A few years ago, just before Christmas, we had a very nice Jehovah’s Witness couple with poor English skills come to the door. They were in our neighborhood hoping to win a couple of converts to their cause. (They didn’t, obviously.)
Though they were unsuccessful, one of the great opportunities that their visit—and subsequent visits—gave me was the opportunity to attempt to share the gospel with them, too. In our first conversation, we talked about the deity of Christ (which I initiated), and the personhood of the Holy Spirit (their initiative). Though we didn’t make much headway, in part because it was really, really cold, we did agree to keep talking to one another.
They came back a few weeks later, this time with an associate whose first language was English. Again, we went back and forth—even addressing a couple of common ground issues—but I could tell the new guy was going to insist on sticking to his script. He jumped into talking about how Abraham is the only man to ever be called a friend of God by God himself (which is true) and asking me what one must do to be right with God. I suspect he probably not expecting much of an answer beyond “be a good person.” My response was to trust in the finished work of Christ and proceeded to explain the gospel. He kept coming back to works (not as a response to grace) and then immediately jumping into their wholly depressing view of the new creation: that while some will dwell on the new earth, others—the 144,000—will dwell with God (who, incidentally, also won’t be making his home among all the redeemed).
They left again, largely because I was not going to be moved by their not-terribly-compelling arguments to abandon the Christian gospel. Nevertheless, they did come back again a few more times. The last time, I gave them a trustworthy translation of the Bible and encouraged them to read it. The gentleman I’d been speaking on and off for several weeks seemed appreciative. His wife did not.
Neither came around again.
Maybe this story sounds a bit like boasting—”See what I did? Am I not the awesomest?” But it’s not. The there’s a key point here: they kept coming to my house. I wasn’t out on an evangelistic crusade. I wasn’t out trying to “win souls” for Jesus. I was at home having breakfast on a Saturday morning and they came and rang my doorbell.
They were coming to evangelize me.
So lest anyone think I am a powerful evangelist, or someone who is spiritually gifted to do something extraordinary, keep in mind: I’ve never seen a single person saved when I’ve shared the gospel to my knowledge. If we were putting notches on my evangelism belt, there wouldn’t be any. The only thing that in any way makes what happened unusual is this: God was answering my prayer.
See, one of the funniest things we pray about is evangelism. Most of us pray for opportunities to share our faith… but we also secretly hope God won’t give us those opportunities. I know because I’ve been there. But God is going to answer—and he is going to give you opportunities to share the gospel. Why? because this is something that is a basic of the Christian faith. We go and tell. We’re to be out in the world, making the most of every opportunity to share the good news.
But we don’t go for it. We’re afraid of rejection. We feel unnatural with “canned” presentations. The words that seem so natural coming out of that big famous pastor’s mouth fall flat when coming out of ours. Our insecurities paralyze us.
Even so, the command remains. And so we are in this weird position where we pray but hope he won’t answer.
But you do realize that he is going to answer this prayer, right? In fact, he has most likely already answered it.
Unless you live in a commune or in the woods, you’ve probably got neighbors who don’t know Jesus. If you don’t work at a Christian organization, you’ve probably got coworkers who don’t know Jesus (and maybe even if you do). You might even have people who don’t know Jesus coming to your door to evangelize you. And let’s be honest: when the Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on the door or when the Mormons ring the bell, it can’t get any more ridiculously-over-the-top obvious that God is answering your prayer.
So what should we make of this? How do we recover our ability to share the faith? I think it starts with our prayers. When we pray, perhaps the first thing we need to do, rather than praying for the opportunity, is to pray to be willing to follow through. And to pray for this sort of willingness, this sort of boldness, is no easy thing. It means being willing to accept failure. To accept rejection. And sometimes to know when to stop talking.
But it’s also the kind of prayer God is going to answer.
God wants his gospel to be made known in this world—and if you believe the gospel, he has chosen you to be one of his instruments in making it known. So pray, friend, trusting that he will give you all you need—and let him worry about what comes after.