Different Contexts, Similar Obstacles
I’m an international church-planter, sharing the gospel in a frontier, urban context which is low-class, rough around the edges, and conservatively Islamic, located in the heart of the Middle East. Now I’m guessing that’s not exactly the same context you live in when you go to tell others about Jesus. However, I’d venture the obstacles which I face in sharing my faith in Jesus are more similar to yours than you might think. Let me tell you how.
A Hulk in Traffic
Recently I found myself weaving my way through bumper to bumper traffic in my city on the way back from an outing with friends. In my car were four of the most fit Arab guys one might ever meet. (With my smaller build, the disparity in our sizes in my small car was a bit comical!) Having met these guys at the local gym, my teammate and I had gone out with them for the evening and we had hopes of sharing about Jesus. Sitting in the driver’s seat, I engaged in conversation with the biggest of them who was sitting next to me, a 200+ pound Hulk with a giant personality to match his size. That’s when he began to evangelize to me about Islam. I was his target and was squarely in his crosshairs.
As the Hulk grilled me about my faith, I faced countless crossroads in that conversation. Each time that it was my turn to speak, I could choose to direct the conversation with cowardice or courage, timidity or boldness, pride or humility. I could choose to speak boldly about the gospel, or to be quiet, allowing divine opportunities to pass by. By God’s grace, the conversation was a great one as I got to tell my friend how good and true Christ is. (And for the record, his evangelism toward me didn’t succeed – I’m still very committed to following Jesus.)
The Real Giants to Overcome
Sitting in that car that night, my biggest challenge wasn’t the combative nature of my friend, nor his intimidating size and personality. It wasn’t his conservatively Islamic faith, as radically serious as he is. The giants in my car full of Arab body-builders were the same giants I face every time I am tempted to choose silence over worship: my fear of man and love of self. Would I speak, or would I be gripped by my own absorption for my reputation and my fear of what others might do?
In The Expulsive Power of New Affection, Thomas Chalmers contends that the “best way of casting out impure affections [in my case the fear of man and love of reputation] is to admit [introduce] a pure one.” That’s the way the heart works. When I choose to be silent about Jesus, it’s my heart that is choosing to esteem man too highly and coddle my fleeting reputation too carefully. According to Chalmers, I need to introduce a more powerful, more gripping, more expulsive power which will propel me to speak, not to be silent. What is that power?
Ending his missionary letter to the Romans, Paul gives us a glimpse into the nature of these heart affections. As he begins his argument for why he must be sent to the farthest reaches of the earth, he quotes the Psalmist, writing:
“Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
Worship. What he needs is a heart filled in joyous praise, ready to sing to the goodness of the name of Christ, and ready to do so among the Gentiles. Worship is the fuel of evangelism which will allow us to speak in the crucial moments when Christ’s name needs to be praised among the lost. Worship is the expulsive power that will allow me (and you!) to open my mouth and overcome the giants of fear of man and love of reputation. When reality clicks in the recesses of my heart to truly adore Christ as beautiful, I will find myself overcome and unable to remain quiet.
So next time you find yourself in a crucial conversation with a lost coworker or unsaved friend, don’t try to white-knuckle it and force yourself to dutifully share. Doing so will only last for so long before your heart finds an off-ramp in the conversation, making excuses for why the moment is not right or why you are still not ready. Instead, let your heart reflect on the greatness of Christ and what He has done for you at Calvary. Let your heart sing to His name among the Gentiles and then sing to His name to the Gentiles.
For now, my team and I continue to serve in the Middle East, daily searching out opportunities to tell our neighbors how good Jesus is. My Hulk friend has remained our friend despite more than a few heavy conversations. All external signs point to his heart still resolutely resisting our message. However, our team rejoices in the gospel and worships Christ when we rehearse it to the Hulk, in hopes that one day he will join us in our song.