Being a messenger of the Gospel

If the links don’t work for you, here is Gaby’s video presentation The Easter Story and Amazing Grace

Todays reading is 1 Peter 3:15-18Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Aidan.

Well, we’re nearing the end of our series learning about fruitfulness on the front line. Following along with Mark Greene’s amazing book by the same title, we’ve looked at 5 ‘M’s so far—being:

  • Modellers of Godly character,
  • Makers of good work,
  • Ministers of love and grace,
  • Moulders of culture and
  • Mouthpieces for truth and justice.

Now finally we come to the sixth big ‘M’, the one I know you’re all so excited about, being Messengers of the Gospel, and if you hadn’t guessed… yes, this means evangelism—telling people about Jesus.

Now if you’re anything like me, then the thought of ‘evangelism’ is not unlike a trip to the dentist’s: we know we are meant to go, and when we get there we know we are meant to open our mouths, but we are rather afraid that when we do, extremely unpleasant and painful things will happen to us. Interestingly, as Greene notes, given a choice between evangelism and a dental appointment, many of us would rather go to the dentist.

I have often been exhorted by some preacher or missionary to “just do it—get over yourself, have some concern for other people’s eternal destiny for once and just get on with it; how hard can it be?” But these ‘encouragements’ always seem to come from those who are naturally extroverted, sociable, able to hold a conversation with a stranger without any awkwardness, and they seem not to be too afraid of confrontation. These traits are essentially the complete antithesis of my own personality. So, today, perhaps you can receive a gentle, practical encouragement from one socially awkward introvert (who won’t touch confrontation with a barge-pole) to another. This area is one that a lot of us feel a large amount of dread and guilt over, but hopefully together we can start making some forward progress.

Now, whenever we get the chance to share our faith, there are three big things that are really helpful to keep in mind:

  1. God wants people saved. He really wants people to know him. “God desires that all people would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:4Open Link in New Window
  2. God is the lead evangelist. Not you, not your vicar, not the Alpha DVD, but God. He’s already working in that person’s life and it is up to the Holy Spirit to accomplish the impossible and bring that person to saving faith.
  3. We, however, do have some role to play in this—even if it is small. Our job is simply to be a kind and generous verbal witness to Jesus. Some of us sow the seeds, some of us water the shoots, and some of us harvest the fruit when the time is ripe. It’s not our job to do it all. But it is our privilege to play a small part somewhere in the process.

God is at work, so we need not be either timid or overzealous.
He wants people saved, He’s the lead evangelist, and we have a meaningful part to play.

Mark Greene loosely offers a few basic ingredients to the process of sharing our faith:

The first is prayer. Prayer WILL change things—I truly believe it and have seen the power of prayer in many different facets of life. It WILL soften hearts and create uncanny coincidences and opportunities. And it will open us up to see where God is already working and where the doors are already open. Some folks on our frontlines will be indifferent, some even hostile, but some are open and hungry. God’s invitation to us is to recognise those people who are open.

The second ingredient is caring for people. This is what we’ve already covered in topics like modelling godly character and ministering love and grace. Showing acts of generous kindness and patience—going the extra mile, encouraging and calling out the beautiful things in people, and being good listeners to their pains and struggles. I’m really passionate about this. These actions, besides being the right thing to do, create relationship and build trust. People will listen to you if they feel safe with you, even if they disagree with you. This was precisely Jesus’ approach, when he met that Samaritan woman at the well, in John 4Open Link in New Window, which Richard mentioned earlier. Jesus broke down social barriers, showed kindness, built trust, and offered hope, in spite of her chaotic marital life. It’s the same approach that we need to take.

But we all know that deeds are not enough. That famous quote, which I’m sure you all know, (falsely attributed to St Francis): “preach the gospel, and if you have to, use words”—just doesn’t quite cut the mustard. The truth is, words are always, always needed. Yes, preach with your deeds, but there comes a point when we must open our mouths as well and point to Jesus. As Paul states in Romans 10:14Open Link in New Window—“how are they to believe in one of whom they’ve never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” And so we come to our third ingredient, ‘Share the truth.’

So we’ve got Prayer, Care, and now Share. Our reading today from 1 Peter 3:15-18Open Link in New Window highlights the humble part we can play in proclaiming him. Verse 15 says we need to “always be ready to give a defence / give a reason / give an answer to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you.” (As an aside, it’s interesting that the inherent assumption here is that we are already living our lives in such a godly way that it calls forth these questions from others.) Anyway, this doesn’t mean you have to be a polished, platform evangelist. Nor do you have to be a philosophically profound and articulate apologist. Peter probably didn’t mean, “Always be prepared to drop some pre-packaged, rehearsed, formulaic summary of the gospel into the conversation.” That usually doesn’t work. He more likely meant “Always be ready to answer the question in a way that’s true to you and tailored to the person asking you.” And a big part of that is being able to share your own personal story.

Finally the last ingredient is ‘offer a way forward’. Give them a bible, if they want one. Invite them to services or a course at church (probably online right now). Offer to pray for them. Invite them to a home-group (when they start up again, or perhaps to a zoom home-group for now). Connect them with a Christian friend you think they will get on with.

Here’s a little lockdown project for you, (something that I found helpful a number of years back when it was suggested to me). Why not prepare a little written piece, or just a note-page of bullet-points, which tells the important stories in your life of how God has been at work and either brought you to faith or deepened your faith through answered prayer. Make it no longer than 5 minutes, (so not much more than about 6 or 700 words), and make sure you use no Christian jargon. And then practice it with a friend over the phone, or in person, telling your story, until you know it by heart.

It is surprisingly challenging, but so useful. When you are ready like this, you’ll be amazed at how often gospel-sharing opportunities fall into your lap. One of the hairdressers at the Barber I go to always asks me questions about Christian faith. There’s an open door! And I am praying that next time that the Spirit will give me just the right words to help nudge him towards Jesus.

Here’s another one: Recently I got a text message from an old Spanish-speaking colleague from the primary school I used to work in. Here’s part of what she said:

“We were so lucky to have you in the school. You helped me a lot… Maybe you didn’t notice but you were like a God in there for me. I’m doing meditation and yoga, and I have my moments when memories come back. I know you are very busy but I had to tell you. Please tell me about your job. Are you working at the church? But what about lockdown?”

Talk about a open door! I think God is giving me a part to play in this woman’s journey to Jesus. I need wisdom and boldness in how to respond and I’m praying God use me to point her to Jesus.

In the collect we prayed earlier in this service, it mentioned prayer, patience, courage and hope. May God help us be persistent in prayer for those on our frontline and may we recognise that the patience, courage and hope that we need to share the good news is already ours in Jesus, and as we step out in faith, may he make us fruitful on our frontline! Amen.

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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