Last Friday, a small group of Moody Bible Institute students went out to the State and Division bar district in Chicago as part of the Free Prayer ministry on Friday nights, in which we hold cardboard signs saying “Free Prayer” up to passerby from 11 pm-2 am or later and pray for people, love on them, and share the Gospel with them.
Three of us, Katelyn Shedd, Joey Lackey and I, were standing there on the street corner around 1 am, when an Asian man came up to us and asked us what we were doing. As soon as we explained, the very next thing he said was, “Can you see the frustration on my face?” Slightly apprehensive of his answer, we asked what he was frustrated about, and he said “I feel so empty inside.” You could tell that he was at rock bottom, because he had nothing left to hide and was so brutally honest about his life and how miserable he was. He told us that his family and girlfriend are all still in China, and he feels homesick and utterly alone. As soon as he said that, I said to him “Man, I just want to tell you that you are so loved. People are fickle, and they fail us, but God loves us with perfect loyalty. He said that He would never leave you nor forsake you.” He seemed to listen to that for a moment, and told us that his name was Gen Li. Then he proceeded into a total rant about the meaninglessness of life (which so strongly reminded me of Ecclesiastes!). He was adamant that nothing in the world really fulfills. He said “I make $270,000 a year, but I’m not happy. I bought this shirt for $800, but no one even notices.” He said he could go get drunk (we were on a bar street), or even get sexual action, but it wouldn’t really give him sustainable happiness. He pointed around to everyone bustling from one bar to the next, and started decrying how shallow and futile their lives were. I could tell Katelyn couldn’t keep silent anymore, it was at this point that she spoke up and said, “Yeah! Nothing really satisfies, right?”
I began talking about how satisfaction can only be found in Christ. I don’t remember exactly what we said, but we affirmed everything he had said about the futility of striving for fulfillment in anything outside of Christ. We spoke to the effect that in Him is to be found FULLNESS of joy, love, peace, and hope. That He is the very meaning of life itself.
He responded, “I hear what you’re saying, but it’s still an abstraction to me. Can you tell me like your story?” (YES!, we all shouted internally!) Joey then took him aside and told him his testimony. This was not the first time he’d encountered a Christian. He told us that once he’d been driving to St. Louis, and his tire blew out. A man pulled over to the side of the road, helped him change his tire, and gave him a Bible, which he still had to this day. He said that the guy had created his own evangelistic website, and had told him that the whole mission of his life was to make Jesus known to the world.
A couple other women came up, and Kaitlyn and I were occupied with talking with and praying for them for a while (which were clearly God-ordained conversations as well in their own right!) Afterwards, when we regrouped with Gen and Joey, he had given Gen a full-on Gospel presentation. Later, I drilled Joey about what he said to him, and he just clearly explained the tenets of the Good News, including that every person has sinned innumerable times against a holy God, and that there is no amount of good deeds we could do to save ourselves. He said he explained it to him with the illustration of a list in which all of your good deeds over the course of your life are written down in green, and all of your sins, your wrongdoings, in red. He said that if there was even one red item on the list, we are total sinners, deserving of the eternal punishment of God. Joey told me that the entire time he was explaining the Gospel, Gen was engaged, and would ask insightful questions and comment in his own words on what Joey was explaining to him–showing that he fully understood the Gospel Joey was proclaiming. When Joey explained to him about Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice–that God sent his own Son to be excruciatingly executed for sin in our place, so that we would be redeemed from our sins and given immortal life with Him in Heaven after our death–Gen exclaimed, “That’s insane!”
Mmm, that reaction does my heart so much good. He got it! He saw the insanity of God, the scandal of grace! Oh church, may we see the Gospel with the eyes of a lost soul discovering it for the first time.
He told Joey that his mother, a Buddhist, used to teach him that everyone’s souls were reincarnated after they die. Joey pointed out that would just be an endless cycle, and Gen replied, “I know, it doesn’t make sense!” At a couple other points in the conversation, he asked, with customary frankness, “So what do I get out of it?” and then “So what do I do?” [Joey and my roommate later remarked to me that it was as if the Holy Spirit were putting words in his mouth to draw out the full Gospel.] To the first question, Joey said, “To be fulfilled forever in the presence of God.” To the second question, Joey answered, “Nothing. Christ did it all. All you do is trust in what Christ did for you.”
After having shared the Gospel from beginning to end with him, Joey asked him, “So man, do you want to make that decision? Do you want to pray to make Christ your Lord, your Savior?” Gen looked up at the sky as if thinking for a moment, looked back down and said with a tone of what I can only describe as decisive and yet broken surrender, “Yes.”
