MEANING-OF-LIFE

The Meaning of Life

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What is the meaning of life?

‘Have fun!’ ‘Take risks!’ ‘No regrets!’ ‘Relax!’ ‘Take it easy!’ ‘Be successful!’ ’42!’

It’s one of those questions that’s so big that we don’t even know where to begin.

But here’s the thing–I believe that I have discovered the
real, authentic, fundamental, irresistible, glorious, true
meaning of life!

Do you mind if I share it with you?
It’s not that I’m any cleverer than anyone else and somehow managed to work it out,
but I have found that simply
Through the gospel, through the message of Jesus Christ,
the mystery which was kept secret since the world began
has now been revealed!

(Romans 16:25)

So what is this message? What is the simple gospel? What is the meaning of life?
We sum it up with six simple colours: GREEN, BLACK, RED, WHITE, YELLOW & BLUE.
We start with GREEN. Green represents CREATION.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” Genesis 1:1.

He created the hills and the seas,
He created the grass and the trees,
He created cactus and caterpillars, grasshoppers and geckos, parrots and pears.

And He didn’t just create the beautiful green planet on which we live,
but He stretched out the surrounding universe,
and filled it with stars and planets,
dusty asteroids, exploding supernovas, and showers of meteors.

He invented the rules that govern creation:
the laws of gravity, electromagnetism, radioactive decay, quantum mechanics.

He precisely tuned the scientific constants of the physical universe
so that life could grow and flourish.

And – most importantly! – He made you! He made me. He made humanity in His image.
He made us to know Him. To share His life. To know His love.

The very fact that we can talk about ‘MEANING’ proves
that we are more than just chemicals bouncing around a test-tube.
And the God with whom the meaning of life begins
is more than just a timeless truth or a creative cause.

We believe that God is Trinity – three persons, but one divinity.
Which means before creation God wasn’t bored and lonely,
but a glorious dance of communication and community.
We believe “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Now some people say—‘If God is love, then why is the world such an unlovely place?’

Death and disease and cancer and bullying and loneliness and rape and genocide…
Why? Why? Why?

Well the answer to that question is actually explained by the next colour: BLACK.
BLACK represents SIN.

In the beginning God was in perfect relationship with humankind.

But He gave us a choice – the chance to show that we loved Him like He loves us.
The chance to trust Him, and receive our meaning from Him, letting our lives be entwined into God’s eternal love story.

But the devil deceived us, and we gave in to temptation.
We did the one thing God had asked us not to do.
We lusted after what was forbidden–we broke that relationship of perfect love.

God had said that ‘In the day you disobey Me, you will die’ (Genesis 2:17) – but they didn’t physically die.
But spiritually they did die — and their connection to God was shattered.
And it wasn’t long before physical death had also come into the world,
as Cain murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12).

Because as soon as we start making up our own meanings for life,
and creating our own standards of good and evil from the world we find around us,
rather than agreeing with God’s one true holy and loving authority,
then who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong?

Why shouldn’t it be ‘survival of the fittest’?

If there’s no God, then why shouldn’t I lie and cheat to get what I want?
If no-one sees me do it, then why shouldn’t I take my brother to a lonely field and kill him? (Gen. 4:8)

‘If a tree falls in the jungle, and there’s no-one there to hear it—does it make a sound?’

Now, most of us don’t like the word ‘sin’.
Because our experience has been that other people have condemned us for breaking one of their rules, and have acted as if they themselves have never broken a rule.
So even to say the word ‘sin’ makes us feel like we too are judgmental hypocrites.

But according to Jesus the whole law of God can be summarised in one word: LOVE.
Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And love your neighbour as yourself.
(Mark 12:30-31).

So sin by definition is simply anything that’s not loving.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all at some point in our lives, been unloving.
(And if we’re not honest—well, that’s sin too!)
The Scriptures say that “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23).

Now remember, “God is love”.
And obviously ‘love’ and ‘not-love’ are completely opposite.
So by definition God and sin can’t mix. It’s like oil and water:
if you try and stir them together, what happens? They separate!
The water sinks to the bottom, the oil floats to the top.

