Good Food and Friendship

July 21, 2012

by Maria Fontaine

One of Peter’s hobbies is cooking, although he’s never had a lot of time to devote to it. Now it’s turning out to be a wonderful tool in our ministering to others. The Lord recently reminded me how often He had dinner with people He wanted to reach. There are several examples in the Bible of meals that Jesus had with nonbelievers.[1] His enemies even accused Him of being a glutton (in today’s English vernacular we would say “pig”) and a drunk, and keeping company with the riffraff and disreputable of society. They said, “Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”[2]

Apparently He spent quite a bit of time sitting at the dinner table sharing the good news that God’s kingdom had come. Jesus knew that breaking bread together was a way of showing His unconditional acceptance of others, which helped them to be receptive to His healing love. He showed us by example that this can be a wonderful opportunity to reach people’s hearts through reaching their bodies.

When we invite people over to our house for a meal, they usually love the food and are impressed by Peter’s cooking ability. However, what impresses them the most is the love and care and time and effort that he puts into the meal, doing everything he can to make it delicious and putting the extra little touches on it that they will appreciate.

Often, we will ask them beforehand what they would like to eat with us, or give them some options to choose from.

Recently, we prepared one such meal for an acquaintance whom the Lord showed us would very much appreciate the extra attention that he was being shown through Peter making a special meal just for him. This was a man we had met on various occasions, but there had never been an opportunity to talk about the Lord or anything spiritual, although we had a connect with him and we knew he liked us and we liked him.

At the beginning of the meal, as we were about to eat and he had already picked up his fork, Peter interjected, “Do you mind if we say a little prayer for the food?” Although it surprised him a bit, he nodded his agreement and Peter proceeded to not only thank the Lord for the food, but also for this man and the blessing he had been to us and that he was to others as well—that he was reliable, dependable, and knowledgeable in his field of expertise.

Although it was a short prayer, it seemed that it moved him and helped him to feel an even greater link with us. It’s amazing how powerful just a simple prayer can be in someone’s life. I think it’s because they actually feel God’s Spirit. It's not necessarily the words you say or how eloquent you are—though I'm sure Peter's words of appreciation for this man's skill and helpful nature were encouraging for him—but it is also because they sense that you do indeed have a relationship with the God of the universe, and you speak to Him as a friend and as though you have trust and confidence that He will take care of whatever you ask.

That was the one and only time during the meal that we had a chance to acknowledge the Lord and spiritual things directly. The rest of the time was devoted to listening to him talk about his business problems, as well as his health and his family. It was surprising to have him open up so much and make himself so vulnerable on our first personal social occasion.

Just prior to his arrival he had told us on the phone that he would only be able to stay for an hour, as he had a previous engagement that he had to fulfill, but instead he ended up staying for nearly three hours and seemed loath to leave even then.

When we asked the Lord what the meal had accomplished, He told us that the man had felt welcomed and comforted, and had very much appreciated the time that we were willing to listen. He had felt safe in spirit to talk about the deeper things on his heart. The Lord also told us that his faith in friendship, which had previously been damaged, had been strengthened through our time together.

While I thought this was very sweet and certainly worth it in his life, I wondered how that would help bring him closer to the Lord. After pondering that a bit, we asked the Lord about it. He reminded us that with people who see God as someone far off in heaven, we can’t expect them to go straight from zero into a full-fledged relationship with Him. To their mind it would be presumptuous to even imagine that God would stoop to be a friend to sinful man or that He’d talk directly to them and be interested in helping them on a personal basis. In this man’s life it had to come step by step through his feeling good about us and accepted by us, and feeling our unconditional love and our appreciation before he could understand that he was accepted and loved and appreciated by the Lord. In a way, we were showing little bits of the Lord’s character to him that could eventually, over time, lead him to have a personal link with the Lord.