At that point, Kaitlyn and I lost it. We both just started sobbing for joy. Right then, right there, on a street corner in the middle of passing crowds trying to get tipsy, we circled up and put our arms around each other, and Joey led him in praying through the Gospel, the sinner’s prayer, the prayer of salvation. He said, just tell Jesus whatever is in your heart, and you can pray after me too. It had been sprinkling/raining the entire time we had talked with him, but out of nowhere while we were praying someone stuck the handle of an umbrella in between our heads so that it rested on our shoulders and covered our heads, then when we were just finishing praying, the same person (I never saw who they were) came and lifted the umbrella off and took it back.
Afterward, there was a gentle smile playing around Gen’s lips. Joey, Kaitlyn, and I on the other hand, couldn’t wipe the grins off our faces! We all gave him and each other so many massive hugs I lost count. Joey told him, “We’re family now!! You’re our brother!!” We all got his phone number, and Joey immediately invited him to his church that Sunday, which he said he would go to. He said that he had gone to a Baha’i church in Chicago a few times before, and that they believed that there was one true God, but that every religion’s worship was equally received by that God. I clearly explained to him that this was in total contradiction with all of Christ’s teaching, and that it nullified the Cross. Upon hearing this, he said, “Oh, well I guess I don’t need that church anymore.” After the countless hugs and promises to get together again for further discipleship, he finally said goodbye and headed off down the sidewalk.
The rest of the night we could hardly contain our joy, and the rest of the weekend I was positively glowing inside.
I had come SO close to not coming that night though. The previous weeks of me doing Free Prayer had been extremely intense and very spiritually taxing. At one point I was surrounded by hecklers. At another, after sharing the Gospel with someone he told me that he was “no longer buying what I was selling.” But what impacted me most was encountering a man who flat-out told me that he knew his heart was so dark and that he was running from God in his pride, and yet after hearing and showing receptive agreement with my fervent intercession for his soul and my heartfelt pleading with him to stop running and even my warning him of the inevitability of the coming judgement I saw him swaggering shirtless out of a gay bar.
My discouragement had resulted from my prizing results over obedience, however. When I talked to the man who made all the admissions about his own prodigality and inward depravity, I felt very clear peace from the Holy Spirit that I had prayed what He wanted me to pray and said all He wanted me to say. I made the exceedingly foolish mistake of going to bed that night frustrated at God for that man’s responses. The next day I repented, because it was the sheer grace of God that He was extending an offer of mercy to him that night, though He knew He would be rejected and spurned once again. I had forgotten the Scriptures. Isaiah 65:2-3 says, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations—a people who continually provoke me to my very face…”
Don’t misunderstand me. Evangelism, and discipleship, are hard ministries. They are not for the faint of heart. However, those who commit to them will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to keep their head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and discharge all the duties of their ministry (2 Timothy 4:5). And if we do not give up, we WILL see the fruit of all of our painstaking labor. Souls WILL be brought to Christ through our ministries (Galatians 6:9). NEVER GIVE UP PREACHING THE GOSPEL!
I had been doing street evangelism at least weekly, seldomly missing a week, for 2 years 4 months, and had never seen someone pray to receive Christ. And then, when I was least expecting it, grace collided with a frustrated and dissatisfied man, and He. answered. my. prayers. I have been interceding heavily for the Holy Spirit to do the miracle of regeneration in the souls of the lost for years now. I and many others have interceded in weekly prayer gatherings for the salvation of the Christless. He responded to every tear over the lost that was shed, every cry of our souls on our knees in secret prayer.
He’s answered our prayers.
I still can’t believe that I got to see it happen. It’s a moment I will always remember, and never stop blessing the Lord for all my life. I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God to save.
How could I? Do you understand what I witnessed? That night a sinner became a saint. A beggar became royalty. An infidel became a son of God. A foreigner to the covenants became a partaker of the promise. A rich, bankrupt man was given an true and incalculable wealth by becoming a co-heir with Christ. He was given salvation, justification, regeneration, redemption, and atonement. He will never again know the utter misery of being separated from Christ. He will never taste the second death. All the joys of the world left him achingly empty, but now he will be saturated, past maximum capacity, with the joy of the Triune God forever and ever unending.
Once again, this has only affirmed to me that there’s no God I would rather serve, worship, pursue, and give my whole heart to.
I love my life.
I love my God.
“Filled with wonder, awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your Name
Jesus, Your Name is power, breath and living water
Such a marvelous mystery
Holy, Holy, Holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Who was, and is, and is to come
With all Creation I sing praise to the King of Kings
You are my everything. And I will adore You.”
–Revelation Song by Kari Jobe