I once tried to save a guy. I didn’t do CPR on him until the medics came but I tried to introduce him to Jesus. I prayed for him every week. I strategically worked God into our conversations. I even wrote an article about him. I thought I could impress him into heaven with my intellect and arguments. Or at the very least I could help him see how far his lifestyle was from God’s ideal (through my gentle prodding and poking at things I considered to be wrong or immoral in his life) and then he would not be able to stop himself accepting Jesus.
I’m still trying to figure out this whole evangelism thing and I have learnt from past mistakes so here is what I know so far. Evangelism or more simply, introducing people to Jesus (in New Testament times this was often referred to as the “good news”) is nothing new. The term evangelism actually comes from the Old Testament in the Bible. When the Old Testament was written cities were walled off to protect the people who lived inside. When a city was at war watchmen would stand on the walls looking out for messengers returning from the battlefield. These watchmen learned to discern from the runners style whether or not the runner brought good news. The Greek word for “good news” is euangellion. This led to the runners being given the title of “evangelistes” which literally meant bearers of the good news.
Every time I’ve tried to force a conversation about Jesus or convinced someone into coming to some Christian event, the person I’m trying to let know that Jesus is crazy about them hasn’t looked at me like I’m the bearer of good news. Same thing when I suddenly start to rehearse the story of how I came to know Jesus in a minute speech that I’ve prepared in my church’s midweek meetings. If I’m honest these exchanges didn’t feel a lot like good news to me either, they felt a lot like a chore or mission to tick off before I get to be welcomed into heaven.
I don’t think Jesus meant for us to introduce our friends to him through some agenda. After all, think back on most (if not all) of the relationships that you have in your life. How many of them came about because of someone near you strategizing for you to get to know, love and want to be with that person forever? In my experience whenever someone is too keen for me to get to know someone I get weary and suspicious and unapproachable. This got me thinking that perhaps the same thing happens when we try too hard to “get” our friends to know and love Jesus.
Since losing the friend I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’ve come up with a four step process of my own which isn’t guaranteed to make your friends and family find Jesus, or to go to church or even to like your Christian friends. In fact these four steps don’t guarantee anything, but they might just mean you remain in a position to love closely those who are far from God, and hopefully, find yourself in a position where God can use you to reveal himself to those you want to be in heaven with you and him.
Put simply: be yourself. There is no need to be a person who has no struggles and doubts and fears just because you are a Christian. Be the type of person who cries when life is tough or horrid or just too beautiful to contain in a giggle. Let people see what God is doing in your life but let it be natural and part of who you are and not contrived.
Don’t doubt for a moment that the people in your life are watching to see how this “Jesus thing” will change you.
One of my friends doesn’t want God in her life. When we meet to discuss our hopes, dreams and realities, over a cup of tea and slice of cake, I talk about God, the same way I do my husband. If he fits into the conversation I bring him up because I love to talk about him not because I want to force her to swallow salvation with her cake crumbs. I don’t know if she’ll make a choice for God one day but I do know that through our conversations she is aware that God can be a living, breathing, real presence in her life if she just asks him.
Love No Matter What
Now this is the hard one, and maybe the one that is most attractive to those who have yet to turn around and realize that God has been with them all this time. Jesus followed up the command that we love one another with the statement in John 13:35 that says by our love for one another the world will know that we are his disciples. So it seems pretty self explanatory—love is the key to win over those who don’t know how wonderful life with Jesus is.
Gary Chapman, author of the book, Love as a Way of Life, names seven characteristics he believes a loving person displays: kindness, patience, forgiveness, courtesy, humility, generosity and honesty. If you’re really sincere about your colleagues, family and friends getting to know Jesus, then spend time working on these traits in your life. I tried practicing one trait a day for a week and I was amazed how often I failed to simply be kind or have patience (let alone the other five traits) with those around me. Don’t doubt for a moment that the people in your life are watching to see how this “Jesus thing” will change you. So instead of setting out to change those around you, set out to let God turn your life into one of loving others consistently and extravagantly. You’ll be surprised what people notice when you think no one is watching you.
Lose Your Agenda
Remember the last time you answered the phone and it was a telemarketer trying to sell you something you didn’t want? Chances are you disconnected from the conversation as fast as you could. The same thing happens with our friends and families and colleagues when we approach their salvation as something we need to get them to buy into. So the message here is don’t get so caught up in trying to convert your friends to your beliefs that you lose sight of forming, maintaining and building good relationships with them. If you’re going to have an agenda let it be to love them like a crazy person. Let go of all your other agendas, like having the person recite the sinners prayer on Christmas Day or having them come to church with you.
I think the times that I’ve been most effective at evangelizing has been when I’ve been unconscious that I’m doing it. The company I work for has a mixed staff, some of us are Christians and some of us aren’t. In my department the majority of us are. A year after our department was established one of the staff members decided to become a Christian. None of us had been actively evangelizing her, we had just been sharing our lives, lunches and hearts with her and in the process she’d noticed that Jesus wanted to be her friend the same way he was ours. It wasn’t our sales pitch or agenda that won her but us living in such a way that she was able to see God living in us and decide she wanted to like him too.
Let God Work
Finally, step 4, is all about realizing that the salvation of the people we care for has less to do with us than we like to admit. Never forget that Jesus wants your friends, family members and colleagues to spend eternity with him as much (I’d guess even more than you do) so he’s going to be taking every opportunity to open their eyes to his presence in their lives. Trust him, he’s working even when you don’t think anything is happening.
I’ve been praying for my boss to discover Jesus for five years now, not every day, but every month or two. We’ve had a few chats about God and church, but mostly I just try to do my job in a way that would make Jesus proud and hope that my boss will see that. I was reminded that God is working in the situation yesterday when my brother, a school teacher, messaged that my boss’ wife is about to become his student teacher at school. What are the chances? I think God is using us to do something in that family’s life, I’m not sure what yet, but I’m grateful that God is doing it.
Don’t get so caught up in trying to convert your friends to your beliefs that you lose sight of forming, maintaining and building good relationships with them.
It’s easy to forget that God is working even when it doesn’t seem like there is any progress in our friends and family moving closer to God, easy to stop hoping that things will change. Never forget that you and I can’t save or redeem or rescue anyone, that is absolutely, 100% God’s job and Jesus’ work on the cross. Perhaps the most important lesson we need to learn in becoming evangelists is to open our ears to hear who and what God wants us to be to the people around us, and then do just that, no matter how small. Perhaps it is our task to just trust that God, who loves our friends and family so much more than we do will find them and woo them to him.
I do believe as much as we need to give God space to work we need to keep doing our part: praying, asking, and engaging. If you’re feeling like you need a bit more encouragement grab your Bible and read 1 Timothy 2:4 (the MSG), “He [God] wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we’ve learned: that there’s one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out.” Don’t give up hope, eventually, your friends and family will see Jesus for who he is, if you hang in there, live what you believe, and gently point them to the one who thought they were worth dying for.