What do a prayerful businesswoman, a suicidal security guard (both in Acts 16), an out of control noisy neighbour (Mark 5), and a woman with a long history of bad relationships (John 4) have in common? The obvious answer is that they each had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, but a further look into their stories shows that they were powerfully used by God as door openers for the gospel to impact their families, communities, towns and even regions.
Church planters often call these types ‘People of Peace’; a name taken from Jesus’ instructions when he sent out the 12 and the 72 to minister in towns and villages. Frontiers teams, who for years have been ministering throughout the Muslim world, have observed that in every significant movement towards Christ the gospel has ultimately spread through insiders in the community; the people of peace.
HOW DO YOU RECOGNISE THEM?
A person of peace is an unsaved man, woman or child who peacefully welcomes the gospel messenger, is open to their message, and either draws in others to listen to the messenger or is willing to pass it on themselves.
Cornelius is a good example. He is introduced to us as an army officer who believes in God, gives generously to the poor, prays regularly and has his prayers answered. Yet because he has neither come to faith in Jesus nor received the Holy Spirit he needs to hear the good news. When the apostle Peter accepts an invitation to his house he discovers Cornelius has already gathered his family, relatives and close friends to hear his message. Cornelius is a man of peace. The result? A whole household believes, Peter’s team is astonished by what they see, and a new church is born.
Not everyone who is open to the gospel is a person of peace. Some, like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, come to faith in Jesus and continue as secret believers. Others leave their families and continue following Jesus as part of a church. However, people of peace tend to stay where they are and open the door that the gospel might impact their own people.
HOW DO YOU FIND THEM?
Firstly, pray for them. It really does feel like a miracle when you find someone who is not only open to your message but is enthusiastic about bringing others on board. These kinds of people do exist, even in places considered most hostile to the gospel. When Jesus told us to pray and, ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers’ our experience shows that many of those key workers will come from within the harvest.
The second thing is to intentionally and specifically search for them. In his excellent book ‘Contagious Disciple Making’, David Watson says, “God is at work in people’s hearts even before we walk into their lives.” If God is leading people towards him we need eyes to find these seekers. When we do meet them if we’re not intentionally encouraging them to pass on the things they’re hearing they often don’t. One example of where Jesus modelled this is in Mark 5. When the demoniac he’d just healed begged to join Jesus’ apostolic band Jesus wouldn’t let him. Instead he told him, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
As we pray for unreached peoples and places in the Muslim world, let’s particularly pray for many more men and women of peace like the woman at the well, Cornelius and the Philippian jailer – those who will hear the good news, follow Jesus and bring others with them.