One of the biggest struggles I face in my Christian walk is sharing the Gospel with a gentle, loving spirit. When someone makes a comment challenging what I believe, I immediately begin to feel angry, frustrated and anxious as I anticipate what they might say or how they will react to His message. I knew I had a lot to overcome before I could effectively obey God’s command to share His plan of salvation with “the whole world”. To begin with, I have a fear of talking to people about anything! Over the last four years, I haven’t grown very confident at effectively sharing my testimony, explaining God’s plan of salvation and why we need Jesus. As I continued to struggle to master the art of “witnessing,” I recalled a book I read after I first became a Christian titled Learning Evangelism from Jesus by Jerram Barrs. Who better to learn evangelism from than Jesus Himself?! The book looks at a number of encounters Jesus had with religious leaders, the Jewish people and other unbelievers and how He handled each situation. As I reviewed the book, I was reminded that the root of my problem is not so much my inability to control my emotions as much as it is a problem of pride and lack of mercy for the lost.
Deuteronomy 4:29 – “But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul.”
For most of my life, I let pride keep me from God. Pride kept me from listening to sincere Christians and reading the Bible without constantly objecting to its words. It was only after I began to earnestly seek Him that my pride took a back seat to my desire to find out who God really is. I was blessed to have a few Christians in my life who shared their experiences and knowledge with patience, love and gentleness. I didn’t have anyone belittling me or “assaulting” me with their knowledge or religious practices. They answered my questions and suggested material to read after I talked with them. Now that I have committed my life to Christ, my job is to share His message and I must do it in the same way these people shared with me, remembering that most may not be ready to hear what I am trying to tell them. They are waiting for me to say or do one thing that reinforces all the negative things they have come to believe about Christ’s followers.
Luke 18:14 – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
For the past three years, Christmas has brought a fair amount of anxiety to me as I watch and listen to Christians lamenting our culture’s efforts to remove Christ from our observance of this holiday and deciding to prove their love for Christ by insisting everyone use the phrase “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” This year I read the most disheartening post yet in this battle. It read: “Merry Christmas. I hope this post offends as many people as possible.” I suppose on the one hand this message could be interpreted as the sender wanting as many people as possible just to read it and remember that Christmas is about Jesus’ birth, knowing many are offended by Him. But rest assured most unbelievers will only use it to confirm the widespread belief that Christians believe themselves to be “holier than thou,” self-righteous, and uncaring. No, a conscious effort to offend is not the way to convince them to seek God. Before I found Christ, a message like that would have strengthened my resolve not to be involved with people who had such an attitude. It saddens me that Christians resort to such tactics and people jump on the bandwagon believing they are fighting a valiant war for their Savior. But offending people is not how Christ taught us to fight His battle and we must always hold up Him up as our example.
Luke 18:9 – “Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else”
I heard Hank Hanegraaff say this past month in a discussion about Christmas in today’s culture: “Pagans are going to fulfill their job description. The question is will Christians fulfill theirs?” Our job as a Christian is not to constantly remind unbelievers that they are wrong. Our job isn’t even to reclaim December as the month to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Our job ALWAYS is TO LEAD OTHERS TO CHRIST by sharing the Gospel message. If we were to consistently do that, December could become the month Jesus’ birth once again becomes the main focus. Those we help find Christ will realize they have been wrong through our testimonies and acts of love towards them, not through phrases meant to offend. We have to remember where unbelievers are and stop expecting them to behave like believers. We must guard against pride and a critical spirit. Jerram Barrs reminds us who Jesus will hold accountable for wrong motives (Learning Evangelism from Jesus): “We do not see Jesus condemning the sinners in the world; rather, He condemns the leaders of God’s people with His severest words.”
I spent some time during the last month talking with a man who claimed to be a believer but all he could tell me was how wrong God has been, how he doesn’t need God to tell him what’s right and wrong, and all the errors and crimes against humanity he finds in the Bible. Each time I knew I would be talking to him, I found my anger and anxiety rising. It occurred to me that I needed to learn how to handle this situation calmly and in a way that communicates respect. This man needed to know that my primary concern is that he comes to a right understanding of God not to argue and get him to admit I’m right and he’s wrong. Until I can present the Gospel as Christ did, God cannot use me to reach others. I began asking God to remind me of where I was before I surrendered to Him and who I am without Christ.
Philippians 4:5 – “Let your gentleness be known to all men.”
I also realized I was trying to develop my skills at sharing the Gospel under my own power – forgetting I can rely on the Holy Spirit. Before interacting with this man, I prayed. I prayed during the conversation and God kept bringing encouraging thoughts to my mind: it’s OK if I don’t know an answer; it’s OK if the conversation ends and I don’t feel I’ve changed his mind; I am only planting seeds; only God can bring in the harvest. God brought appropriate Scripture to my mind that might help him see God’s true character. I allowed God to “proofread” my responses and found myself replacing a LOT of words that reflected pride, sarcasm, arrogance, anger, even shock at some of the things this man was saying.
Isaiah 55:11 – “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void,”
I never got a response from the man after my last message so I don’t know how effective I was or if my words helped him understand God better. But I know that as long as I speak the Truth in gentleness and kindness, my efforts are never in vain. I pray God can use my words to lead this person to Him, but, if I blew it in some way, I know God can overcome that. I do know He used the experience to teach me how to serve Him better.
1 Corinthians 8:1,2-“…Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. “
Sharing God’s Word is what I am called to do to help bring others to understand their need for Jesus. I do not share His message to demonstrate my knowledge about Him. I don’t share it to be “right.” I talk to unbelievers for one reason only – in hopes they will seek Christ.
Jerram Barrs: “…if I have a hard heart toward the unbelievers and sinners around me, then it is a certain sign that I do not have a good understanding of my own sin and unbelief, nor of my own need before Jesus for His continual mercy and forgiveness.”