Which is why even though a God of love made a good world, we now have to face the reality of EVIL.

But the story does not have to end with sin separating us from the presence of God!

RED represents LOVE – and the good news is that God’s love is stronger than death!
And even though sin damaged and destroyed our relationship with God,
and our capacity to feel the full force of God’s love,
nevertheless the fact of God’s love remains unchanged.

Now when we think of love, we sometimes think of a red rose—
that beautiful symbol of blossoming romance!

But a rose quickly withers: its petals fade, and fall.

And too often that’s our experience of love: a sudden rush to the head, but then the feelings fade.

But we could also say that RED represents BLOOD.
For “the greatest demonstration of love is for a person to lay down their life for a friend” (Jn 15:13).

And so in that great Shakespearean romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet both die for each other.

And this is how “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

But unlike the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, the death of Jesus wasn’t simply a dramatic gesture.

No—the death of Jesus was the necessary solution
to the otherwise insurmountable obstacle that our sin had established between us and God.

You see, God isn’t just a loving Father and our Creator –
he’s also a righteous Ruler and Judge, and as such He cannot merely turn a blind eye to sin:
God is a righteous Judge, and God is angry every day”.  (Psalm 7:11)

If someone was to break a law: say, the speed limit, then they would get a speeding ticket.
And they would either have to pay the penalty, or else they would be punished.

We are in God’s world, and we have all broken His law.
And so we are all faced with the duty to pay the penalty we owe—or otherwise face punishment.

The problem is that the Scriptures say that
No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them–
for the redemption of a soul is costly, no payment is ever enough,
that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
” (Psalm 49:7-10)

So it seems that we are faced with an unsolvable paradox:
God is gracious and merciful, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin–
but by no means can He clear the guilty!
” (Exodus 34:6-7)

How can this be? How can God forgive us – if He is unable to acquit the guilty?

What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:37.

The Psalmist didn’t quite know the answer,
but as he meditated on this question, he declared with prophetic faith:
God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me!” (Ps. 49:15).

And this is exactly what happened.
God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16.
For what the law could not do, God did,
by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin:
He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled.
Rom. 8:3
Because we are human beings, made of flesh and blood, the Son of God also became flesh & blood.
For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil,
who had the power of death.
” (Hebrews 2:14)

And that brings us to the other difference between the death of Jesus and that of Romeo and Juliet:
which is that while their deaths were a tragic and final end to their young lives,
the death of Jesus was not the end!

The gospel says not only that Jesus died for our sins—but that on the third day He rose again!
God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death,
because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
” Acts 2:24

Which brings us to WHITE, which represents NEW LIFE and FORGIVENESS.

Jesus didn’t just die for us, but His RESURRECTION means that He can now be with us always.

Through Jesus, we too can receive that resurrection life, and be given a new heart and a clean start.

This is the covenant that I will make, says the Lord:
I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts;
and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…
For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.
” Jeremiah 31:33-34

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you” Ezekiel 36:26.

This is what Jesus was talking about when He said: “You must be born again” (John 3:7).

All we need to do to experience complete forgiveness and be reconciled to God, is to confess that we are sinners and trust in Jesus.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness
” (1 Jn. 1:9)
and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7).

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
” Romans 10:9

Whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” John 3:16

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away—
behold all things have become new!
” 2 Corinthians 5:17

It’s so simple! And yet so profound! Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to receive this?

But some people respond by saying—‘Well, it’s all very well for you, but I’m just not sure it’s for me.’

Which brings us to YELLOW, which represents the golden gates and the glory of HEAVEN.

And the reality here that we have to face is that one day all of our lives are going to come to an end.

It’s the ultimate statistic: everybody dies.

And the question everyone needs to ask themselves is this—
Do you know what will happen to you when you die?

Because unfortunately we can’t speak about heaven without also being reminded of hell.

