A Heart for Individuals

I came to know the Lord in my first year of junior college and I remember only one person giving me any personal help in the Christian life—someone who took five minutes to suggest that I read the Bible.

Then I met Dawson (“Daws”) Trotman and got into a Bible class he held each morning at 6:15. One afternoon he said, “Sanny, how would you like to have prayer with me tomorrow morning?”

He told me to meet him on a little sand bar down at the edge of a creek. I got there at five and we had a couple of hours together in the Word and in prayer. Then he said, “How about tomorrow morning?”

Deep in my heart there were things plaguing me, and I wanted someone I could talk to. I wasn’t the kind of guy to open my heart to just anybody, but Daws was a man interested enough in me to give me help, to invest his time in me. He was a man to whom I could open my heart, and he helped me.

Early in my life with The Navigators, I helped a friend who had a high school ministry. He had lined up 18 meetings for me in 16 days with 17 different groups. I told him, “You can’t follow up people like that. You don’t just wave a magic wand, give them one pep talk and automatically get them moving on for Christ. Let me talk individually with some of your key young people.”

First, I met with his “key guy.” After we had talked for a while, I asked him about his Bible reading and the time he was spending in prayer and found out he wasn’t doing too well.

Later I asked his youth leader, Ben, how he thought his “key guy” was doing with reading the Bible and prayer. Ben replied that this guy was one of his best guys and was doing all right. I told him how he was really doing and then said, “You’ve got to get some time with him individually to know how he’s getting along.”

Then I talked with a young lady who was the “key Christian girl” in her high school and discovered that she was in an inappropriate relationship with her boyfriend. In tears she told me, “I want victory, I really do! But I don’t know anyone to go to.”

Later, I told Ben. “This girl goes to a church where the Bible is preached. She goes to Sunday school, Sunday night youth meetings, Sunday night service, and to Wednesday night prayer meetings. And yet the effects of all of these are being nullified by the sin taking place in her life. And I was the first person who ever sat down and took an individual, personal interest in her.”

What’s involved in having a one-to-one ministry to individuals? Most people are looking for a list of steps, but it’s more than a formula. You’ve got to have a heart for people—a vision of the worth of every person, and a vision of the possibilities of that person as a channel for God to use. A lot of us don’t have a vision of what God can do with a person.

We often think about the sharp guy with brains, creativity, and ideas. But God doesn’t need that guy’s brains. He doesn’t need his creativity. He doesn’t need his ideas. That isn’t God’s problem. His problem is getting people to carry out His ideas.

Before I met Charlie Riggs, he had worked as a roughneck in the oil fields of Pennsylvania. He could hardly talk without stuttering. If you asked a personnel board to consider him as a trainer of counselors, he would have been last on the list.

But God picked him out, and Charlie trained several hundred thousand people in personal counseling all over the world through his work with the Billy Graham team. In those days I didn’t realize the importance of helping just one fellow, but it’s astounding what God has done with him.

Jesus Had a Heart for Individuals

Luke 18:35–43 describes Jesus walking into town with crowds of people around. When a blind beggar called out to Jesus, He stopped. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “Lord I want to see,” the beggar said. And Jesus healed him.

Then Jesus saw Zacchaeus the tax collector in a tree above the crowds, and Jesus said, “Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Amid the throngs of people, Jesus saw individuals of worth and possibilities. Likewise, you and I need to have such a heart for individuals that we’ll be willing to invest ourselves in one out of a crowd.

Being willing to invest in one means we’ve got to be willing to get involved with people’s problems. But sometimes we don’t want to get involved. We don’t want the phone to ring at night. But if you’re going to get involved with people, that’s the price to be paid.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:15, “So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?” Have you ever really suffered for anybody else? That’s what it means to work with others, one to one.

If there’s a key word on this subject of helping individuals, it’s sharing. Don’t make it complicated. Just share your life. What has God blessed you with? What has He done for you? Where have you been successful? Where have you failed?

Ingredients for Fruitful Discipleship

Your time together should have three basic ingredients.

The first is testimony. You openly identify with Jesus Christ. You share how God has saved you, and fulfilled His promises to you, and answered your prayers.

The second is God’s Word. There’s something about sharing something fresh and vital and alive from the Scriptures that strikes a fire inside.

The third ingredient is prayer. You haven’t really shared your heart with someone until you’ve prayed with him. Looking back on my life together with Daws, the times that stand out as mountain peaks in our relationship were the times we prayed together.

As the person you’re helping begins to grow, help him start moving out into ministry—winning the lost and making disciples. Get him to do what you’re doing.

It isn’t complicated. It just happens to be a costly thing. It will tear you apart. But it will also thrill you. And you’ll have no greater joy than to see that person walking in the Truth—except to see him get someone else walking in the Truth. That’s sweeter still.

Adapted from the May/June 1983 issue of Discipleship Journal. Used by permission of NavPress.


  1. Great advice from someone who has lived it. Yes, getting involved in peoples’ lives with problems is costly, and it’s good to hear that it’s worth it from someone further down the road.

Leave a Reply

By commenting, you agree to our Code of Conduct.