I can see, we only say it when we're putting on some big event (or, if we're kind of skittish about talking to crowds, we've been trying to tell a whole lot of people about Jesus over a period of time) and we're trying to make excuses for ourselves, or even God, about why we had such a measly response. There's got to be a pretty big pool to draw from, and then, if only one person becomes a Christian after all that, well, it wasn't our fault, and God knows what He's doing, so clearly that one person was worth it. (But seriously? we think, it would be nice if the financial and/or emotional outlay wasn't so extensive, because worth it? Just barely.)

Is that how God sees it? The "right" answer is, "No, of course not," but you have to wonder. If God doesn't actually want any to be apart from Him, how can "just one person's" salvation really be acceptable?

On the other hand, if there's a heavenly party over "one sinner who repents"--well, that must mean something. I believe God wants all people to relate to Him in love. But I also believe He wants individuals to relate to Him--not just "all people." We're each "just one person," in the end. Just one person getting to know Jesus, and just one person trying to introduce Him to other people.

So here's what else I've been wondering about this: Does the Great Commission ever work backwards? Instead of spreading out to the ends of the earth, what if it narrows to a point? Say you know you've been called to share Jesus' love with the world. And you start out far from home as a missionary to a ton of people from all the ends of the earth. And then you return to your home country, though not a part you've really known before. And then you return to your home state. Is it possible for it to work like this? Is it okay? Is it worth it, when the pool of potential "converts" gets smaller and smaller? Is there even a chance that you might, sometime, be called primarily to share Jesus' love specifically and intentionally with "just one person"?


Annelise said...

Thought-provoking! Glad you're back.

Annelise said...

I reflected on this post while I was at the gym this morning. There's a young woman here who attended the Lenten Bible studies a couple of years back, and at that time, came to understand that faith in Christ is more than intellectual, but it is also experiential. Recently, she said to me, "If you ever wonder why God sent you to Ireland, it was for me." As far as I know, she is the only person who has "come to faith", for want of a better description in all the time we've been here, but she apparently feels her life was worth our being here.

heather said...

You raise some challenging issues, and it makes me wonder--
Is it about my lack of faith?
I don't really believe that God'll change that person's heart, do I?
Then again, is it really about the number of souls I get into heaven (especially since I don't believe that heaven is my ultimate home) or participating in God's work of re-creation? And what does that participation mean?
Obviously, a large function of that is sharing the good news so that others can be part of the resurrection (see, for example, my discussion with my niece). There's more to it than that, I think, not to downplay evangelism by any means. I think desiring others to be Christians and acting on that because you know that only by being Christian can you be whole is our mission. So how does that relate to numbers?
I think you're right, that we've used it as an excuse too often.
But I also think that I've seen it used poorly--people who give the Romans road then leave the guy hanging (not to say you do this at all). Or what of those who work in hard countries--i.e. Muslim countries? I know several missionaries with amazing faith and commitment who have seen one convert, or none. (I know of one who saw a couple of converts, one of which is now considering returning to his Muslim beliefs--what does that mean?)
Anyway, your thoughts spur me on to more thinking, and I appreciate it.

Jenn said...

Thanks, Mom. That's a really cool story. And it's cool, too, that she has that sense of value.

Heather--I think what I believe about God's changing hearts is huge; at least for me personally, I think I often don't. I don't have trouble with the idea that He CAN, but I'm pretty cynical about thinking He WILL.

I'm a little hazy on my own view of Heaven, but I think the main motivator for me in trying to share Jesus with people is the relationship. I don't always feel like trying to follow Him has made the circumstances of my life all that awesome, but I can't imagine trying to get through those circumstances without Him--and there IS something about eternity, too, whatever that looks like, that is a "hope and a future" I hope my friends will share.

More on this in another post.

Jeff said...

My thoughts in no particular order:
#1) That's quite hilarious about the movie stars.

#2) I think the one person idea does work... but only if we hold on to the idea that God is doing the changing, not us. (And in truth I struggle with this... It certainly feels like I had some part in coming to Christ, that it was at least partially me... but I digress)
The idea that God might use us over decades as a tool for the salvation of "only" one person is actually a beautiful picture of His love for us... The shepard going after the single lost lamb.
If we're doing our best to prayerfully discern what God wants, then it seems like we shouldn't worry about the outcomes.
Furthermore, if you speak to most people who came to Christ after childhood, I think what they'd describe is that they had a series of interactions with a variety of Christians through out their lives, years before their conversion. Each one of these people planted something in them.
Bill Hybels does an amazing job of expressing this idea in "Just Walk Across the Room": he suggests that perhaps we place too much emphasis on the Christian who was present for the big decision, and not enough emphasis on the Christians who were either good or poor witnesses along the way.
In addition to the fact that we are infinitely precious to God, it's also true that there are people who will go on to have incredibly influence if they are brought to Christ. I heard this amazing story about the guy who deeply influenced Billy Graham very early in Graham's walk with Jesus (perhaps it was even before Graham was a Christian... sorry the details are fuzzy) . He was this usher or something, and simply smiled and put out a seat. This guy indirectly brought millions to Jesus.

It also seems to me that the "only one person" mentality could become a rationalization and justification for sloth, inefficiencently leveraging our blessings, etc... This clearly will not do. (Wow, how very British I sounded all the sudden... And this from a guy who's never left the continent.) I think you were alluding to this in the big event reference in your post.

Scott R. Davis said...

very good post, Jenn. In the account between Abraham and God over Sodom and Gomorrah
he kept petitioning God to allow someone to be saved. Abraham was concerned for those inside and outside of the family. Focusing on the single individual is key to have him or her know Christ.

Heaven is definitely a party for when one repents. It will be a place where there will be no more suffering and a place for where we have overcome the world. And a place to hear Jesus say to us, "well done, good and faithful servants.

Jenn said...

Jeff--I think about that Billy Graham (or actually, I think it might have been DL Moody--or somebody) story a lot.

I agree absolutely that the "one person" concept can become an excuse as well as an encouragement.

I think what I'm struggling with is whether it's okay to narrow the focus like this, when sometimes even when the focus ISN'T narrowed, very few people actually get "saved." Law of averages and all that. But you're right--it's God's work ultimately, and I don't think He's all that bothered by the law of averages (even though I suppose He created it)!

Scott--good reminders, as always. I hadn't thought of the Sodom and Gomorrah story in this context.

Catherine Mackenzie said...

There is a story about a woman who regularly handed out tracts as a mission in her local town. She selflessly carried on and never knew of any who became christians through her work - but one man did - he went on to become a pastor and was used by God to convert hundreds. One in his congregation who was converted under his ministry went onto become a writer and their books were used to touch the lives of thousands. These books touched one life in particular - a man who became an international evangelist. The other week I remembered this story as I met a 60 year old friend of mine in Inverness who was handing out tracts. She has been doing it for a few years now and she asked me to guess how many tracts had been accepted from her. Knowing how tough this little highland town can be I optimistically said a couple of thousand. She smiled and said 34,000 to be precise. I was flabbergasted - she'll never know until glory how many God has chosen to save through that ministry. I don't think it's going to be just one. Whoever reads this if you can just pray for that 'little old lady in Inverness who hands out the tracts every sunday!' That would be great.

Jenn said...

Catherine--Thanks for commenting. And thanks for that story; it's really cool. I hope other people come back and read this comment and pray for her.