Dreaming of Easter Conversations (part 2 of 3) — Preparing Our Hearts
It doesn’t matter what sport we talk about, all of them require a good posture with your feet firmly grounded. Whether it is Baseball, Football, Golf, Archery, Powerlifting, Running, Ballet and more, Step One is your posture and footing.
Why bring up this point? Because in Part One I spent time encouraging us to make sure we have good mental and spiritual posture.
In Part One it was difficult for me to write out how the Bible clearly describes the unbeliever’s state of mind and heart. I needed to remind myself of it.
We need our feet grounded in a Biblical view. However, if we stop at this point, we become nothing more than cold purveyors of religion. Religion doesn’t win anyone to Christ.
There are many athletes that have all the mechanics. They don’t succeed because they lack the heart. Prayer, which was covered in Part One, is a part of preparing our hearts, but we need more heart preparation.
Why is the heart important? Because what is in my heart usually shows up when I open my mouth! Jesus connects the relationship of my heart to my mouth in no uncertain terms, Matthew 15:18.
Often, after a conversation I had did not go well, I say to my exasperated self, “David, what were you thinking?” But this is the wrong question, I should ask, “David what is in your heart?”
Let’s look at Jesus. His ability to engage others is amazing. Why? Because his heart is pure and overflowing. When I look at Jesus, and then look at myself, I see “three separate parts of me” that I must work on:
- My motives and aim, are they correct?
- The types of questions I ask, are they to win an argument or love a person?
- My current state of readiness, am I willing to not settle for my current ability, but grow?
Let’s look at each.
Motives and Aim
The second we open our mouths about Jesus, the person we are speaking with is going to assume a position/attitude towards us. Perhaps they will be open, perhaps they have past experiences that cause them to become defensive.
The same would have been true of the people Jesus spoke with!
Imagine the woman at the well in John chapter 4. Think of this woman, who had had five husbands, might she have had the experience of being judged by the “holier-than-thou crowd”?
When Christians approach another person about Jesus, before we even finish our sentence, that person will most likely have formed an opinion, and they may even be bracing for a lecture or an argument.
How is it then, that, when I read my Bible, Jesus is accepted by everyone (except the religious experts)?
He is accepted because His motive and aim shines through His countenance.
His motive is Love.
His Aim is to honor the Father.
The woman at the well does not storm off angry (or react in even worse) because in that brief moment when she sees Jesus, she has concluded that he genuinely cares about her. Might we say, He loves her.
Jesus’ motive is to love. Is love always my motive? Is that motive obvious to the person I am about to engage?
Further, while Jesus’ desire is that no one should perish, (2 Peter 3:9) He has the ability to walk away. In the Scriptures He does not win everyone to His way of thinking.
Why can he walk away? Because while his love for us is complete, his ultimate goal, his desire, his aim, is to please the Father.
Engaging another in conversation about God, because we love them, is pleasing to the Father. We don’t have to win every debate.
What if rather than count salvations, we counted how many people we engaged? Afterall, we don’t lead anyone to Christ—the Holy Spirit does that.
What Types of Questions Do I Ask?
With my motive and aim clear, my next focus is the type of questions I ask.
There are many ways to categorize questions. Questions can be:
- Closed || Open-ended || Probing || Leading || Loaded || Rhetorical || and more!
So often, when we approach a person about Jesus, we are asking a question where we have already worked out the answer. We are just waiting to spring on people answers to questions, such as:
- “Who do you think Jesus is?”
- “Have you ever heard Christ’s Gospel according to the Bible?”
- “Would you like to know what Jesus says about Himself and why He came?”
- “Do you ever think about what life’s all about and what happens after this life?”
- “If you died today, what do you think will happen?”
- What do you believe about the Bible?
I would be the first to say that we need to have answers to these questions and more, but I do not recommend any of them as the starting point. (In the coming weeks, after Easter, I will be addressing these and other questions.)
In business, in life, whether we know, or do not know where a person stands on a subject, we normally inquire.
Please read that again. Regardless of whether we think we know where a person stands on a subject, their opinion, we normally inquire. It is respectful. It also gives us a natural starting point.
Consider the standard opening question when a person walks into a store, “What brings you in today?” The answers range from, “I’m just looking.” To “I have come in today to buy a truck, a blue truck, a blue truck with a V-8 engine, a blue truck with…”
If we were the salesperson, our starting point in one instance is vague and requires a specific response in order to keep the person open to us. In the other situation the answer provides a starting point that is all about getting down to business.
We would take two very different approaches. I would like that sort of information as I step into a spiritual discussion not just to know where to start, but in order to “see the person”.
At The Pocket Testament League, we are simultaneously forward as we literally offer a Gospel of John to a person, while at the same time somewhat relaxed based on the wording we use.
Consider these five examples – and the real-life answers:
- “I wanted to give you this little book. It is a Gospel of John. The message of it changed my life and I wanted to share it.”RESPONSE: “I don’t like Christians!”
- “Could I offer you a gift? It is a Gospel of John. It is about Jesus. Knowing him has changed my life.”RESPONSE: “Jesus, cool, he was the first communist.”
- “How is your day going?” Wait for the answer. Then after an appropriate response, say, “I would like to leave this Gospel of John with you. Jesus, and his attitude towards us, encourages me.”RESPONSE: “His attitude towards us, what do you mean?”
