Last weekend I was travelling. Travelling nearly always means talking to strangers. Not just the people who take our tickets, check our passports or x-ray our luggage to whom we speak for a only few seconds; but talking to people with whom we end up passing considerably more time.
Now, I'm not the most outgoing of people. I don't strike up conversations with everyone I meet. As I was returning to Brussels on the Eurostar at the end of the weekend I couldn't help but overhear as the two (rather loud) people in front of me struck up a conversation which was to last the entire journey. These were two complete strangers, yet sitting across the table from each other in a railway carriage made a two-hour long conversation both acceptable and even, in their case, desirable. Apart from exchanging a few pleasantries, I kept myself to myself. The business woman sitting beside me clearly wanted to get on with her work without being disturbed. That's vital to the whole speaking to strangers on the train thing: recognising who wants to speak and who doesn't.
Now, why on earth am I mumbling on about conversations with strangers whilst travelling? Well, because of the sovereignty of God really. You see, because God is sovereign, that means that it is ultimately He and not someone in charge of seat reservations who has chosen whom we end up sitting next to on the train. So, if God has put a stranger beside us in what is probably the only remaining situation where we actually have extended conversations with strangers, perhaps that should influence the content of our conversations. Instead of discussing the weather, politics or our travelling experiences, a conversation on a train could be a very good time to talk about the Gospel.
In the middle of Friday afternoon I was sitting on the train from Paddington heading towards my connection in Wiltshire with my head buried in a book. I had asked for a seat in the quiet carriage and so was a bit miffed by the amount of noise around me. It was a very good book: a book about evangelism in fact. And then my concentration was interrupted by the man across the table asking a question. 'What's the book about?' I froze; how do you explain a book about evangelism to a non-Christian?
'It's about church', I finally feebly offered. 'Now I've done it', I thought, 'here I am reading about evangelism, and I can't even think what to say when I'm asked about what I'm reading. This conversation'll be over before it's even begun.' But it wasn't. In fact the man was a Christian and one who was very enthusiastic about evangelism. He told me all about how he and a group of other Christians from his town go out at night to tell drug-addicts and rent-boys about Jesus. This relatively new Christian was so excited about telling others the good news; 'I just tell them about Jesus' he said. And his words hit home to this theologian. He didn't tell them about how he was a Christian; he didn't talk about himself, just about Jesus.
Sometimes we can really want to tell someone about Jesus and what He's done, but we don't actually manage to; we can so easily fall into talking about being a Christian and going to church and end up not explaining the Gospel. Instead of saying the book was about 'church', I could have said it was about Jesus - a much better and truer answer. Evangelism means telling people about Jesus.
When I finally got off the last train of my journey that Friday evening, I still had a few more miles to go, so I hopped into a waiting taxi. Immediately I gave my destination the driver had some inkling that I was a Christian and began asking questions. He was an immigrant from another continent with a completely different religious and philosophical background. He had heard some things about Christianity, but wanted answers to some questions. The taxi trip only took ten minutes, but we talked the whole way and even sat on talking after reaching our destination. I talked about Jesus and what He did on the Cross. I talked about why He had to die. I talked about grace and faith and how we couldn't earn God's favour. But at the end my taxi driver went away without understanding.
That reminded me of something very important: evangelism isn't dependent on how well we explain the Gospel. A clear Gospel presentation doesn't automatically lead to evangelistic fruit. It is God who must open hearts to understand and believe. We need to remember that salvation is of the Lord, not of our fantastic evangelistic efforts. I'll keep on praying for that taxi driver. I'll pray that he continues to come into contact with Christians who will tell Him about Jesus. I'll pray that God would soften his heart to hear the Gospel and open his eyes to understand it. I'll pray that God would save him. God Himself is the power of evangelism.
So what is the lesson of a weekend of trains, taxis and evangelism? Simply this: God is sovereign, so take the opportunities He gives, talk about Jesus and what He has done at the Cross, and remember that the results don't depend on us, but on God alone.