by C.T.L. Spear
There is a universal familiarity of Americans with the song Amazing Grace, and an excellent gospel tract about its story. Some time ago, I discovered a unique and compelling way of using the song and story of the songwriter in witnessing to a wide demographic of the populace. Although I have not used this approach much with children, I find it is useful with most people, from young teens to senior citizens.
Here is the way I employ this excellent tool: When I meet a person, in almost any setting, I find a way to ask, “Do you know much about music?” (I really don’t care how they answer, because I am only using this question to launch the conversation. So, it doesn’t matter whether they say “Yes” or “No.”) Some may reply with an explanation of their interest or lack of interest in music. A few may begin to tell me about childhood music lessons, or a particular genre or stye of music they prefer. This is fine with me, because as I listen to whatever they wish to say, I know that any resistance to me talking about my point of view is dissipating. In fact, by listening with interest to their comments, nodding agreement if possible, smiling, and even offering encouraging comments, I am already on my way to winning a hearing for the Amazing Grace story.
My next question is, “Have you heard of a song called . . . um . . . Amazing Grace?” I usually hesitate as if I’m having trouble recalling the title of the song in order to further lower their defenses. If they imagine that I am speaking off-the-cuff, they are more likely to allow me to continue, since curiosity often overrides suspicion.
Usually, the response I get at this point is laced with incredulity, something like, “Oh, everybody knows Amazing Grace.” To which I immediately reply, “Who wrote it?” Few are able to answer that, so again, this approach puts them off balance for a moment, keeps them focused on answering my queries, and intensifies interest.
Soul-winning often provides a venue for humor. Once, I asked a man in Florida about Amazing Grace, and he replied, “Ever’body know’ Amazin‘ Grace.” I asked, “Who wrote it?” He wrinkled his brow, “W-w-was it Ray Charles?” I nearly lost my composure!
I wait a few moments while they try to recall who wrote the song, then I follow up with another question: “How old is it?” This question has provided some comic relief also. One young lady said, “Oh, it’s really old.” So, I asked, “How old?” She said, “At least fifty years.” I grinned and said, “Don’t insult me like that.” We both snickered, because I am over sixty.
THE MAIN PRESENTATION
Next, I launch into the main part of my presentation: “It was written by a guy named John Newton, who lived during the 1700’s. He was Captain of a slave trading ship. His Christian mother begged him not to go into the slave trade, but his Dad was a slave trader, and he knew he could make a lot of money. So he bought people captured in Africa and sold them in slave auctions in the American colonies. So you see, the song is over 200 years old. Another amazing thing is, it is still recorded year after year.”
Continuing, I say, “Now you can see why he wrote the lyrics he did: ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a WRETCH like me.’ – He knew he was a wretch! He abused and probably killed a lot of people, treating them worse than livestock. He was so cruel and vile that his own crew of sailors despised him. Once, he was drunk and fell overboard. He couldn’t swim. They argued whether to just let him drown. Finally, they harpooned him like a whale and dragged him back on board half drowned. He could have died from the wounds. Later, his ship was overtaken by another ship. They flogged him and nearly beat him to death! During that time, he remembered his mother’s prayers and began to cry out to God in prayer, begging the Lord to save him. Amazingly, his prayers (or his mother’s) were answered. He made it back to England. There, he became a Christian, married a fine lady, and eventually became a preacher. He wrote over 500 gospel songs, but the only one we still sing is Amazing Grace.”
A ONE-WORD DEFINITION
There are usually some comments about the story, so I listen and offer my own remarks in response to whatever they say. As soon as feasible without rude interruption, I ask my next question: “May I ask you a question that I ask people all the time? Could you give me a one-word definition of the word GRACE?”
It is my experience that it is best to ask for a one-word definition. Otherwise, they may filibuster, repeating platitudes and ideas to impress or simply to “muddy the waters.” By limiting the request to one word, you also eliminate the likelihood of religiously trained people spouting definitions they’ve learned in catechism or Sunday school. Most will be stumped, and will stall, trying to think of an appropriate answer. Many offer various one-word answers, such as “faith,” “God,” “love,” “hope,” or “Jesus.” I smile approvingly at each attempt, but shake my head indicating it is a wrong answer. Most will only attempt one answer.
Then I say, “The word grace comes from a Greek word Charis (pronounced Kair-is). Some people name their daughter Charis. Have you heard of that? The word derives from a word that means ‘gift’ – but not just any gift. This is an undeserved, unearned gift. That is what John Newton was writing about in the song. He knew he was a wretch, who did not deserve God’s mercy and kindness, but God gave him that Amazing GIft anyway. He realized that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of our sin, to provide that undeserved gift to each of us.”
Depending upon their responses, I may go ahead with a simple appeal to believe the promises of God: that He provided Eternal Life as a gift to undeserving sinners, which includes all of mankind. If I sense conviction and an open heart, I go directly to my closing questions.
However, if I’ve sensed some resistance to the idea that he is a sinner; if I sense doubt about the deity of Christ, or the certainty of God’s Judgment, or sense any indication that they need a more thorough presentation of the gospel (the good news of God’s grace), I usually ask them to look with me at verses like these: Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 5:12, 10:9-10, John 3:15-18, I John 5:11-13. Using a question – answer approach, I try to ascertain what may be the problem in their mind, repelling them from Christ. I try to provide Bible answers to resolve these issues. Many people in America have some understanding of gospel truth, but most do not understand the concept of grace.
