It’s a question many of us dread – knowing that we’re not as wholehearted as we’re called to be. Few of us make the most of ‘every opportunity’, as Paul encouraged the Ephesians to do. It’s a good question, though. In fact, a great question to ask of someone you care about this week. Not to induce guilt but to help them persevere.
Hebrews 10 calls us to spur one another on to love and good works – that means encouraging each other in mission. If we’re heartened and thankful about opportunities we have to tell others about Jesus, we can share those stories in ways that fuel prayer and praise. Doesn’t it bring pure joy to hear of someone reading the Bible for the first time or dipping a toe into church? But even if our evangelistic labours are a little static or half-hearted, sharing that too can help tease out what’s going wrong; and help each other get stuck back into the most exciting conversations any human being can have.
What an incredible privilege! The King of the universe has given us the task of telling people how to be friends with him. Our words play a part in helping people move from darkness to light – into his glorious kingdom forever. As we open the Bible with people or invite people to events where the gospel is preached, God’s Spirit is at work, lavishing grace and bringing new life. This side of Jesus’ return, it really doesn’t get much better than that!
So why don’t we go for it with every ounce of energy we have?
Sometimes, specific evangelistic efforts need to go on pause for prayer and planning. Sometimes life is hard and we need to pull back from leading a course or inviting people round for dinner. Genuine reasons like this should never induce shame – taking steps to ensure our formal or informal gospel-sharing is strategic and sustainable shows we’re exercising wisdom. Sometimes, our lack of zeal stems from lack of understanding or confidence – we can all grow by getting to know our Bible better, practising our testimony and learning various outlines that help us to explain the gospel. But at other times – maybe most other times – there’s something far deeper going on in our hearts keeping us from opening our mouths. And it all links back to what we love most.
As Christians, I imagine all of us love our family, friends and neighbours and genuinely want what’s best for them, including wanting them to follow Christ. We really do seek God’s kingdom and pray for those we love. However, the crucial question is: do we love other things more?
You see, our hearts are pretty complex places. Amid all the wonderful, godly desires we have for the glory of Jesus, many more self-focused desires are at play. We long for comfort, control, popularity or power, and myriad other things besides. On any given day, those desires rub up against each other. Sometimes our desire to see Christ honoured reigns supreme. Sometimes our desire for other things wins. We love what we want more than we love what God wants. And that’s what the Bible calls idolatry.
How does that work in practice?
It can go something like this:
– We want our neighbours to come to Christ… but want to have a comfortable relationship with them more – after all, we’re stuck with them unless we move house!
– We want family members to come to Christ… but prefer to keep our nice, under- control family dynamics the same – it’s easier than rocking the boat.
– We want our friends to come to Christ… but want to avoid the risk of becoming the unpopular ‘religious one’, quietly ridiculed behind closed doors.
– We want our colleagues to come to Christ… but want that promotion first – no point in jeopardising the extra prestige and pay.
We easily slip into the trap of not so much seeking the kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33) but seeking it second … or third. If you see that in yourself, you’re not alone. But it is a problem. As Galatians 5 reminds us, our idols are opposed to the Spirit – they pull in different directions. Our godly desires nudge us towards having a gospel conversation, our idols nudge us to ‘leave it for today’. Allowing our idols to grow unchecked is a recipe for missional inertia.
So, what can we do?
As well as getting better trained for evangelism (London City Mission would be happy to help with that), we must encourage each other as brothers and sisters in Christ to get some serious heart surgery, to look at what is going on inside. What are we loving more than Christ? What desires are pulling us away from sharing the best news there is? Then, in repentance and prayer, we can ask the Lord to help us put him first in all we say and do. We can remind ourselves, through Scripture, how wonderful the Lord is – his holiness, sovereignty, intimacy and grace are beyond compare! It’s easier to dump our idols when we truly see how awesome God is. And we can encourage one another to keep putting Jesus first.
Doing so isn’t an event – it’s a lifestyle. Each day, we must take off our old self and put on our new (Ephesians 4: 22–24). We need to keep reminding ourselves what we’ve been saved from and saved for. And as we do so, we’ll find our zeal for mission increase – who knows what grace-fuelled conversations will follow?
Willing to give it a go?
Then find a friend and ask, ‘How’s your evangelism going?’ today…
This article first appeared in Changing London.