As we continue in our conversation about what we should do with what we believe, Tell Someone, this week we are talking about the most essential ingredient in sharing our faith with another person. There are many things that might be considered to be the most important thing, but what we’ll talk about today really lies at the heart of the matter. Keep reading to find out what it is.
The Secret Sauce
Think for a minute with me this morning about your favorite recipe. I’m talking about the thing that if this was going to be your last meal on earth, this is what you want to have on the menu. What is the most essential ingredient in that recipe? My wife is a really good cook. Like, really good. If I was going to eat a final meal, as long as she was cooking it, I really couldn’t go wrong. There are several things she makes that would land on my list of favorites, but right near the top of that list right now is this chicken and Bisquik biscuit dish that is just amazing. She first made it several years ago, but pulled it back out a couple of months ago and it was like being reintroduced to a long, lost friend. I could have eaten that stuff until I exploded. The essential ingredient in that dish is the chicken. But not just any chicken. You really need thigh meat for it to have the flavor it needs. Better yet, when she does it with one of those whole roaster chickens you get from the deli section at the store…wow. Just, wow. How about you? What are some of the most essential ingredients in your favorite dishes?
Most things require a number of different parts and pieces in order to work. Sometimes you can take out this or that and the thing will still work—or taste—like you expect it to. But there is usually one part that is the most essential to have in place or it simply isn’t going to work like you expect. No amount of wishing will make a bit of difference. Take this thing out and all you really have is a paperweight of one size or another. Well, this morning, as we continue in our new teaching series, Tell Someone, we are going to talk about what is the most essential ingredient when it comes to sharing your faith with another person.
This morning finds us in the second part of this journey. Last week, we kicked off this conversation by clarifying just what exactly is our task when it comes to sharing our faith. So often, conversations about evangelism fall apart on a lack of clarity here. Someone encourages us to go tell the world about Jesus and what we hear is that we need to tell the world about Jesus. Well, that’s too big a task for anyone to accomplish and most of us would rather eat a plateful of insects than strike up a conversation with a stranger about Jesus…especially the introverts in the room. The result here is that we simply write ourselves out of the job. We’ll leave that to the “official” evangelists.
As we talked about, though, the task of evangelism is much simpler than we often make it. With the help of some of Paul’s words to the church in ancient Corinth (by the way, I’m glad those guys were as messed up as they were; we have a lot of really good material to keep us on track in our faith because of them), we learned that our real task in evangelism is to simply connect people with Jesus. God wants you to connect people with Jesus. All you have to make is a good introduction. He may call you to more from there, but at the end of the day, connecting people to Jesus is the basic job.
Still, evangelism is a task with a lot of parts and pieces to it. There are relationships to build and evidences to learn and conversations to have and questions to answer. And those are all really important things to be thinking about. It’s worth our time to invest in learning about all of those things. But I really want for this series to be about making sure you not simply are, but that you feel more equipped to tell someone about your faith than you’ve ever felt before. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to feel equipped for anything, it’s going to start with my knowing the basics really well. So then, when it comes to evangelism, what is the most basic element? What is the thing without which the rest of it isn’t going to work any longer—at least, not as it was designed to work?
In order to answer that question, we are going to look this morning to some more words from the apostle Paul. And I’ll be honest right out of the gate here: These words aren’t really about evangelism. But then again, they kind of are. I want to look with you this morning at something Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, who was serving the church in Ephesus. The deacons and I have been going through Paul’s first letter to Timothy as a group for the last several weeks and it has been a fantastic reminder of just how much good stuff there is here on how to do church. Paul’s real concern for Timothy was that he lead the church well amid the swirling waters of heresy brewing both outside and inside the church.
Doing this kind of thing really is a battle. Paul told Timothy as much in the letter. If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, find your way to 1 Timothy with me and let’s see this together. We’ll start in 1 Timothy 1:18: “Timothy, my son, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the good fight, having faith, and a good conscience.”
That’s Paul’s thesis statement for the letter. As chapter 2 begins, Paul starts out like this: “First of all, then…” Now, hearing that, Paul could go in all kinds of directions with what follows. If you were Paul, what would you say next? If you were going to tell Timothy how to fight this good fight with faith and a good conscience where might you start? Get clear on what you believe? Throw out the heretics? Invest in the spiritual disciplines? That’s not where Paul goes first.
Look at this with me: “First of all, then, I urge [in other words, this is really important] that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority.” Now, again, like I said a minute ago, these words aren’t about evangelism. This is about how to lead a church well and keep it from falling into heresy. And of all the places Paul could have started, he started here: pray for everyone, but especially those who are in authority over you. That’s it? Really, Paul?