Frequently, I use this approach at some point in my presentation of the gospel: “There really are only two categories of religion (or 2 kinds) in the world. One is a religion of works. Works religion always says, ‘Here is a list of things you must DO, and a list of things you must NOT DO, in order to go to heaven. If you DO all the do’s (or most of them) and DON’T all the don’ts, you’ll ‘make it.’ But the Bible says ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us’ (Titus 3:5). Ephesians 2:8-9 says, ‘by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.’ If we could ‘make it’ by our works, we could brag about it, but we have no right to boast, because our best works are insufficient.”
“The other kind is the religion of Grace – ‘by grace are ye saved through faith.’ Romans 6:23 says, ‘the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
Jesus Christ paid the price for your sin (and mine) with His blood on the cross. He offers eternal life as a free gift to all who will receive it.”
Always, my goal is to get to my closing questions: “Let me ask you an open-ended question. Salespeople usually ask questions that hint at the answer they want you to give. Such as, ‘You’d like the red car, wouldn’t you?’ (nodding head vigorously). But, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I just want to help you think this through. I don’t intend to offend you by asking in this way, so you can just give the first answer that comes to mind. Here’s the question:
“If Jesus Christ would take you just the way you are, would you be willing to take him as your Savior right now, and really mean it?”
I introduce the question this way because they may be offended if they think I am suggesting that they do not believe in Jesus Christ. But, by asking this way, I find they usually respond immediately with a heartfelt reply, if they are seriously considering the information already provided, and especially if the Holy Spirit is bringing conviction to their heart. The heartfelt response will usually be one of two possible options: They will immediately say, “Yes.” Or, the alternative reaction is, “I’ve already done that.”
IF THEY SAY “YES”
If they say “Yes,” I ask them if I may pray for them right now. I immediately pray aloud, but softly (especially if others might hear) a very short prayer: “Lord, Joe is willing to take You as his Savior. I know You are eager to hear his prayer . . . Joe, while our heads are bowed, just go ahead and ask the Lord Jesus Christ to save your soul and forgive your sins, right now. Pray aloud, and I’ll be your witness.” I remain silent, with my head bowed, not looking for eye contact. If he is sincere, he will usually begin his prayer. I listen carefully. If his prayer is not specifically asking Christ to save him, I wait for a pause and then suggest, “Say, ‘Please forgive my sins and take me to Heaven when I die.’”
Telling the prospect “Pray aloud, and I’ll be your witness” is to encourage him to pray aloud. For many years, I asked people to pray, waited respectfully, but heard nothing. Then I would have to ask, “Did you pray?” Or “Do you need some help wording your prayer?” Often, they would say, “I prayed in my heart.” The fact is, they do not need a witness, but I want to be the witness to their prayer. Hearing their prayer helps me to know how to help them further. If the prayer is silent, I go away wondering if they really prayed. And, I think many of them were left wondering if their prayer was heard.
I realize some will criticize the idea of coaching or suggesting words for the prayer. It really boils down to the heart motive of the soul-winner. If my motive is to run back to church and brag about “winning” someone, my suggested prayer is probably already being subverted by spiritual enemies (demonic) at work to distract the prospect from real salvation anyway. If my motive is purely a compassionate heart, longing to win souls and snatch them from a burning hell, the prospect has probably already sensed that in me, and is willing to receive my guidance as he prays.
I’VE ALREADY DONE THAT
When the soul-winner has properly set up the question, he can be pretty certain that “I’ve already done that” is an honest response. There will be other indicators if the prospect is merely trying another ploy. In any event, I accept the response at face value, and begin moving toward final remarks and courtesies. However, this is a very good time, if you are convinced the prospect understands and is truthfully responding, to ask, “Have you been baptized in deep water, like Jesus, since you received the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart?” This may provide a wonderful opportunity to lead them on to baptism, membership, and discipleship through a local church. We need to remember that in His great commission, the Lord Jesus sent us not only to “preach the gospel” and make disciples, but also “baptizing them” and “teaching them to observe all things . . .” (Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:19-20) When people pray, receiving the Lord by faith (John 1:12) in our presence, we have only helped with the birth of a babe in Christ. Obeying His commission has just begun.
AN ADAPTABLE TOOL
The Amazing Grace method is adaptable to very brief conversations also. In such situations, I merely ask the introductory questions and comments, and then offer to give them a shortened version of John Newton’s story. I don’t call it a “tract,” or “pamphlet,” because those terms are used to describe political and religious literature, which many are predisposed to reject. If my time is limited and the conversation is ending, I offer the tract: “Hey, here’s the whole story about the song and John Newton, that you can read when you have time.”
For several years, I have used an Amazing Grace tract written by Lindsay Terry and published by the American Tract Society (www.ATStracts.org). Scripture references are from the King James Bible (my preference). There are other variations of the Amazing Grace story in print. I like this one because it transitions from the story into a point by point presentation of the gospel with Scripture texts included. This is especially good for the quick contacts where there is not enough time to whet the prospect’s appetite with the warm up about who wrote the song, and other details.