The Samaria Challenge Don’t you enjoy the sense of satisfaction that comes when you’ve faced a challenge and discovered that you are able to do more than you thought you could? It’s a great feeling to see the results of your efforts. But those uplifting feelings of accomplishment are often the result of initially facing and struggling through challenges that take all you’ve got. It usually requires stretching beyond your comfort zone and sometimes overcoming your apprehensions, or your prejudices, or your fear of failure or of being rejected. In addition, you often don’t know the full extent of the potential results and if they’ll be worth the time or effort you’ll have to invest. I would venture to guess that you have faced situations where something the Lord has asked you to do has to be approached “all by faith.” The Bible has some outstanding examples of how God’s vessels struggled to accept what He was asking them to do. Like Jonah, who went so far as to get on a ship heading the opposite direction, rather than face the Ninevites in order to deliver God’s message of warning. Or Moses, who simply told God he couldn’t possibly do some things that God asked of him. Or even Peter, who put up quite an argument before the Lord convinced him to go to the house of Cornelius to offer this Roman the truth. Eventually, these servants of God yielded because they loved the one who was asking them to do it and their trust in God overruled everything else, and because they obeyed, God did mighty things through them. I’d like to recount some points that were shared by Scott Larson, who wrote an article called “Going to Samaria.” In this article he compares his own experiences to the struggles that some of the first disciples had. The disciples were very inspired to preach the Gospel in Jerusalem and in all Judea, but in Samaria? They had always seen the Samaritans as idol worshippers and outcasts! The Jews (including Jesus’ own disciples) looked down on them and wanted nothing to do with such “scum.” But Jesus had sent His disciples to preach the Gospel “in all the world.” When Philip, had to leave Jerusalem because of persecution, he went to Samaria, where he found that the Samaritans were, in fact, extremely receptive to his message about Jesus. God worked so powerfully in response to the spiritual hunger of these Samaritans that Philip had to bring in reinforcements to handle all the new disciples. Stretching to go beyond our limitations so that God can do more with us is part of becoming what He wants us to be. That’s how the Gods Family began. That is one of God’s founding principles: to take up the challenges the Lord gives us, to go where He shows us to go, to be willing to stretch our faith and believe what seems impossible to us. In short, to follow God! Facing those “Samarias” is what grows and builds our faith because we have to trust God yet again that He is in full control. We have to trust that if we’ll do what He shows us, it will work out in the end. Trusting the Lord is not something we do once and that’s it. It’s a daily choice, and Jesus will continue to ask us to choose to follow and trust as long as we are in this life. In his article Scott referred to his personal “Samaria,” which was working with troubled youth who were being held in juvenile detention. Scott explained how he had grown up being bullied by some teens like these and he had no desire to have anything to do with them. He saw them as not worth the effort to help, but the Lord brought him to the point where he found himself stepping out for the first time to visit with some of these criminal teens in a juvenile facility where his wife was giving Bible classes. When he arrived, Ricky, a fifteen-year-old, was the first one to approach him. Here is how Scott recounted their conversation:
- “Hey are you the Church guy?”
- “Yeah, I guess so.”
- “Can you pray for me?” he asked.
- “Sure. What for?”
- “I have court tomorrow.” Why wasn’t I surprised?
- “Oh. So you want me to pray that you beat the case?”
- “No … Pray that I tell the truth.”
- That took me off guard. “Have you talked to your lawyer about this?”
- “Yeah. And when I did he swore at me. He told me if I did I would do 20 years in adult prison.”
- “Well, Ricky, God can do anything, but if you plead guilty you’ve got to plan on doing 20 years.”
- “I know. But I’ve been reading this Bible you guys gave me and it says you’re supposed to tell the truth, right?”
- “Ye-aah, I guess so.”
- “So, just pray that I follow through on it and don’t chicken out,” he said.
- “I will. I definitely will, Ricky.”
- When I left I felt a little shaky. Here was a fifteen-year-old kid, who after a few months of reading the Bible was ready to put it all on the line in a way that most 45-year-olds I know wouldn’t do. In a way that I’m not sure I would do. I would definitely be praying.
After that initial court date where Ricky told the truth and pled guilty, he was returned to the detention center for five months to await sentencing in adult court. Though Scott had only planned to help out at the detention center on a one-time basis, he decided to keep visiting Ricky and working to support him and strengthen his faith. When the sentencing date came, he and his wife were the only ones there to stand by Ricky. But God isn’t limited by many or by few when we step out with Him. Scott goes on to explain: When the judge asked Ricky why he had pled guilty when doing so meant being sentenced to decades of imprisonment in an adult prison, Ricky told her that he’d found Jesus while he was locked up, and he had begun a whole new life in that place. He had decided that he would rather spend the next 20 years of his life in prison with God, than to leave without Him. The judge sat silent for several seconds and then said, “You know, I’m going to do something I have never done before … I’m going to overturn the decision for you to enter the adult prison system. I’m going to keep you in the juvenile system until you’re 21.” Scott explained that stepping out to do what he didn’t want to do in working with these troubled teens opened up a whole new world of service for him. He had ventured outside his comfort zone to do what he knew was right and he found himself in one of the Lord’s setups. The result was a new ministry working with juvenile criminals that he’d never dreamed of and that has been tremendously fulfilling and fruitful. Who knows what opportunities await you as you stop to look at your life and consider your “Samarias”—those things that you think are more than you could do or that stretch your faith to the limit to even consider. I believe there’s a vast number of needy souls waiting for us to bring His light to them. Maybe they are right where you least expect them to be. Maybe it’s some ministry or open door that you feel has little or no potential. Jesus reached out to everyone, including the most downtrodden such as the lepers and the outcasts and the ones who looked least likely on the outside to want God: the publicans, sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. But beneath those hard or filthy exteriors were hungry, searching, lost souls who with love and care could become powerful examples of God’s love and truth. It’s probably going to take effort and sacrifice and reaching outside your comfort zone. There’s a good reason for that: It makes you stretch and grow. The Lord in His love for us knows that we, as His ambassadors, need to be constantly growing and learning. He loves to challenge you. It gives Him cause to be proud of you when you put your all into what He shows you to do. It also enables Him to pour even greater blessings on you, His loved one, for your obedience and willingness to follow Him where He leads you. Each person’s “Samaria” will be a little different, and where or what it turns out to be is between you and the Lord, but I know if you are willing to let Him show you yours, and then do what you can to go there, you’ll find His fire and joy burning more brightly in you with each step. Your “Samaria” may be a place or a particular group of people, or perhaps even just one person who the Lord has prepared you to reach out to. It may involve a short period of time or the rest of your time on earth, but one thing is sure: It will likely take a step of faith to follow Him. It probably in some way will go against what you feel comfortable doing and it will motivate you to look more to Him for the answers and the strength, wisdom, and love to see it through. It will cost you something, but the Lord will more than repay, in ways beyond what you can imagine. You’ll see perspectives that you either never saw before or had forgotten about. You’ll soon wonder why you didn’t jump in sooner. Will you take some time right now and ask God to show you your Samaria? Will you respond to His call?  Jonah 1:1–3.  Exodus 3–4.  Acts 10:9–33.  For additional information on Samaria, see “The Stories Jesus Told— About the Good Samaritan  Acts 8:6–15.