“Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.”
I’m sorry to break your bubble, but St. Francis of Assisi never said this. You can look it up and will probably find that the earliest instances of this circulating quote showed up in the 1980’s, many centuries after St. Francis’ death.
This past weekend, 7 of us went to Fells point at 10pm to share the gospel, to make God present in the lives of those around us. It is unconventional action on our part, fueled by our desire to obey a direct (not optional) command by Jesus, the one that is called the Great Commission.
Let’s go back to the quote above which is incorrectly attributed to St. Francis. While the idea of your words being congruent with your deeds is important in any kind of life lived authentically, the statement above can misguide people to either be complacent with not proclaiming the good news, or to support the arrogant belief that those who live out the gospel are better and more faithful Christians than those who preach it. It is a false dichotomy between speech and action, when the call to be a follower of Christ includes all of the person: in thought, speech, and action.
Three questions will be explored in this evangelization testimony:
- What does it mean to share the gospel?
- What does it mean to pray for others?
- Why is taking “imperfect action”, the best approach?
What does it mean to share the gospel?
People are people. Sharing the gospel by words is a way of cutting to the heart of the deepest yearning we all share and welcoming others to bring God into their lives. It is sharing that which we believe fulfills us and brings us lasting joy and peace. Not sharing this would be depriving others of such fruits in their lives.
It is also an act of courage and of love. When we approach strangers in this setting it is normal to feel nervous and fearful, just as those on the receiving end feel nervous and fearful. What amazes me is that within a minute of gentle conversation, both parties realize that it is a good thing to relate to one another, and that we were not that estranged to begin with. People can perceive when we are moved by a spirit of love, and naturally open up. There are many ways to go about the actual approach, and in all of them it’s important to start with the intention that you are there to proclaim the Love of God, and to not hold any hidden agendas and share from the beginning why you are there. Here are three methods I’ve had personal experience with:
- Go up to people and simply tell them you are there to share some good news, the news that they are loved by God. Then go on with what does that mean for their lives, and unravel the gospel message. When the conversation is coming to an end, always offer prayer.
- Go up to people and simply begin talking about life and what’s important (friends, family, work, hobbies, faith). In doing so, find ways to share stories of how your faith has helped you overcome certain difficulties, or given you strength and consolation. The idea is to not be afraid to share how cooperating with God has made a difference in your life. When the conversation is coming to an end, always offer prayer.
- Go up to people and simply offer prayer.
What does it mean to pray for others?
I always make it a point to offer prayer, because I believe that no matter how beautiful, eloquent, and persuasive are the words I share when I witness, they are no match to how God can speak directly to a person’s heart (Isaiah 55:9). It has been my personal experience that even people who seemed mildly disinterested during the time we would be talking, would experience something new when they open themselves to receive prayer, sometimes to the point that their emotions drives them to tears. When this happens, to me it is incredible, considering they have known me only for a few minutes.
Last night I learned that it might be helpful to explain to others what it means when we offer to pray for them. I’m sure that among those who are distant from the faith, prayer might simply mean asking God for things, and they might find it silly to do that in public. Other people might think that in praying for them we would be making a show of calling upon God out loud to guilt them into converting their souls. But last night as me and Teresa were finishing our round we went up to two young women who were not believers. They were apprehensive and then I felt compelled to say that when we pray for you what we do is appeal to God in your favor, so that God may affirm the good in your life, may grant clarity in your mind and in life’s decisions, that God may heal and nourish the most important relationships in your life and bless you with authentic peace and joy. After I said that, one of them was suddenly interested and agreed that we would pray over her.
Why is taking “imperfect action”, the best approach?
Because the alternative is usually to take no action at all. While I’m not an advocate of the “Just do it!” slogan, I do believe that in our desire to be comfortable we can endlessly delay right course action because we either fool ourselves to believe we are not ready enough, or we find the most unsubstantiated of excuses to keep deferring to a later time (ex. I am tired, or I’m not in a good mood). No matter how ready we want to be, there will always be risk involved: risk of being rejected, of being humiliated, of not being regarded kindly. In reality, we would learn and benefit to greater lengths by taking imperfect action, than we would just thinking about it, or reading about it.
But perhaps the most important reason for being willing to take imperfect action is that it really is the best we can do. God has a way of being in which He uses the weak to humble the strong, because it shows that it is God’s work and not ours. Many times I’ve gone to evangelize I honestly did not feel like it, and it amazes me to see that it didn’t even matter. Yesterday a man told me that he was waiting for God to show Himself to him and waits with expectant hope. We became an answer to this man’s prayer.
If we consider that we are living out a story, then the fact remains that great stories happen when characters take action. God bless you and see you on the mission field.