Jesus came preaching the gospel and declaring that the kingdom of heaven was at hand
– but he also spoke more than anybody else about the dangers of hell.

Some say, ‘I think that’s the end. I’ll be buried and that’s it.’

But the Bible says “it is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment” Heb. 9:27.

Some say, ‘It’s impossible for anyone to know what happens after death’.

And Jesus almost agrees:
No-one has gone up into heaven – except the one who came down out of heaven!’ John 3:13.

I don’t claim to know what happens after death because I’m any cleverer than anyone else—
but we have to come to terms with the historical fact of Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth.
His teaching—which two thousand years later still speaks with the power of divine truth.
His ministry—a catalogue of miracles and healings, so unprecedented that even secular scholars do not dispute it.
His discipleship—he trained twelve poor and ordinary men to start a movement that today has impacted every single nation of the world.
But in particular, His death, and His resurrection –
because whatever your opinions about the nature and possibility of life after death,
it cannot be denied that his followers were convinced that the man they had seen nailed to a cross and crucified was then resurrected three days later.

So—‘do you know what will happen to you after you die?’

Some say, ‘I hope I’ll go to heaven…’
But we have to ask what that hope is based on.

Often we think that although God might punish other people for certain particularly wicked sins– Hitler, Stalin; rapists, child abusers; –
we think that hopefully we have done enough to somehow earn a place in heaven.

‘I haven’t done anything that bad, have I?’

But the Bible says, “there is none righteous, no not one” Romans 3:10.
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” Isaiah 64:6.

Every other religion says that if you do this and this and this, then perhaps you can earn salvation,
but Jesus said “you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” Matthew 5:48.

But none of us is perfect!
If life is a multiple choice test and the pass-mark is 100%, we’ve already got the first question wrong!
We’ve already failed the test!

So if we’re trusting in our own record, then we have no chance of heaven!

But the good news is, that because of Jesus’ death on the cross,
if we trust in Him, we will be “born again to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away,
reserved in heaven for you.
” 1 Peter 1:3-4

And the amazing thing isn’t just that we can go to heaven when we die,
but that the moment we trust in Jesus, “behold! The kingdom of heaven is within you” Luke 17:21.

Which brings us to the final colour, BLUE, which represents the HOLY SPIRIT.

We use the colour blue, because Jesus described the Spirit as being like water,
living water” (John 7:38-39), that refreshes not just our physical bodies but our inner being.
Jesus promises that “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst”. John 4:14.

Our lives are like an empty glass: we’re looking for meaning, we’re looking for purpose,
we’re looking for something that will satisfy our souls.

God has set eternity in the human heart—yet no-one can fathom it!” Ecclesiastes 3:11.

We can try and fill up that void with all sorts of things:
with money and power; fame and fortune; sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll;
but you only have to read the celebrity gossip magazines to realize that this never really satisfies!

And even good things – friends, family, meaningful work —
if you try and find your identity in those things, then you will inevitably be disappointed.

But Jesus offers us “the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4)–
the indwelling, overflowing, soul-satisfying
presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

And when you receive the Holy Spirit you are given assurance of eternal life,
because “the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” Romans 8:16.
Through the Spirit “the love of God is poured out into our hearts” Romans 5:5.

And this, I believe, is the meaning of life.
I could tell you my own story of how I have discovered it to be true.
But it’s not just true for me—this is a gift for you, too.

Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to receive this gift?

If so, I’d love to talk through whatever questions you might have.

But if you are ready to receive this, then you can ask God to receive this gift right now.

If you’re not sure what to say, then this simple prayer might help:

Father God,
I want to live a life that is meaningful!
I want to receive this gift of eternal, abundant life!

Thank-you that your mercy overcomes judgement.
Thank-you that Jesus came and died for my sin.
Thank-you that your love is stronger than death.
Thank-you that Jesus rose from the dead.

I confess that I have sinned. I’ve done things I shouldn’t have done.
I repent! I turn away from sin. And I turn to Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.