- “In our company, we try to follow the teachings of Jesus. We aren’t perfect at following Him, but we try. This little Gospel of John describes Jesus and his love for us. We don’t require employees to believe in Jesus. We don’t make employment decisions, salary decisions based on whether people believe in Jesus. In fact, we take the EEOC rules very seriously. BUT, we just wanted to be transparent with you. We hope you will read it. We are happy to answer any questions.”RESPONSE: “I used to go to church growing up.”
- In the company lunch or break room there are Gospels of John with a sign that says, “You are welcome to take one, if you have any questions, see Bill Jones.”RESPONSE: A person finds Bill and says, “Hey, you are the guy to see about these Gospels, right? Can we talk, my child is really sick.”
Most times, the person’s response gives us a clue to their current state of mind. They might be:
- Trying to warn us off, possibly because they have had a bad experience with another of Jesus’ followers – “I don’t like Christians.”
- Putting up defense because they are not quite sure where we are going to take the conversation – “Jesus was the first communist.”
- Genuinely curious – “His attitude towards us, what do you mean?”
- Seeking common ground – “I used to go to church when I was growing up.”
- Opening the door to a crisis in their life – “My child is seriously ill.”
It is perhaps what we say NEXT in any of the examples above that is either going to win us the opportunity to continue talking or be shut out.
Remember our motives and aim.
It may be best to simply leave the Gospel of John with them, letting God’s Word and the Holy Spirit do the heavy lifting of the human heart. Please do not dismiss the power of God’s Word. In Let God Speak, I unpack why the Word of God, the Seed, is so powerful with real-life examples and over 100 ways to share.
However, if you are given the opportunity to move the conversation to the next level, then asking a question that opens up the conversation is best. You may even be able to affirm their views.
- THEIR RESPONSE: “I don’t like Christians.”You might respond: “I’ve met some Christians that are not very nice. I expect there are times I’ve said something stupid. It is why I keep looking at Jesus, how he interacts with people, what he says and does. I am trying to follow him. I love reading what He said and did. Have you ever read anything Jesus actually said himself?”
- THEIR RESPONSE: “Jesus was the first communist.”You might respond: “That’s interesting. I find Jesus an amazing person. What I love about Jesus is how he meets people, like me, right where I am, often in the mess of my life. And sometimes, my life is a mess. Have you ever read one of those stories where Jesus meets someone in their mess or need? Would you like to?”
- THEIR RESPONSE: “His attitude towards us, what do you mean?”You might respond: “I’m amazed by Jesus. The people who reject him, he still loves. I rejected him (if appropriate you could say, “I rejected him for years.). He really cares about us. Can we read a quick story about one such situation?”
- THEIR RESPONSE: “I used to go to church when I was growing up.”You might respond: “Did you enjoy that, or was in hard?” (Perhaps you might share if there was a time you were away from church, but don’t make the conversation about you.) You could ultimately get to, “Jesus had issues with the church of his day, can we read one of situations when he was upset by the church?”
- THEIR RESPONSE: “My child is seriously ill.”You might respond: “I am sorry. Tell me your child’s first name. Are you able to talk to me about the situation?” Listening is key. For them to tell you about this situation may indicate that are deeply hurting. You need to pivot and love them. Please pray with them, right there, before you part ways.
These sorts of questions are meant to walk down a road of building a relationship in their context, the world they are living in.
Ultimately, we should get to the point where they ask us questions, such as
- You don’t really believe the Bible, do you?
- Isn’t Jesus just one way to God, shouldn’t we be tolerant?
- Why does this “God of love” allow sickness and war in the world?
- My child was sick, I prayed, and nothing happened!
Willing to Learn More
Having an approach to answer those questions is important. Before we jump in, just one observation. It is much better that they ask us these types of questions, then when we are asking the questions of them. Why?
Because, even if there is a strong, even negative, tone, they have now invited us to engage in an answer that will take time and require some real substance.
When I am asked those sorts of questions I try to first ascertain if it is:
- A truly theoretical question, or
- A deeply personal troubling question, such as “my child was sick…”
When it is theoretical, you need to have either your answers, or possibly resources to refer people to.
When it is personal, no amount of theory is going to win the day. You need to listen more, learn more, and demonstrate compassion (as Jesus would) for their pain.
Closing Thought for Part 2
I am going to post a series of blogs that deal, one at a time, with various questions, offering my suggestions for how to respond, and where I am able, some resources.
Before I do, in the next blog post I want to look one more time at the person in front of me. I want to ask myself, “Should I be the one to intentionally pursue that person, with love, for Jesus? If yes, am I willing to pursue them?”
At the end of the day, people don’t need another transaction. They are starved for relationships.
Let me end with a question. Are you able to keep separately focused your motives and your aim, as you share your faith?
Go Deeper Resources
- Share Jesus in His own words. Pocket Gospels are a great alternative to Gospel tracts because it’s 100% the Word of God using the actual text from Scripture. Each Gospel includes the full Gospel of John and a plan of Salvation with a response page.
- Let God Speak: A Timeless Method for Sharing Jesus. Overcome obstacles to sharing your faith by learning a time-tested, simple process! Let God Speak is full of good news for you as it unpacks the simple reality of the power of God’s Word—all while providing 100 practical, real-world examples in a myriad of situations.