Reaching out starts with being a friend.
Jesus was called a “friend of sinners.” Now that may sound like a compliment to us today, but back then it was intended to be an insult to the highest degree. The religious leaders of His day saw Jesus hanging out with people on the fringe of society — prostitutes, tax collectors, the downtrodden — and they hated Him for it.
But the thing that caused the religious elite to hate Jesus was the very thing that caused the average person to love Him. He was accessible. He was available. He didn’t look down on anyone. Everyone was valuable. Everyone mattered in His eyes. He was a friend — even to messed up people who had lost their way. He went to their neighborhoods, spent time in their world and really talked to them.
One day, while the religious crowd sneered at Him for His choice of friends, Jesus replied, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent,” (Luke 5.31-32 NLT). Being a friend of sinners didn’t mean that Jesus compromised His standards. He never participated or gave approval to their wayward ways, but He did care enough to get to know people. The closer He got, the more they knew that He cared.
It was this heart for people that Jesus instilled in His early followers. These men were steeped in prejudice and quick to pass judgment on people just because of their cultural background or bad choices. But Jesus worked hard to break down those barriers, which meant bringing His followers into places that were uncomfortable for them at first. He dragged them to Samaria (a forbidden territory just north of Jerusalem), to meet a woman at a well. He ordered them to cross over the Sea of Galilee to the non-Jewish side in order to encounter a man filled with demons. He marched them north to Tyre, a Gentile city outside the boundaries of Israel, to meet a desperate woman looking for healing. He led His men to Caesarea Philippi, where people practiced all kinds of pagan worship.
Why did Jesus do this? He wanted His men to learn a very important lesson; People matter to God. There is no one off-limits from God’s grace. He wanted them to see that most often the people who need God the most aren’t going to come to them, so they need to go to the people! The same lesson applies to us today. To follow Jesus and join Him on His mission means we have to embrace the fact that every person matters to God. You have never met a person God doesn’t love. You have never seen a person who is so far that God can’t reach him. Most often, the people who need Christ the most aren’t going to be showing up at church on Sunday. That is why Jesus is sending you to them.
The first step in living on mission is to begin to look around and see the people God has already put in your life who need Him. To drive this point home, Jesus told His disciples to “…wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest,” (John 4.35 NLT). He was saying, “Hey guys, there is a great harvest of people just waiting to hear and respond to the Gospel. You just need to wake up and look around!”
Let’s begin there. Start looking around you. Right now, who are the people in your life who do not know Christ? These may be people you live next to or work alongside. Maybe they are people who frequent the same shops you do. Ask God to open your eyes. Then, once you see them, be a friend. Linger long enough to have a conversation. Spend time getting to know them. Make eye contact. Share your heart. Listen. That may mean lingering a bit longer when you drag your trash out to the curb so you can have a conversation with a neighbor. It may mean initiating a conversation with a co-worker to find out a bit more of his or her back story. The more you try to be a friend, the more you will realize how few friends most people have.
At first this may make you feel a bit uncomfortable. Remember, Jesus intentionally put His disciples in uncomfortable situations, often stretching them way outside their comfort zones. But the more you push through that initial feeling of awkwardness, you will find it’s really amazing how God already put hurting people in your life for you to touch. This is living on mission, Jesus style!
Photo Credit: Helena Lopes