I ask that you would fill me with your Holy Spirit.
Please fill me with your love, your joy, your peace.
Please send me out in the power of your Spirit,
to live and work to your praise and glory.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Every Simple Salvation Prayer Counts!

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This post is intended as a brief defense of the practice of street evangelism, and in particular, my habit of counting responses.

Since taking part in the School of the Circuit Rider, I have been persuaded of the power of keeping count of the number of people who respond to the gospel when we are involved in evangelism. It’s particularly helpful when on a regular basis you are going out onto the streets trying to share the simple gospel, and having to wage a constant battle against disillusionment and discouragement as you find more people closed to the message than are ready to hear it, let alone respond. Because the fact is that even though most people might be disinterested, there are *always* at least some who are open. Matthew 9:37 *promises* that “the harvest is plentiful”, and I am convinced that this is a truth that applies in every place and at every time — not just to first-century Galilee. The gospel is always the power of salvation, and as we lift up Jesus, people will be drawn to Him.

If it seems like this isn’t working, then the problem isn’t the gospel, nor even the hardness of the hearts of those that we’re trying to reach. It’s that we’re called (Matthew 9:37-38 tells us) to pray for more labourers. We’re not just called to win the lost to Christ, we’re called to mobilise the saved, and we’re called to pray. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again: one anointed evangelist that led a thousand people to faith every night couldn’t reach the whole world even in a thousand years — but if two people would both win one person to Christ and each train that person to win another person, and train them to do the same, and so on, and so on, then every year their number would double, and in less than forty years their numbers would have equalled that of the world’s population.

Now, one might conclude from this that we hardly need to worry about evangelism at all–surely those figures show that it’s discipleship rather than evangelism that should be our priority! But the truth is that in the kingdom very rarely does the same person share the gospel with someone, lead them to the Lord, disciple them, and continue to train them as they develop as a leader. Rather, Jesus tells his disciples, “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor” (John 4:38). If we want to see a movement take place in which new converts find themselves easily leading others to the Lord, we need to be prepared to put in our share of hard work, in prayer and apparently-fruitless sowing of the word of God.

And — to come back to our original point — it is a vital encouragement when you have embraced the call to live a lifestyle of evangelistic seed-sowing to remember that there are people responding to what you are doing. And as you repeatedly go out and share the gospel message, and a few of those with whom you share consistently respond in faith or at least interest or openness, then the number of those who have responded will grow! I at least find this very encouraging.

However, it is true (I have found!) that some dislike this practice of counting the number of responses. There are a number of objections that I have encountered, and I will now try to respond to them.

Objection #1. Didn’t Jesus explicitly say not to rejoice in outreach testimonies, but in personal salvation?

The reference here is to Luke 10:20, after the seventy short-term missionaries that Jesus has sent out come back rejoicing that even the demons submit to the power of the name of Jesus, and Jesus tells them “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”.

But I would argue that Jesus’ comment is about maintaining perspective, not about an absolute prohibition on sharing outreach testimonies. Indeed, their testimonies have the immediate effect that Jesus is filled with joy through the Holy Spirit. One could also point out that this passage in fact affirms that salvation is the thing we should prioritise in our rejoicing!

Objection #2. Counting the number of ‘salvation prayers’ devalues the other parts of the process.

I have to admit that this has sometimes been an unintended side-effect of my energetic persistence in rejoicing in the number of responses where people respond to the gospel and pray a simple prayer receiving the gift of salvation through Jesus.

Our friend Abigail has written eloquently on her blog to this effect–about how a simplistic celebration of someone turning to Christ “misses out all the doubt, waiting, patience, confusion, praying, and more doubt”, and can cause a Christian to start “comparing myself to other Christians, and feeling truly rubbish”. (And let me take this opportunity to say briefly how amazing Abigail is: she was one of the first people we met when we moved into Arbury (that’s North Cambridge, for those of you reading who aren’t from ‘ere!), and has been part of our discipleship-group/house-church since the beginning; she’s now just finished her first year of university, and spent the summer in mission in Ukraine).

