“I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
— from Amazing Grace, by John Newton
One of the difficulties in communicating the gospel of salvation in Christ is that we, as Christians, tend to speak our own language. “Churchianity Christianese” uses words with specific theological meanings for believers, the significance of which is often missed by unbelievers. These words carry powerful religious connotations which can turn people off just as easily as get their attention.
Those whom we would call “lost” are focused on the natural or “seen” world. They do not see the supernatural aspect (forrest) for the sheer numbers and variety of distractions (trees). They are so focused on the particulars of creation, they don’t see the Creator (1 Corinthians 2:14). They basically need to hear three things: 1) God alone is absolutely, “above”, “not constrained by” and “in authority over” everything; 2) God is always receptive to us but is never receptive to sin; and 3) Because he loves us, Jesus came to deal with our sin, so that we may be united with holy God.
Among those willing to discuss matters of faith, most use a basic, unspecialized vocabulary to describe or try to understand what they are experiencing in their own spiritual journey. Theological or religious words tend to make more sense to those who are already associated with a church. But to the uninitiated, these words can be confusing and off-putting. I believe it is better to help nonbelievers understand what they are personally experiencing than to get them to conform, cookie-cutter fashion, to the structure of religion. Don’t confuse church with God.
If I ask a person, “Are you saved?” the individual may be aware I am using religious jargon, in which case he will either be drawn to a religious conversation or try to avoid a religious conversation. If he doesn’t know “saved” is a religious term, he may ask, “What do you mean, saved?” In none of these scenarios has rapport been established to talk about Jesus or sin or our relationship to God.
As the song says, Christians know they were lost before they believed in Christ. But until the moment before we received Christ, we were unaware that we were lost. It takes the conviction of the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our lives are lost in sin, lost in how we think about self and define “me”, lost in how we relate to others and to the world (John 16:8). That conviction of being “lost” is what drives us to the mercy of our loving God.
But before that conviction, people don’t consider themselves lost. They don’t feel lost. So, it makes no sense to grab them and bring them to the altar of God. Each one of us must seek God for one’s self. Each one of us must have that thirst and hunger which only God can satisfy (Psalm 42:1; Matthew 5:6). We can’t do that for others. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can lead unbelievers to the River of Life, but you can’t make them drink.
There is a spiritual mystery which cannot be grasped in a practical or mechanistic sense. While we were unaware that we were “lost”, it seemed to us we couldn’t find God. In that sense, God was lost to us. So being “lost” has two parts: We are lost to God and he is lost to us. There is a saying, “If you can’t hear God, you’re not listening.” 1 Chronicles 28:9 says, “If you seek him, he will be found by you”. It’s all about the receptive attitude of one’s heart. Finding God and being “found” is all about overcoming the primacy of “me” and reestablishing our relationship with God, which was destroyed by sin.
After becoming believers, we discover being “found” also has two parts. When we accept Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, God lets us come into him and he comes into us. Once we receive Christ (John 1:12) God is found in us and we are found in God (John 17:21; 1 John 4:16). This reciprocal relationship is a mystery. But it is the key to understanding “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7), “remain in me and I will remain in you” (John 15:4) and “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).
When you pray for the “lost” to be “found”, pray that God will stir up their spirit or move their heart, as God did to Cyrus, king of Persia, to proclaim the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1). Pray that God makes them hunger, thirst and pant for the things of God. Pray that God would open the eyes of their spirit so that they can see the things of God. If it can happen to an anti-Christian rabbi en route to Damascus to persecute Christians, it can happen to anyone.
But most of all, pray for knocking at the door. Just as there are two aspects of being “lost” and a reciprocal relationship with God, once a person is “found”, there are two ways of looking at the door analogy. Matthew 7:7 and Luke 11:9 say, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” The sense of the Greek word translated into the English “knock” means to keep on knocking. These are words that Jesus spoke. They address the idea of pursuing God faithfully, persistently — not giving up after a few tries. The appeal is to someone who wishes to connect with God. Scripture encourages us to actively seek God, but doesn’t say it’s going to be easy. We have to keep trying. Keep knocking.
The other aspect of the door analogy is that we are inside and Jesus is outside, knocking at our door. In this case, we aren’t required to persist at making our requests known. Rather, we must listen, be awake, alert, attentive. Not only that, but our hearts must be receptive and willing — even eager — to open up and invite the LORD of Lords to dwell with us. Revelation 3:20 records, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
This verse paints a picture of an intimate relationship between a human being and the King of the universe. This is what unbelievers need to “find”, in order to be “found”. This is what they want to know. This is what they need to hear. When you share your faith, be personal and authentic about it. Don’t talk religion. There’s too much religion going around for some people to hear Jesus knocking. I think he’s even knocking at some church doors, but not being heard.
Christians, we need to get real. How can the lost be found if the found have lost their way?