A couple of years ago I corresponded with a pastor from a small community. He had knocked on every door in his town, inviting people to church, with not one visitor to show for his work. I thought about him when I read what Jesus told Paul in his vision in Corinth:
“Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9-10)
I never doubted that the Lord had people, both saved and in his election queue, in the places I served but sometimes I wondered if he intended to direct any of them to our congregation.
Jesus was assuring Paul that there would be more converts despite the fierce opposition. I am not sure Jesus would make a promise of converts to every pastor, but I do think that Jesus would promise each of us, as Kent Hughes put it, “Your work will not be in vain.” God never posts us anywhere for nothing. He never wastes his servants’ time, even when it seems as though all we do is stand and wait. If you woke from such a vision, what would you do?
First and foremost, we should pray for fruit with focus and bold confidence. Jesus promised,
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:7-8)
Pray till we know where to go, what to plan, who to talk to, and especially, what to preach. Ask God, again and again, for open doors and then keep trying every doorknob you see.
Whatever else Paul did in Corinth, what we’re told is that he “devoted himself exclusively to preaching” (v. 5). After describing the vision, verse 11 says, “So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.”
Preaching isn’t only done from pulpits, but our pastoral duty is to put God’s Word front and center at every opportunity, always using Scripture to shine the light on Christ. Our sermons particularly must be living and powerful. Wordwork, like Jesus’ command to love one another, can seem like such a slow strategy for finding and feeding God’s people in our community but that’s his way. That’s our mandate.
Then there is the necessity of perseverance. We stay at the work till the Lord reassigns us or calls us home. As Galatians 6:8-9 says, “[W]hoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Since I can’t help getting physically and emotionally weary, I take that to mean, “do not surrender to weariness, because the harvest—the fruit—will be your great reward.”
God maintains a kind of concealed census of his elect. Some are destined to cross paths with you or other saints who will bring them to Jesus. Others are found and are already under your care. Watch over them, feed them, and lead them in the footsteps of Jesus. It is just as important not to lose sheep as to find them in the first place.
True to his word, God did have many people there. I have a friend, Katarina, a member of my former church, who grew up in an evangelical church in … (you guessed it) Corinth.
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.