Certainly there are many things that I still need to learn about how to encourage people to engage in evangelism. Maybe in our numerical record-keeping, we should record and rejoice in every single gospel conversation (or even just conversation with a stranger–particularly for those of us who struggle to start talking to new people), not just the ones that end positively. But hopefully at least as people get to know me they will see that my heart is not to convey any sort of competitive condemnation.

Objection #3. It’s about individuals — not numbers!

I absolutely agree that God loves each individual person specifically, uniquely, and infinitely. As Jesus encouraged his disciples: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father knowing it. But in fact, your Father knows the very number of hairs on your head. So do not fear–you are more valuable than many sparrows!”

But I disagree that counting the number of responses diminishes the significance of the individuals concerned. If we look at the book of Acts it is clear that Luke is thrilled — almost obsessed! — with the numerical growth of the church: from the original count of “one hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15), then on Pentecost “there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41), then later “the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). One could also look at Acts 6:1, 6:7, 11:21, 14:21, 16:5, 19:26 — all these verses emphasise the growing number of responses to the gospel.

Objection #4. It’s meaningless without follow-up.

Sometimes this objection appears on its own, sometimes it is given in reaction to my response to the previous objection–‘Ah, but the numbers in Acts are referring to newly baptized church members, not just apparent responses to some simple gospel presentation’. Even when people aren’t objecting per se to the keeping track of numbers of responses to evangelism, the frequent question that appears in answer to an attempt to enthusiastically share this evidence of gospel breakthrough is something like ‘Hmm, really?–and what about the follow-up?’

And I readily concede that it is good and important to do whatever we can to help those who respond to the gospel to transition into some Christian community where they will be able to be taught and discipled and encouraged and held accountable to continue growing as a Christian. I believe just as passionately in discipleship as I do in evangelism.

But on the other hand, I am convinced that even if there is no way for us to ever connect with someone again, we have still been commissioned to share the gospel with them. And even if the fault for failing to follow-up does lie fairly on us, then we can still trust that God is able to use whatever seed of gospel truth we succeeded in sowing when we had opportunity to do whatever he wants in that person’s life. “God’s word will not return void!”

In fact in the Book of Acts (specifically ch. 8:26-40) we see that God engineered a situation such that an evangelist was unable to arrange any follow-up: when Philip shared the gospel with the Ethiopian, the man responded instantly and was baptized in some water that happened to be at hand, and immediately “the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away”.

Aside: A Parable
Still considering the question of the effectiveness of evangelism without adequate follow-up, consider this hypothetical situation:
Imagine a person who knew nothing of God, who was struggling with all sorts of serious sins, who one day encountered one of our simple evangelists as he was walking through town. ‘Hi, do you have a minute?, can we share the message of Jesus with you?’ The person is too shocked by the offer to immediately refuse to listen, and our evangelist takes advantage of the pause to begin sharing.

She explains how everything starts with the God who created everything, whose love is infinite and irresistible–but does he know that love? No? Well, that’s because all of humanity has been cut off from God ever since the first human beings turned away from God in mistrust and unbelief. But God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to die for us, to demonstrate his love for us–and there’s no greater way to show love than to lay down your life for someone! And because of his death, the penalty for our sin has been paid! We can be forgiven, we can have assurance of eternal life, we can receive the indwelling personal love of the Holy Spirit!

Our evangelist asks, ‘Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to receive this gift of salvation?’

Suddenly the Holy Spirit pierces through a lifetime’s apathy to spiritual things, and ignites a tiny spark of faith in the heart of our hypothetical person, and to his surprise he finds himself saying ‘Er okay, do I have to do anything?’

‘Well, like any gift, you have to unwrap it and receive it! May I lead you in a simple prayer right now?’ And before he knows it, he’s repeating a simple salvation prayer: ‘Father God, I’m sorry for the wrong I’ve done; Thankyou that Jesus came and died to set me free; I believe–I want to receive the gift of salvation; In Jesus’ name, Amen.’ To his astonishment, his eyes are beginning to fill with tears — before the evangelist can tell quite what’s happened, he’s made a quick exit.

