I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again! It never ceases to amaze me to how many people will open up and talk about spiritual things with a complete stranger on the boardwalk! Not only have I had countless gospel conversations with people on the boardwalk, but I’ve encountered people deeply hurt, willing to allow me to pray for them as we stand there beside the ocean. (more below)
One instance, that I’d like to recount, was with a mother and daughter and her friend. I went through my normal spiel and sought to understand if they were affected by the gospel message or not. As I began to probe, the friend of the daughter said to me, “How do you even know there is God?” Of course, I wasn’t phased by this question, I get it every so often (not as often as you might think, however). I went into apologetics mode and told her that I could give her three good reasons to why there is a God. I argued from nature, from conscience, and from the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. She listened politely, but none of my arguments seemed to affect her much. She seemed indifferent about them as if they were irrelevant to what was in her mind. And indeed, they were irrelevant. She said to me very solemnly, “Yes, but how can God let so many bad things happen?” Immediately, I knew that this was an emotional issue and not a philosophical one. I have encountered instances like this before. More often than not, an atheist is so because of some terrible thing that has happened to them in life, or to a loved one. I’m starting to learn to look to the heart of the question rather than the question itself. Usually there is a history behind that question, and, indeed, there was for her. It was evident that she had experienced some great hurt in her life. Instead of going deep into the ‘whys,’ I began to tell her that God was a God of redemption and restoration. I told her that healing comes from God. I told her that God cared for her deeply. She was moved by my words. I could tell that it was taking everything she had to hold back the tears. At last, I offered to pray with her, and she agreed. And there, on the boardwalk, the four of us bowed our heads and besought the Father for his mercy. It was a divine moment that I believe will have an everlasting impact on all of them.
Saved on the Streets?
Sometimes people wonder, “Do people actually come to Christ on the streets?” Well, sometimes. But I am very reluctant to pray the prayer of salvation on the streets. Often, I have people come to the point where I know they would pray with me, and I could chalk them up as ‘saved,’ but I’m convinced it has the potential to do more harm than good. Instead, I urge them to repent and give their hearts to God. And I warn them that they are lost until they do so. The reason I do this is because salvation is more than just a magical prayer. It’s a hearty decision to give your entire life into the hands of God. This is why Philip the Evangelist told the Ethiopian eunuch that he only could be baptized if he ‘believed with all of his heart.’
I was told recently about an ‘evangelist’ who prayed the prayer of salvation with up to 25 people a night on the boardwalk! 25 people a night? Really? It’s impressive numbers to put in a newsletter, but are 25 people really coming to Jesus every night. I seriously doubt it. I’ve seen this before. Many people will say or pray whatever you want them to just to humor you and get on their way. And while that’s not so much a great evil, what is a great evil is when an ‘evangelist’ tells someone who has done so that they are now saved! The danger is that we now have someone who thinks they are saved who is not. They haven’t repented, they haven’t given their hearts to God, they haven’t turned from their sin. They just said a mechanical prayer. It’s just a religious thing to the same tune as confirmation at a Catholic Church. There is hardly a difference. What I am interested in is getting them to think, to pray, to seek God, to make it personal. If it doesn’t become personal, it isn’t real; its just a religious ritual. I have prayed with people on the streets to be saved, but I’m quite reluctant to do so unless I see that they truly ‘believe with all their heart.’ What I’d rather them do is begin to seek God on their own and simply be a signpost on their way to salvation.
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