For many of us who are more involved in this type of longer-term witnessing, it can be a little discouraging or disappointing at first. We’re so accustomed to picking the almost overripe fruits off the ground that the patient tending and nurturing of the crop as it develops into an eventual harvest can seem ineffective or inefficient by comparison. But we have to remember that for most people, finding the truth is a multistep process.

Of course, each person’s process is different. Some, because the seed has been sown in their lives by others in other situations, are ripe and ready to receive Him immediately—and in those situations, it’s our duty to give them a clear witness so that they can take the step to receive the Lord. But for many others, who are in earlier stages of their journey toward the Lord, it will take more time.

In this man’s case, the things that he heard and felt at our dinner that night were things that he needed, not in order to gain faith in the Lord right away (that wasn’t even on his mind), but instead to gain faith in people, as so many had disillusioned him and disappointed him in the past. So often, how people have been treated by others can influence their perception of God’s love for them, both positively and negatively.

In the past we have often come in on the tail end of the process, but now more and more, the Lord is bringing to us those in need at a much earlier stage. We need to learn to be patient and to take the time needed to walk with them on their journey and gently guide them into the paths the Lord shows us to, which will eventually lead them to Him.

I recently read some quotes along this line, which were a good reminder of these principles:

"The value of a person was an essential part of Jesus' message—-and this must be so for us as well ... We often underestimate the role we may play in clearing the obstacles in someone's spiritual journey. A seed sown here, a light shone there may be all that is needed to move that person one step further along the way. Often the conversation will move from the smokescreens of supposed questions of the mind to the real questions of the heart. Effective evangelism finds the bridge to connect both."

"Most of us have been taught that evangelism is 'proclaiming the good news and inviting others to trust Christ.' Yet, a valuable element is missing in that definition. The missing element is simply that evangelism is a process. The apostle Paul said, 'I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow' (1 Cor. 3:6). You and I may not be able in one conversation to share all of the Gospel with our nonbelieving friends and then invite them to trust Christ. But we may be able to help them take a step closer with each encounter."

"We are not called to bring all persons to Christ but simply to bring Christ to all persons."[3]

In this man's case, the Lord assured us that this longer investment of time is worth it. If it weren’t, He wouldn’t ask it of us. The Lord said:

This man needs to build his trust in you as a friend, because your link to Me will draw him closer to Me as well. This dinner was the first step. It made a major impression on him. He wasn’t expecting it. It’s like a new door has opened into this dark hallway that he is standing in, and light is streaming through it. He is gradually moving toward it, curious and attracted, but also a little gun-shy and cautious from past hurts.

You can’t rush people. It’s like fishing. You have to sit still for as long as it takes. There’s no way to push the fish along. You just have to decide that whatever it takes, you’re ready to patiently give.

This man has taken a step. He’s accepted you as his friends. For him at this time, this is very important. The stronger that trust grows, the more he will be open to what you tell him. In time it will bring him into a relationship with Me that is personal and deep. It was a huge step for him to open himself up and make himself vulnerable.

I want you to know that it’s not what it means to you, but how significant it is for him, that measures its importance. That’s why I look on the heart. That is where the true measure of results and progress and victories are found. By that standard, your evening was a success.

Souls and teaching and training others to love and follow Jesus are still primary goals in our witness. For many, how we go about this has changed as we adapt to new situations, but that doesn't mean that we don’t still have a mandate from the Lord and the responsibility to use whatever situation we're in to follow His leadings and to reach out to others in the ways He shows us to.

Sometimes the souls will come quickly and at other times we will need to invest time, prayer, faith, love, and patience to bring someone to receive Him and to know and to love Him. Whatever place we find ourselves in, if we do all we can to follow Him, He will make us fruitful in the tasks He has for us. God bless you.

[1] Luke 5:29–32, 15:1–7, 19:1–7; John 2:1–10.

[2] Matthew 11:19 NKJV.

[3] Norman and David Geisler, Conversational Evangelism (Harvest House Publishers, 2009), p. 11, 23.