The Word Among Us

January 2011 Issue

Go Out to All the World!

Answering the Call to Evangelize

Go Out to All the World!: Answering the Call to Evangelize

Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

The beginning of a new year is always a good time to make new resolutions and set goals for the coming months. Physically, we may decide to work out, cut down on the junk food, and lose weight. At home, we may resolve to spend more time with our family and less time watching television. We may decide to finally get to those home- improvement projects we keep thinking about.

What about our spiritual goals? Are there steps we can take that will help us draw closer to the Lord this year? Or maybe we feel a call to get out and serve him more fully. There are so many things we can choose in this area, but this year we thought God wanted us to encourage everyone to look at an area that is very dear to his heart: the call to evangelization.

We know that evangelization is important to the Lord because it was the last command he gave to us before he ascended into heaven: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

Why is evangelization so important to the Lord? Let’s use an analogy. Imagine a family in which half of the children are thriving, and the other half are struggling or have lost their way. Imagine how difficult this situation must be for the parents. They want all of their children to do well, and it pains them to see some of them hurting. In a similar way, our heavenly Father wants every person on earth to embrace his love and his blessings and his redemption. He wants everyone to live a happy, productive life under his guidance. He wants this so much, in fact, that he has called all of us to work with him toward this goal. He wants all of us to think of ourselves as his ambassadors announcing his words of life ?(2 Corinthians 5:20).

So as we begin this new year, let’s ask the Lord to give us a greater desire to “perform the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). Let’s ask him to give us the clarity and courage we need to fulfill such a high calling.

It’s Work, but It’s Worth It. Let’s face it: Evangelizing is hard work. It takes effort and planning on our part, and it always includes the risk of being rejected. But any reluctance we might feel can begin to melt away as we come to understand how much Jesus weeps over those people who don’t know him or don’t practice their faith.

Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel highlights how deeply God wants those who are lost to come home to him. In this chapter, Jesus tells three different parables that focus on a lost-and-found theme. In each of these three stories—about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son—Jesus places a great emphasis on the end result. When he finds the lost sheep, for instance, the shepherd calls his friends together to celebrate with him. When a woman finds her lost coin, she too rejoices with her friends. And when the lost son comes home, his father throws a big party to celebrate.

We can all relate to these stories. We have either lost a child in a crowd, or we ourselves have been lost as children. Whenever parents lose track of a child, they search high and low. If the missing child doesn’t show up right away, they begin to worry, and their minds race. But when the child is found, the parents experience a huge sense of relief, joy, and happiness. Similarly, Jesus thinks about us all the time. He loves us so much, and he worries when we are separated from him. He wants only good for us. That’s why he is so happy whenever we come home to him.

Putting Things in Perspective. These parables give us insight into the way God thinks. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus tells us: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Luke 15:7).

Jesus enjoys being with us. He appreciates it when we come to Mass or when we pray. He is gratified when we share his love with our family, our friends, and the needy. He is pleased when we try our best to follow him and be like him. But as much as these situations please him, he is even more pleased when someone who is not practicing their faith comes home. It is so important to Jesus that he asks us to leave the ninety-nine—in effect to put those who are doing well at some risk—and go after those who are lost.

Can you see God’s mind? Can you see how hard he searches for the lost, just as the father of the prodigal son kept a vigil for his boy? Can you see how deeply he wants all of his children to come home to him? Can you hear him calling you to go into the world and seek out those who are far from him? But it doesn’t end with the call to evangelize. God also longs for us to join him in rejoicing every time someone who was lost comes home. He wants all of us to join in the celebration!

The Valley of Dry Bones. Living in exile in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel received a vision from God that filled him with hope. In his vision, he saw a valley filled with dry bones—a symbol of his fellow Jews in Babylon. Like the bones, they were feeling dried up and lifeless. They had lost their hope because they felt cut off from God and didn’t know the way back to him. God commanded Ezekiel to speak his words to the bones, and as he did, they came back together and formed a mighty army filled with the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

In a similar way, God has placed many of us in situations where we are surrounded by people who feel spiritually dry. They may be family members, friends, neighbors, or co-workers. And just as he did for Ezekiel, he also tells us to speak his words and help bring these people back to life. He wants us to tell them about his promise of redemption and new life. He wants us to encourage them to reach out to Jesus. He wants us to tell them: “God loves you, and he wants to fill you with his Spirit and shower you with many blessings.”

In the vision, God told Ezekiel to announce God’s desire to breathe life into the Israelites so that they could “come to life” (Ezekiel 37:9). Likewise, God wants us to tell people that he wants to fill them with his life, his vitality, and his purpose. He wants them to know that it’s not just a matter of good theology, it’s the power of God flowing in them that will bring them back to life.

So it’s up to us to follow God’s commands. We need to believe that God wants us to become his voice in the world, raising people up from their own dry “valleys.” God is prepared to bring home people who are far from him. He is prepared to bring them out of their graves of hopelessness, sin, and separation from him. And he wants us to join him in this great effort!

“Always Be Ready.” When it comes to the call to evangelize, it’s hard to beat one short verse from the First Letter of Peter. Peter begins the verse by telling us: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15). He calls us to consecrate our lives to Jesus, to make sure that our hearts are set on loving him and pleasing him as we go throughout the day.

But then, Peter tells us: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15). So in addition to giving our lives to the Lord every day, we should be ready to testify about the Lord as well. We should be ready to talk about our faith in a personal and tangible way, to be both clear and passionate about Jesus and our relationship with him. Of course, Peter hastens to add, we should do so “with gentleness and reverence” (3:16).

Imagine how much joy it would bring to Jesus if each of us followed Peter’s advice! Imagine how happy the Lord would be if each of us were to consecrate ourselves to him every day and look for ways to testify about him to the people around us who are spiritually dry. Even if we weren’t completely successful, Jesus would still rejoice at our efforts. And when someone comes back to him because of our witness, then all of heaven will rejoice, and Jesus himself will say to us: “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).