Jerry was a successful businessman whose wealth had afforded him a comfortable life in the northern suburbs of Chicago. He was also a prominent member of the Jewish community. When he was in his 70s, Jerry retired and handed over his company to his son.
That’s when we met and began getting together weekly to study the Bible. Within a few months, I had the privilege of praying with Jerry to receive the Lord. It turns out Jerry had actually believed that Jesus was our Messiah for most of his life—yet it took all those decades to receive Him as Savior. How was this possible?
When Jerry was a child, his parents were unable to send him to the Jewish sleep away summer camp. They instead allowed him to attend the Vacation Bible School at a nearby Lutheran church. During that VBS, Jerry memorized John 3:16—and he never forgot that Bible verse. Throughout his life he believed the Scripture verse was true, but he hid that thought away and never acted on it. Years later, that seed finally bore fruit and Jerry became a follower of Christ.
This true story illustrates an important principle of witnessing: never underestimate the effectiveness of sowing a gospel seed—no matter how long it may take to produce fruit! The Bible uses farming or gardening metaphors over and over to illustrate how the gospel does its work. We may not see with our physical eyes what is happening below the surface, but with eyes of faith we can be encouraged to continue sowing and watering and leave the rest to God. If you want to be encouraged, view your efforts to fulfill the Great Commission through this lens.
A farmer’s labor may be evidenced by the harvest, but much skill and hard work is invested in all that leads up to it. God entrusts the sowing and watering to us, but bringing the seed to fruition is always His part. (1 Corinthians 3:7). Can we practice the patience and diligence of a farmer and anticipate what God will do, no matter how long it takes? That is not easy in our results-oriented, instant gratification-demanding culture.
Our Jews for Jesus founder Moishe Rosen put it this way: “A spiritual harvest of souls for God’s Kingdom requires the same painstaking care a farmer gives his field if it is to yield a harvest. Yet many church and para-church programs fail, because in seeking a spiritual harvest they do not take into account the developmental nature of the gospel seed. You cannot harvest what you have not sown.”
One way we sow in Jews for Jesus is through our street evangelism. The visibility of our Jews for Jesus T-shirts is part of seed-sowing, as are the gospel tracts we hand out and the conversations we have right on the street.
Someone once told me they didn’t like handing out tracts and didn’t believe it to be very effective. I said that I could understand why a person wouldn’t especially enjoy handing out tracts but wondered what specifically made it seem ineffective. The response was, “I tried it once and nothing happened.”
Just imagine a would-be farmer who goes out to sow seeds one day, and when there’s no sign of fruit at the end of the day, he decides he doesn’t want to waste his time doing that again! Or the person who puts one seed in the ground and waits to see what will happen before he sows any more.
The Scripture says that he who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, in reference to the Christian responsibility of giving. The same holds true for our witnessing efforts. It takes diligence, hard work and lots and lots of patience along with more than just a little seed sown. Just ask the hard- working farmer.
Of course, street ministry is only one way to sow gospel seed. Can you think of other ways? Most of us have opportunities to sow gospel seed through our everyday interactions. We speak with our neighbors, with the person at the dry cleaners, in line at the grocery store. Each exchange affords a potential opportunity to sow gospel seed.
In their book Witnessing to Jews, Moishe and Ceil Rosen called this effort WOW: witnessing on the way. Such efforts require us to be alert to opportunities and to take advantage when they present themselves. I have heard of wonderful witnessing opportunities with Jewish people simply because a Christian chose to wear a Star of David necklace with a cross in it. The jewelry provoked curiosity and led to a gospel witness.
Several months ago I wrote an article about William Wilberforce and how he used what he called “Launchers” to initiate gospel conversations with people he knew. Try it! Don’t worry or become discouraged if it doesn’t always lead into the conversation you’d hoped for. We need to present opportunities for people to think about the Lord and leave the rest to Him.
A few months ago I went out to lunch with my brother-in-law, Loren Jacobs. It was Purim, the Jewish festival celebrating the deliverance of the Jewish people as recorded in the book of Esther. The hostess at the restaurant asked the simple question, “How are you today?” Loren answered as he often does these days: “I am blessed by the three in one God of Israel who loves me and sent his Son Jesus Christ to be my Savior.”
Our hostess was surprised and intrigued to hear Loren mention the God of Israel as being three in one and inquired what he meant. We learned that she had grown up in an Orthodox Jewish home, went to Hebrew school all the way from day school to high school and yet, she confided, she wasn’t sure how much good it had done her. Loren explained that we are Jews for Jesus and what that means. With a further polite exchange we wished each other a happy holiday and she went back to work.
After lunch Loren surprised me by returning to the hostess (her name was Yanna) to give her a ten-dollar bill. He mentioned the custom of shalach manot or giving gifts to one another at Purim, a custom that Yanna knew well. I commented on Loren’s generosity and he explained, “I want her to remember that gospel seed we planted.” That really impressed me.
How much are we willing to invest in sowing the seed of the gospel that there might be a harvest to the glory of God? As Yeshua said, the seed we sow will land in all kinds of soils. It will be sown in the midst of tares, but if we are faithful to sow that seed we should have no doubt whatsoever that God will bring the increase.
For more on how gospel seed works, you might also like “Delayed Harvest” by Jhan Moskowitz.