Now suppose that person fails to connect with any Christians who are able to encourage him to grow in his faith. He doesn’t have a Bible. He continues to be trapped in various ungodly addictions. A neutral human assessment would see no convincing evidence of clear sanctification in his life. Suppose that he dies, just a year later, in a tragic car accident.

His body is buried; his spirit ascends before the judgement seat of God. The devil appears, cackling diabolically: ‘I think this one’s for me!’

But suddenly Jesus speaks: ‘Just hold on a minute, let’s do this properly!’ An angel is dispatched and returns within an instant with a large book — the devil grabs it out of his hand, and opens it. He starts flicking through the pages, which reveal a series of incriminating photographs. ‘See what he’s like! Pornography, theft, cheating, stealing, bullying, lying, swearing, fornication, sexual abuse, rape, abortion, murder! He’s mine, I tell you!’

‘Hold on’, Jesus repeats, and he turns to a page where there’s a single photo of the man standing talking to our evangelist. Beside the photo is written a transcript of the conversation that took place. Jesus lays a finger of his nail-pierced hand next to a particular phrase, and reads it slowly. ‘What? What are you saying?’ the devil rants, increasingly agitated. Jesus repeats it louder, and then louder: ‘Jesus came and died to set me free’. And then, so soft it’s barely a whisper, in a still small voice: ‘He’s definitely mine’.

A mighty angel appears with another book, from which is read out: “FOR WITH THE HEART ONE BELIEVES AND IS JUSTIFIED, AND WITH THE MOUTH ONE CONFESSES AND IS SAVED”. ‘What about all this?’ screams the enraged devil, reaching for the first book, and trying to find again the condemning evidence. But now there’s nothing but blank pages. ‘Argh, where did they go?’ screams Satan. The mighty angel speaks again: “HE CANCELLED THE RECORD OF THE CHARGES AGAINST US AND TOOK IT AWAY BY NAILING IT TO THE CROSS”. The devil disappears in a cloud of fury. Jesus beckons the man towards a banqueting table where a lavish feast has been set out. Too stunned to immediately respond to the invitation, the man mutters to one of the angels, ‘Whew, that was close!’ The angel’s booming voice thunders forth again: “WHO COULD BRING A CHARGE AGAINST GOD’S CHOSEN ONES? IT IS GOD WHO JUSTIFIES. WHO IS HE WHO CONDEMNS? IT IS CHRIST WHO DIED, YES RATHER, WHO WAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD, WHO IS AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, WHO ALSO MAKES INTERCESSION FOR US.”

Objection #5. How can you reliably judge whether people are sincere in their response?

I admit that this is difficult. Some would say it’s always impossible to say with certainty whether someone — certainly a new convert! — has saving faith.

But Paul writes to the Thessalonians saying, “we know, brethren loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”. And if we believe the Book of Acts, Paul was only in Thessalonica for “three Sabbath days”, so not long enough to see the long-term fruit and sanctifying evidence of the faith of the Thessalonian believers.

Strictly speaking, we try to make clear that the numbers we share are numbers of salvation-prayers prayed, rather than of guaranteed salvations. And certainly in many situations there is not the visible evidence that Paul speaks of. But on the other hand, sometimes there is! Sometimes you see the tears running down people’s cheeks, or the joy in their faces, or just the light coming on in their eyes. And I don’t want to undermine the authentic reality of assured salvation which simple faith guarantees, just for the sake of erring on the safe side in my reporting of numbers.

I speak sincerely, in the fear of the Lord, when I say that I don’t want to be guilty of exaggerating our evangelistic success. But I confess that my greater concern is that I would never fail to respond with exuberant joy whenever it seems that one who is lost has been found, one who was dead is now alive. It so strikes me that in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father doesn’t even wait for the son to finish saying his ‘sinner’s prayer’ before leaping on him in inappropriately extravagant celebration. And I don’t want to be like the older brother, critical and self-righteous, refusing to join in the rejoicing. I want to be like the Father.