Author: Ron Graham
—The first step in outreach
There are five steps in the outreach process. We have introduced the topic of outreach in our first lesson, by answering several questions about it. Now we begin to discuss each of the five steps in turn. In this lesson we look at the first step, the Opening.
1 First Step in Outreach
Exercise 6~ When Paul converted Lydia, what effect did his approach have on her (Acts 16:12-15)? (A) Opened her heart to respond? (B) Put her under high pressure? (C) Bored her to sobs? (D) Left her in some doubt or confusion? (E) Made her feel good? (F) Started her seeking God’s way?
Lydia was already an honest godly person. Her inner man was already inclined toward God. She was already seeking God's way. Paul's approach to her simply opened a heart waiting to respond to the truth (Acts 16:12-15).
Had Lydia been one whose inner man was rebellious, hypocritical, and proud, Paul's approach might very well have hardened her heart even more. Just as the sun can harden clay yet soften butter, so the Lord, working through the soul winner, will open some hearts, yet others he will harden.
The Lord does not open people's hearts by some mysterious moving of the Spirit. He opens people's hearts using other people as his instruments to invite people to listen to the gospel. Just as the Lord opened Lydia's heart using Paul's approach to her, so the Lord can use your approach to people you know and meet.
2 Paul's Method
In the synagogue of the Jews (Acts 17:1-3), Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures, "opening" (the literal meaning of the Greek in the first word of verse 3) and "proving" the gospel. Here we see Paul's two-pronged approach.
- (1) He opened the scriptures to people. That is, he explained and applied the word in such a way as to draw out the spirit of interest and enquiry.
- (2) He proved the scriptures. That is, he debated and argued their fulfilment in Jesus.
Note that this scripture puts the "opening" before the "proving". Paul's method of outreach (which we must all agree was most successful), started with an opening. He always sought that "opened door" through which he might invite and enlighten others (Acts 14:27 1Cor 16:8-9 2Cor 2:12 Colossians 4:3).
It was always Paul's prayer that God would "open up a door for the word", and when his prayers were granted, he acknowledged, "A great and effective door has been opened to me." Paul recognised that God "had opened the door of faith" and provided him with opportunities. (These quotes are from the passages cited in the previous paragraph).
3 How do you rate as an Opener?
Exercise 7~ Rate yourself on those qualities described above. (A) Excellent? (B) Good example? (C) Need to lift your game? (D) Letting the Lord down badly?
Do you pray frequently that God may open doors of outreach for you? How earnest are these prayers? Do you acknowledge and recognise the doors of opportunity and the "openings" you encounter from day to day? Do you depend upon God for providence, but act nevertheless as if it all depended on you? That was Paul's attitude.
Don't Waste Time at Locked Doors
The flip side of being on the lookout for openings, is to realise when doors are shut tight against you. Many people shut the Lord out of their hearts. As we noted earlier, the sunshine in your soul, as you go about winning souls, will soften and open some hearts, but others it will harden.
Paul knew when he was being shut out, and he turned away and went elsewhere (Acts 18:6). By all means try every "door", but don't waste time trying to open doors shut fast against the word. Our motto should be, "Redeeming the time" —not wasting it. You find open doors only where you find genuine hearts. Personal contact is the primary and most important method of outreach. But you must relate it to God’s day to day providence in your ministry.
Answer to Ecercise 6: (A) Opened her heart to respond