Everybody knows the things you are not supposed to talk about at cocktail parties or business gatherings:
My mom's addition to this was, "You shouldn't talk about these things until after the second cocktail." (She's gonna kill me for saying that. It was a different time. <SIGH>)
It seems like the list of off-limits topics just keeps getting longer - the list includes thoughts, feelings and personal beliefs about-
• Public Policy
• Public/Private schools
• Secular or Religious freedoms
The list is much longer than that, but I am really most concerned with the last one, Jesus.
Our country is divided in ways that I have never seen before. We are seeing divisions based on political parties, gender, sexual preference, racial tensions; weapon ownership… the list of flaring hostility is epic. It seems that there are few topics that do not create conversational landmines of anger and separation. The enemy has done an amazing job of taking these polarizing topics and threading a common trigger word through many of them. That word is Jesus. Jesus has become a trigger for the powder kegs of debate. Declaration of the name "Jesus" creates the assumption of alignment with some position on any one of these hot button issues, thereby starting the fight. What is the response? We don't light the matches near the gunpowder. We are polite and non-confrontational and as such we don’t talk about Jesus.
You can say Jesus in safe places. You're safe at home, church, small groups, and with other people you know are Christians. It's been that way for me for most of my Christ-follower life. I like talking about Jesus. I like reading the bible. Our small group is great, and I have a solid relationship with our pastor. I have morning prayers and study time that I cherish. Jesus Christ is a big part of my life. I love our savior. I have learned to walk and talk with the Holy Spirit. I pray to God all of the time. I guess that about covers it. I don't really think of myself as a "converter," or known by its official name, "proselytizer." Talking to non-Christians is really hard. I don't know where to start. I don't like freaking people out. If you are on a plane, I always think it might be better to start the conversation when we are landing so that if it doesn't go well we both know that it's about over. I really like my private relationship with Jesus.
The self-lie -The Good News was just for you.
One of the things taught in church is how important it is to develop your own personal relationship with the Lord. There is such a focus on this idea that often people stop there. It's like playing baseball and believing your job is to hit the ball, get to first base and just pitch a tent. You pitch the tent and set a chair out in front. You build a little campfire so that people can find you and sit a while on their way to other bases, like second, third, and eventually home plate. That is not how it was intended. Jesus was specific; he said to spread the Good News to "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the rest of the world" (Acts 1:8).
For those of us not living in the first century, that means your community, your state, country, and the rest of the world. That's hard to do if you only talk to yourself and those in your circle who are already believers. Jesus did not say, "Hey, why don't you decide if you want to spread the Good News or not, I'll leave it up to you."
With all candor, I often get really scared about doing any of this. It is so awkward- then I learned a way that made sense. It has a sequence, (I like having a plan), but it is natural, so I don't feel creepy. Here it is-
1. Be open- God puts people into our lives who need the Good News and encouragement. Be open to that small nudge or voice of the Holy Spirit that pushes you toward them or invites you into conversation.
2. Listen first- Let people tell you their story. Each person has a story about their life. How they got to where they are and what they are facing in this moment. We often find people who are in pain and that means your heart has to listen. Don't try to fix, just listen.
3. Tell your story- It's not always easy, but you have to talk about where you were, how you came to Christ, and how your peace in His love affects your life now.
4. Let the Holy Spirit do the heavy lifting- The Holy Spirit will tell you what to do next. Maybe it is to pray with the person. Maybe it will be to pray for the other person. Possibly to stay in contact or to invite them to church. Maybe you have planted a necessary seed at a necessary moment and God will grow that seed in other ways than you know. Just trust the Holy Spirit.
5. It's a marathon- This is one-to-one time spent. Coffee, reading scripture, talking about faith, and inviting the person to church. This is an "every opportunity" assignment. Spreading the Good News is not based upon your opinion. It is based upon Christ's Commission.
Trusting in God and the Holy Spirit makes this whole process a lot easier. I just need to hear the other person's story and tell my story and pray that I will be used in whatever way that God wants to use me. That's it. I'm not responsible for their conversion; that's God's domain. Mine is to participate in whatever way I am nudged. If I listen, am open, and do what I am nudged to do, then that is a great start.
I trip over Step 1, A LOT. I do not want the Holy Spirit to direct my thoughts or actions, so I ignore them. I can feel the nudge, but I either ignore it, or hope that it will go away. Ignoring the Holy Spirit is similar to denying the Holy Spirit. Neither is good. The Holy Spirit is the nudge you ignore, talk yourself out of following, or brush away in your mind like a mosquito annoying you in the summer.
I wish I had a thousand examples of my embrace of the principle of moving past "My Private" Jesus and into following the Great Commission. I don't. I'm afraid and I have been scarred a couple of times. I couldn’t do it. The tiny bits of conversation that I have had in my journey have come because the Holy Spirit hit me with a sledgehammer, not a nudge. My fumbling first steps have been a simple question like, "Excuse me for asking but do you have a faith?" or "Do you have a church family here in town?" or "You seem tired/angry/sad, what's going on?" I start there. The conversations actually go pretty well, unless I get completely shut down with an "I'm fine," or "Yes we do have a church," or the worst one, "I didn't hire you to preach."
I need to ask these questions more often. Then I need to stop talking, (not one of my particular strengths) and ask the Holy Spirit to come into the conversation strong.
Thinking back on it, it's not that I have never talked to people about the Good News. It is just that there is so much Good News to talk about and so many people to talk to about it.
We tried for years to have a baby. We lost pregnancies. We then were blessed with a daughter. I had a heart attack - God saved me. I had non -stop seizures and God blessed me with a miracle - a certified, genuine miracle. You probably do not know about it because I have not told enough people, but God has done MIRACLES for me and I do not think a hundred people know about it.
More people, more Good News, more miracles - For me it's a few more questions and a little more prayer for the Holy Spirit to take away my fear. It’s not really about preaching and teaching; it’s about listening, sharing, and professing.