The airport in the capital city of our adopted country is an interesting place to meet a certain brand of foreigner traveler: contractors, diplomats and para-military, normally single and alone, attracted by the high salaries or adventurous experiences offered here. "Milo" (not his real name) sat down next to a colleague and myself while we were waiting to board the next flight. I was tired and ready for a break, not in the mood for conversations with strangers. But God had an appointment lined up.
"You must be Muslims," the man asked me, noticing our family's conservative dress.
"No," I answered, "we follow Jesus."
I wasn't planning on a long evangelistic encounter, just answering the question in our normal way.
Milo was himself a Muslim from an country in Eastern Europe. At the mention of Jesus, his face lit up. "I have to tell you something," he
said. "Three night ago I had a dream where Jesus came and showed himself to me." He proceeded with excitement to share more details of the dream, in which a man in white spoke loving words to him, washed his outstretched hands and the area around his heart. The dream had obviously impacted him deeply and somehow he knew he had had an encounter with Isa Al-Masih, the Lord Jesus Christ. "I think I might visit a church when I get back to my country and see if there is someone who can help me understand it. "We can help you understand," I said, suddenly alert and ready to take a swing at this low ball. My colleague and I proceeded to unfold the gospel to Milo. We opened the living Word to him. We told him that Jesus is the only living prophet, and more than a prophet, one with ability to forgive sins, as symbolized in the washing of his heart. We encouraged him to believe that Jesus was calling him to himself, that he didn't need to visit a church or search further, just trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. Right there in the airport he put his faith in Jesus. "I'm your brother now!" he exclaimed with a suddenly luminous countenance.
As soon as it was over, the encounter ended, though we exchanged contact information and have been in touch since. It was an appointment which God had arranged between us and him, and for which he had, I believe, prepared this man's heart three nights before.
Does God still reveal himself in dreams and visions to those he is calling to himself? Can witnesses of Jesus in the 21st century expect such phenomenal experiences? I offer a few brief considerations:
1) Both "ordinary" and what we may call "extraordinary" conversion stories are equally miraculous.
A former Muslim once told me that he had earlier added an "extraordinary" encounter to his conversion story because he thought that's what people wanted to hear. Let's be careful to rejoice in every salvation and not require something supernatural to be impressed.
We are awed by stories such as Milo's, and rightly so. We should also be awed by every testimony of someone being drawn by Jesus Christ, having their dead heart made alive, and passing from the power of Satan to God. True conversions are nothing short of extraordinary whatever the circumstances.
2) No one will come to Christ without the appointed means of the message through a messenger.
I have yet to hear a verified story of someone coming to faith apart from the Word preached, and I'm concerned when some people suggest this. Signs, miracles, visions, etc., serve the purpose of "attesting" and "confirming" the message (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:4). They may occur before this Word encounter, preparing the way (such as in the story above), or afterwards, confirming what was heard. But at some point gospel words must be spoken by a messenger, or the Word itself must be read or heard. Let's not let the thrill of the supernatural cut the nerve of missions urgency, or remove incentive to share. "How will they hear without someone preaching to them (Rom 10:13-14)." Messengers are God's ordained way to bring people into encounters with gospel truth.
3) I see no Biblical reason to deny "extraordinary" means in the call to salvation.
God has nowhere limited himself to employ certain means and not others. Those who acknowledge the sovereignty of God should in particular believe this. To Him belongs salvation and the call to it. He is endlessly resourceful and absolutely free in moving the hearts of men and women toward him. The fact that the narratives of the book of Acts describe a unique move of God at a unique time through unique messengers doesn't negate the possibility of the same God doing extraordinary things in our day, though anything seen with the eyes, heard with the ears, or experienced in the heart should be carefully interpreted through the lens of the only infallible authority - God's Word (2 Peter 2:16-21).
4) We can probably expect a greater amount of signs and wonders accompanying the gospel in places where the Kingdom is just breaking in.
Perhaps one reason for the relatively lower reports of signs surrounding conversions in places where the church has been established is the tendency of people to become fascinated by the wonders over the good news itself. However in places where the gospel is making its first impact, extraordinary signs can break down barriers, confirm truth, and awaken consciences.
5) Cultivate an attitude of expectancy, along with reason, in your gospel sharing.
When you open your mouth to share the good news about Jesus, you are not alone. The Spirit of God is blowing. We may not always expect the extraordinary. We certainly should not be grossly fascinated by it or require it. But we should expect something. Jesus is alive and moving. Our faith is no academic exercise, merely. It is a dynamic encounter with the living God.