Osterley Opportunity

Penny and I took a stroll round Osterley gardens yesterday. The reason for going was to make the most of the opportunity to use our National Trust membership to the full before it expires on Sunday. It was a lovely stroll, but we received unexpected lessons in making the most of every opportunity at the same time.

The scriptures in Ephesians and Colossians came to mind;

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15–16 NIV11-GK)

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5–6 NIV11-GK)

Let me share the experience with you and three lessons for evangelism that seem relevant to me.

  1. Notice. We presented our cards at the entrance and the man noticed that our membership expired on 31st March. We did not tell him, but he brought it up. That’s like Jesus when he went to a meal, “When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:” (Luke 14:7 NIV11-GK). He knew what to say, and which parable to teach because he noticed what was going on. Sometimes we are not sure how to begin a conversation about faith simply because we have not taken the time to notice what is going on.
  2. Ask. “Are you going to renew?”, he asked. I said I was not sure, but probably not this year. However, even as I said that I felt uncertain. Simply by asking the question he made me think about the strength of my commitment to the decision. Sometimes people learn little about our faith because we do not ask them if they want to know more. Jesus asked the man at the pool, “Do you want to get well?”, the blind men were asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”, and the Centurion, “Shall I come and heal him?” Are you a ‘teller’, or a ‘questioner’?  
  3. Invite. Our National Trust man was not put off by our lack of commitment. He simply went on to state the opportunity we had. “If you like,” he said, “I can renew your membership today after you’ve been for your walk.” It was a civil, non-threatening offer which allowed us time to think about what we wanted. “Perhaps,” (I can imagine him reasoning), “after they have walked around the garden they will realise what they will be missing if they do not renew?” Whether someone is begging us for more or begging us to leave, the very least we should do is let them know that they are welcome to attend our meetings or meet for a coffee and a chat. Jesus left the offer open to all. Even though some did not respond, he told a parable to emphasise that all deserve an invitation, “So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.” (Matthew 22:9 NIV11-GK)
There you go – three tips for making the most of every opportunity: Notice; Ask; Invite. For the record, we did not renew our National Trust membership. But I feel guilty for not having done so!
Malcolm Cox

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