Going Above and Beyond
We are fashioned for a specific purpose; to glorify God with our lives, loving him above all else, and to "save others by snatching them from the fire;" (Jude 1:23). The domain of darkness of the world spreads like a wildfire, demolishing and incinerating everyone and everything that opposes its mighty force. As disciples, we are actively fighting the evils of the world-- with God as the head of our armed forces. We resist the urge to falter and struggle to stand firm in our faith. We are soldiers in God's army, and we wage war, using our heavenly weapons that are made powerful by God, like we discussed in Part 1 of Lifestyle Evangelism.
Once we acknowledge the spiritual war, and begin creating opportunities, how do we start sharing more than a simple invitation, or a church card when we evangelize?
How do we go above and beyond in the discussions we're having with people, so we leave each conversation knowing we did all we could to convince and persuade with Christ, love, gentleness, and truth?
With the weapons God has given us, and as he utilizes us as his instruments of righteousness, we often have to convince others to step outside of the raging fire that surrounds them. Sometimes an invitation to a Bible Discussion won't do, but that five-second interaction becoming a five-minute conversation makes all the difference.
My own philosophy is that everyone believes in God; some people just have to be convinced. Some people need to be persuaded.
"Therefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we seek to persuade people." 2 Corinthians 5:11
Paul's use of the Greek word rendered "to persuade" means to induce one by words to believe and to seek to win one's favor. Paul's life was a testament to the importance of persuasion, and he often used the beliefs and philosophies of those he spoke to in order to connect with them and to persuade them of God's majesty (see Acts 17:4 and Acts 17:24-28). Paul used logic and reason to entice those he spoke to of the compelling, evident truth of God.
A favorite author of mine, Ravi Zacharias, writes in his book Jesus Among Other Gods, "Truth cannot be all-inclusive. Truth by definition excludes. What I believe, I believe very seriously . . . By equal measure, anything to the contrary, I must question." I think there is a time and place to question beliefs that are obviously contrary to Scripture. Too often I've had conversations where I'm the first person to ever challenge a person's belief system. Many people believe what they believe simply because they haven't been presented with a more reasonable alternative.
What I believe, I believe very seriously . . . By equal measure, anything to the contrary, I must question.
There's an old anecdote about a frog in a pot of boiling water. If you throw a frog into a pot of already boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out due to the excruciating and life-threatening temperature of the water. However, if you put a frog into a pot of cold water, and slowly increase the water's temperature, the frog will remain in the water until death. The frog doesn't perceive the danger of the water at any point of the temperature increase because of it's gradual change, so it remains in the water, even after the water begins to kill it.
In our lives, the danger of the world's darkness is not always so easy to perceive, and at times might not pose any threat to us at all. But as the world's grip on our hearts increases, and as the threat to our spiritual lives grows stronger, it often goes unnoticed.
Many times, those that we speak to about God and our faith are like the frogs in the boiling pot. They have been in danger for quite some time now, but they don't know that they're dying from the heat of the fire that surrounds them. When we end a conversation just because we received a "No, I'm not interested," we may have lost an opportunity of saving someone's soul.
To go above and beyond in our conversations might mean asking more questions, and it might mean literally convincing them to "Come and see" (John 1:46). Evangelism is not just handing out an invitation. Sharing the Gospel means to actually share what the Gospel is. What is the Gospel? That Jesus has died for sins, once for all, and risen from the dead, defeating death, so that we, 2,000 odd years later, might die to sins and live for righteousness. This is the Gospel, and this is the message we should be evangelizing. This is what will change people's life, and what will save them from the fire of the world.
Evangelism is not just handing out an invitation. Sharing the Gospel means to actually share what the Gospel is.
Here are some common responses I've heard, and what I might say to initiate a deeper conversation:
1. "No thanks, but I appreciate the invite."
I promise that if you come and see what I'm inviting you to, it will be unlike anything you've ever experienced before. Why would someone like me take the time out of his day to come speak to you, a person I've never met before in my life, unless I genuinely and wholly believed what I was talking to you about? Please, come and see. If you don't like it, then you'll never have to come back.
Does that seem too forthcoming? If you consider that someone's soul is at stake, then I don't think it does at all. I have a friend who came for the first time after saying "No" several times. I met him while he was eating dinner and asked him to come to a Bible discussion. He said "No, thanks." But I talked with him for about five minutes, intentionally convincing him that coming was the right decision for his life. At the end of the first conversation we ever had, he said, "Fine, I'll come." His expectations were exceeded, and he came back over and over again, later deciding to study the Bible. He is now my friend.
2. "That's not really my thing."
Yeah, it wasn't always my thing either. There's a lot of really good reasons people have for staying clear of any Bible-oriented group. If you don't mind me asking, why isn't it really your thing? [Sometimes having a 20 minute conversation with someone is more effective and productive than convincing them to come to whatever discussion you have planned. Every time you have a conversation with someone about the Bible, it's a Bible study].
It's good to listen to why people don't like Christianity. Not only can it help us to grow as Christians, but it helps us to be empathetic and sincere. We don't ever want to be robotic.
3. "Thanks, but I don't believe in God."
I didn't always believe in God either, and I still have trouble believing in him sometimes. It's really, really, really hard for me to trust someone that I can't see. [I bolded "for me" because it's helpful to share your own struggles]. If you don't mind me asking, why don't you believe in God?
Being the first vulnerable person in a conversation will more likely draw out the vulnerability of whomever you're talking with. It's always disarming to the person you're talking with if you first agree with their negativity before responding. Notice how I didn't respond with, "You don't believe in God?! How can you sleep at night?" Rather, I agreed that believing in God is extremely difficult, sharing how it is also a constant battle in my own life. Surely this would spark his or her curiosity: "This Christian has trouble believing in God? But that doesn't even make sense!" Let the battles and struggles of your own life steer the conversation to deeper waters.
These are only three fairly common responses I receive a lot. What other responses have you heard? Please email me if you have any questions you'd like help responding to.
Some more difficult responses I've heard are:
1. You only believe in Christianity because you were born in America. If you were born in India, you would be Hindu.
2. I'm gay, so I don't really think Christianity is my thing.
3. I believe in science.
4. What about all the contradictions in the Bible?
5. I don't believe in one truth. Jesus can't be the only way to God.
How would you go about responding to these, "with gentleness and respect"? Think of some common responses from people you might hear in a given week, and practice using the Bible and reason to effectively and respectfully interact with these responses.
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15
There is no comprehensive book that can be written for every response you might hear, it's vital to consider common questions, so you can "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). Many times people need to be persuaded, and God has fashioned us to use the weapons he has crafted for this very purpose. Wouldn't it be incredible if everyone became a Christian with just one, quick, simple conversation? We know this won't always be the case (it usually won't be), so we practice and prepare to promptly persuade, knowing that what we have to share is the most precious jewel, the most important message, the most incredible story to have ever happened-- that will ever happen-- the salvation story for all humanity. Let's boldly and courageously share with, convince, persuade, and save the lost souls from the darkness.