The Woman at the Well and Evangelism Today

To an outsider, the word “evangelism” can be heard with a cringing sound or almost as a clanging gong. It can take people back to bad church experiences, overly religious missionaries who meant well but possibly couldn’t express well, and a host of other awkward exposures of hearing the gospel.

What we know now is that social media has also made sharing our faith a bit more complicated by adding to these experiences. There can be a helpful or messy impact made depending on who typed, who heard, what was said, and what was heard—and the difference in between. Media has often become a bed of frustration to most who are trying to have meaningful conversations with others, while COVID has also created boundaries that have hindered personal connection in a tangible way.

A Samaritan Woman

But what about the woman who Christianity often refers to as the first evangelist? Let’s take a look at how Scripture describes Jesus sharing himself with a Samaritan woman in a common place in town, the well, one where no one would have expected a divine encounter. This particular woman was living with a man (not her husband), had lived with other men (still not her husband), and was met by Jesus himself.

What was it about her and her life that compelled the Messiah to break boundaries and defy stereotypes, simply by asking her for a cup of water? And in her response to say yes to his request and hand it to him, what was already rooted in her heart that compelled her to obey, that made her listen to his words of both truth and compassion, conviction and instruction, and then go tell her entire village about it?

If we look back at John 4, we notice that Jesus speaks to this woman both in metaphors and also with prophecy. He tells her: 

“Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.”

It’s a pretty amazing statement about a daily necessity of life. If you drink the water Jesus has, you never have to take another drink of water again? That claim is enough to make anyone think twice, wonder why, and ask more questions. Ironically, though, she doesn’t ask any questions. Not one. Instead, she immediately asks him to actually give her some of the water that he speaks of.

In his reply, knowing exactly who she is, he prophesies to her. “Go call your husband, and come back here.” When she replies with the fact that she doesn’t have one, he speaks the truth right into her circumstances by acknowledging that she does not, in fact, have one nor did she have a husband in the last five men she had been living with. It’s safe to assume this would be a pretty awkward conversation for someone who might feel shame over living a lifestyle that was culturally considered wrong. But then she starts to lean into the conversation by acknowledging Jesus’ prophetic gift, as well as talking to him about what he believes, and ultimately, who he is.

A Thirst for Connection

If we are to look at this passage from John and relate it to our modern world, there are several pointers here that give us keys into a true heart of evangelism toward others. As Christians, we absolutely should be passionate and expressive about the gift we have received in Jesus. Shouldn’t we? We are called to tell others about him and to make him known (and of course we want to), but the process of doing so in a way that fosters sensitive subjects well and honors relational boundaries, while also filling the listener with a sense of both hope and conviction, can be a difficult task. So much so, there were times I even gave up intentional evangelism because I felt as though certain conversations were manufactured, manipulated, or non-organic. My mouth often felt like it couldn’t express the joy that actually filled my belly in a way that could meet the need of the person I was speaking with.

But what I found by studying the woman at the well was that she was thirsty and in pain, and as a believer, I should help provide an answer with God’s Living Water flowing through me. As well, I needed to and need to show up as best as I can, even if I’m a bit messy myself. Vulnerability is not necessarily a hindrance to the gospel but often an advocate of it.

All connection requires is a simple need. It’s a basic and yet profound opportunity for refreshment. Just like everyone else on the planet, this woman had to go get something to drink in order to function and survive. This was a regular, mundane, and normal part of life. She was not considering the task holy until the Messiah appeared, and then her whole life changed.

A World of Needs

Is that what happens when people end up near you with a need?

We live in a world of needs. Constant needs. Sometimes even overwhelming needs. But what Jesus has promised us is that he is the Living Water that never runs out, he fills us with life everlasting, and we never have a need that he can’t meet. And that is also the case with the rest of humanity. They are showing up for a glass of water just the same, and they need to be able to hear who can give them an eternal one.

So, take this time to pray about exactly that! Who in your life needs Living Water?

If it’s you, pray and receive. Ask God to show you himself as the drink that never runs dry. Allow yourself the time to be filled with the Holy Spirit to overflowing. If it’s other people that you know, pray for them. They need refreshment just the same. If it’s a divine encounter that might occur while you’re in the grocery store or in line for a coffee, be gracious and full ahead of time.

Pray for possibilities of divine connection for others. It doesn’t have to be pretentious or pious, it can simply be: God, let her know that you love her. Let him experience your joy. Let them encounter you in way that they have never experienced, so they can relish in the truth and grace of what Jesus has accomplished on their behalf.

And then be open to the small ways Jesus will answer.

Because we know he will. He is always faithful in our meager attempts to give his life to our neighbor.

Slow down, and watch expectantly for his response in the lives of others. Get someone a glass of water. Be a listening ear. Lend a hand, or open a door. Be honest with your own life, faults, failures, struggles and shortcomings. Ask others to pray for you, whether they “know” God or not. In humility, share your process and journey with others, so you can also be seen, prayed for, and refreshed. Grow relationships that are sustainable and that fill more water jugs. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

It simply has to be real.

This article originally appeared on LifewayVoices.com and is reposted here by permission.

Sarah Humphrey
Sarah Humphrey

Sarah Humphrey is a wife and homeschool mom to three kids while also working as an artist, author, life coach and voice actor. Her writing and doodling can be found in her devotional, 40 Days to a Joyful Motherhood and her voice in several commercials, children’s books and audiobooks.