Suppose you are buying groceries and happen to be wearing your favorite Christian T-shirt. A woman pauses to search the same shelf. She’s an abortion-rights supporter, wearing a T-shirt that says “Pro-Choice and Proud of It!” Suddenly you sense the Lord telling you she’s divorced, she’s living with another man, and she’s ripe for receiving Jesus as Lord.
What would you say to her?
Most Christians hesitate when I ask this question. They doubt that God would ever speak to them about someone so blatantly proclaiming an unbiblical message. And even if He did, would such a person really want to hear anything about Jesus?
Jesus Himself faced a similar challenge in His encounter with the woman at the well in John 4. The Father revealed to Him that she had gone through five failed marriages and now had a live-in lover. But this woman had no reason to want to hear anything from Him. He was a Jew and she was a Samaritan—two people groups living side-by-side who had nothing but animosity for each other. Each side claimed to possess the truth concerning the many legal and religious issues that divided them. The lines had long been drawn, and there was no room for compromise. Therefore, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9).
Not only that, it was plainly scandalous for a Jewish man to converse in public with a woman at all. Imagine, then, the surprise of the Samaritan woman when this Jewish man spoke openly to her! Such a departure from an established social norm would certainly have gotten her attention.
What did Jesus say to the woman? Did He confront her with the fact that God told Him about her history of immorality and failed relationships? Not at first. Did He begin by addressing their differences of opinion? No, He began with what they had in common—they were both thirsty. (Likewise, in the supermarket we might say to the pro-abortion woman next to us, “Have you tried this item?” or point out a good bargain that we have discovered.) By focusing on the Samaritan woman’s continual need for water, Jesus established His presence in her life as someone who cared about her—despite their differences.
Then—in away that may seem awkward for us—Jesus took the conversation to a spiritual level. He offered her something that could not only satisfy her present thirst, but could keep her satisfied. He spoke of living water “springing up to eternal life” (verse 14). We may be afraid of bringing a spiritual dimension into our contacts with unbelievers, but Jesus wasn’t. He responded to her immediate need for water, but then He probed into her deeper need, a thirst for an unfailing source of love which no husband or lover could provide.
A PROPHETIC WORD
Only then, after letting her admit that she had no husband, did Jesus deliver the prophetic word the Father had given Him: “You have had five husbands, and the one whom you have now is not your husband; this you have said truly” (verse 18). She received this word without condemnation! Not only did this man care about her despite her differences, He cared about her despite her sin. His revelation was a power gift—but it was power delivered with the utmost compassion. The more we get in touch with His compassion, the more Jesus will entrust us with His power.
“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet” (verse 19)—she responded so readily because He was a prophet who knew not only the mind, but the heart of the Father as well. Now she was willing to hear His side on the issues that divided them: What was the true worship of God? Where was it supposed to take place? And how could we know who God really is?
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father.
“You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (verses 20-24).
Jesus did not give her a pat formula of steps to salvation. He gave her a proclamation of the gospel in terms she could understand. She wanted to know where to seek the true God: on this mountain, in that city, in that temple? But Jesus answered that God wasseeking her—here and now. In fact, He was seeking everyone, Jew or non-Jew, who worshiped in spirit and truth.
Yet this proclamation was not complete until she deferred the issues to the coming Messiah, saying that He would certainly declare the answers when He came. At this point, Jesus replied, “I who speak to you am He” (verse 26). The gospel is about more than just doctrinal truth—it is about knowing Jesus.
When the Samaritan woman reported her meeting with Jesus to her neighbors, she sparked a revival! The immediate response of faith in Him—by a formerly antagonistic audience—was confirmed by two days of persuasion.
And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (verses 41-42).
They had come to a remarkable conclusion: Jesus was not just the Savior of Jews, or of even of the Samaritans—He was the Savior of the world.
This great leap from hostility to faith took two days! “And after the two days He went forth from there into Galilee” (verse 43). I’m sure the Samaritans wanted Him to stay longer. But Jesus knew when to take His parting, and so must we. The reason for leaving may be that they’ve heard enough and need time to digest it, or because we’ve said enough and need to let God do the rest, or simply because God is leading us somewhere else.
SENSITIVITY TO THE SPIRIT
Most Christians don’t know how to move beyond being a presence in someone’s life to actually proclaiming the gospel. In this encounter with the woman of Samaria, Jesus showed us how to do this. After establishing a presence with her as someone who cared about her needs, He began probing deeper, into her spiritual needs, until her heart opened to receive the power of words which addressed those needs with the love of God. Then Jesus came forth with a proclamation of who God was and how to know Him. Finally, after two days of persuasion that Jesus really was the Savior of the world, He knew that it was time for parting.
But these six P’s (presence, probing, power, proclamation, persuasion and parting) aren’t complete without a seventh—prayer. When Jesus’ disciples returned and offered Him food, He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me” (verse 34). Jesus knew it was the Father’s will that He speak with the Samaritan woman. For this to happen, He must have been in an attitude of prayer when the Father revealed to Him the secrets of her heart.
If we can keep an attitude of prayer as we go about in the world, whether in the supermarket, at work, or on the street, We too will begin to see what the Father sees in unbelievers’ lives, and will find opportunities to lead them to Christ. Some months ago a young temporary worker whom I will call Reed—spent a day stocking inventory at the place where I worked. Whenever I passed him I was strongly reminded of a former friend of mine who got involved in Dungeons & Dragons—a demonic parlor game that for many becomes an obsession and a cult. I believed that God was showing me that Reed had fallen into that same trap. So I struck up an acquaintance with him and then said, “You play Dungeons & Dragons, don’t you?”
“How did you know?” he asked in surprise.
“The Lord showed me,” I replied. “In that game you’re looking for power over other people, but it’s the devil’s game, and he’s using it to gain power over you. If you knew the power of God, He would work for you and not against you.”
I could tell that Reed had respect for the supernatural, and that he took my word of knowledge for him seriously. But our work did not allow us another opportunity to speak privately, so I finally wrote down a Scripture on how Christ defeated the devil: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15 NIV). Reed received this gladly, and I later sent him a gospel tract and a personal letter through a mutual acquaintance.
Bob Weiner tells a fantastic story about how an attitude of prayer and a sensitivity to the Spirit can be a key in leading people to the Lord. One night he and his wife, Rose, were returning home from a youth group meeting. After he had pulled into the driveway, the Holy Spirit told him, “There is a girl down the road who is on drugs, and she just ran away from home. Go tell her about Jesus.”
By this time Rose had already started walking up the stairs, but Bob called out to her, ” Rose, you need to get back in the car. We have to talk to a girl about Jesus.”
“What girl?” she said, “not sure it was a very good idea to search out someone to witness to at 11 p.m.”
“Well,” Bob replied, “there is a girl two blocks down the street.”
I can’t see any girl!” Rose said.
Not to be dissuaded, Bob told her, “God said there is a girl down there and we have to go preach to her.” So 11 p.m., in pitch dark, Bob and Rose zoomed down the street. And sure enough, there was the girl! When the girl freaked out at the sight of Bob jumping out of the car and coming toward her, he assured her, “Don’t be afraid. God sent me here to help you. He told me you are on drugs and you just ran away from home.” Hearing that, the girl threw her arms around Bob and began to cry. “It’s just as you said,” she sobbed. “I’m on drugs and just ran away from home. Right before you drove up, I was praying that if there was a God in heaven, He would send someone here to help me.”
The girl gave her heart to Jesus that night! Because Bob was sensitive to the voice of the Lord, someone came to Christ. Like Jesus’ word of knowledge for the woman at the well, a supernatural word from God was the key to opening a heart to salvation.
Not every gospel seed that we sow will bear immediate fruit like this, and some will be like seed sown along the road, not bearing fruit at all (Mark 4:4). But if we are prayerful and compassionate, we can expect a wonderful harvest:
I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.
“Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (John 4:35-36).