Well, think about it for a second. If you’re trying to keep a church on the straight and narrow, there are enough internal challenges to keep you from doing that effectively and well. The last thing you need are external challenges stemming from a hostile cultural environment. So, yes, absolutely pray for your leaders. Pray for them to get and hold everything on their end together well. When they’ve got things in hand, your situation is likely to be a lot better than when they don’t. And just so we’re clear, Paul wrote this when Nero was the Emperor of Rome. It doesn’t matter what your opinion of your current leaders is, Paul still calls you to pray for them if you are a follower of Jesus.
And why should we do this? Interestingly, Paul’s first reason is entirely focused on us: “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” In other words, we do this so they’ll leave us alone to live how we please. Our rationale for praying for others doesn’t have to be entirely about them. Sometimes we pray for others so our own lives are easier.
Remember, though, when I changed my tune a bit and said Paul’s words here kind of are about evangelism? Look where he goes next now starting in v. 3: “This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time.”
Do you see it? We pray for them because it benefits us, yes, but we pray for them—indeed, for everyone—because it can benefit them too. We pray because God wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Even more than that, Paul is giving Timothy instructions on leading the church. What is the church’s primary job if not to connect people into a relationship with Jesus? So then, again, while, no, these words aren’t exactly about evangelism, they kind of are. And where is the very first place Paul goes when giving Timothy some sound advice that ultimately points in the direction of sharing the Gospel with people who haven’t yet connected with it? Prayer. In other words, the most essential ingredient when it comes to evangelism is prayer. All evangelism starts with prayer.
This is a pretty big idea, so let’s take a minute and unpack this together. On the one hand, this is something we know, right? We should be praying for people to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. But can we be honest with one another this morning? When was the last time you really, truly, meaningfully, fervently did that? When was the last time you did it on purpose on a regular basis and not just as a spur of the moment thing because it sure would have been more convenient to deal with this or that person if they were a follower of Jesus than if they were not? And if you would not claim to be a follower of Jesus and are listening to this starting to feel a bit offended, I would rather deal with a competent and kind non-Christian, than a judgmental and incompetent Christian. That being said, I’m pretty convinced this whole Christian faith thing is right and true and that you would be better off accepting it than not. But come on, Christian, don’t we sometimes pray for someone to receive Jesus because it would be more convenient for us or it would assuage our conscience that’s guilty for not sharing our own faith with them or simply that it would give us peace of mind about their final life destination? When was the last time you really and truly prayed for someone to receive Jesus as Lord because it was the best thing for them whether it impacted you directly or not?
At the same time, though, how often have you gone into a time of evangelism with either no prayer or with an internal prayer that God not make you actually talk to anyone? Yet when we even think about sharing our faith and prayer isn’t where we start, we are communicating something we’d probably rather not communicate if we really understood the message we were sending. When we go into sharing our faith without prayer, what we’re communicating is one of two things. We’re communicating either that we don’t really care whether they accept Jesus or not, or we’re communicating that we’re enough all by ourselves to get someone to accept Jesus. I don’t know about you, but neither of those are really things I want to be communicating to anybody, let alone at all. For starters, if there’s somebody I don’t want to see embracing eternal life, that’s a symptom of a giant, gaping hole in my theology that needs to be properly filled. On the other hand, if somebody accepts Jesus solely because of my efforts, then they’re probably not accepting the actual Jesus, but merely my best presented version of Him which means I’m setting them off on the wrong foot from the start. Either way, we’ve got a major problem on our hands. No, the simple reality is that all real evangelism starts with prayer. All evangelism starts with prayer.
Fine, but how should this prayer work? I mean, are we just supposed to pray, “Lord, help them be saved if they’re not,” every time we talk to somebody? Well, I guess that’s one way to do it, but I think we can do a lot better than that, don’t you? Let’s think just a bit more critically here about what the needs are when it comes to someone hearing and responding to the Gospel with faith. The first thing that needs to be in place is an open heart. A heart that’s hard isn’t letting anything in, let alone the Gospel. And some folks have a whole lifetime of heart-hardening experiences in their past. We’re probably not going to break through all of that the first time we sit down with them and tell them about our faith in Jesus. But then here’s the thing: We’re not the ones who are going to soften a heart. We can love someone well, but the Spirit does the softening. That’s something you can pray for…because all evangelism starts with prayer.
The next thing you need in most cases is a relational connection. Not many people—especially nowadays—are going to accept the Gospel and really start growing in it based on the random presentation of a total stranger. Most folks are going to start following Jesus out of the context of a relationship they have with a committed follower of Jesus who has been patiently and consistently investing in their life over a period of time. That’s something you can pray for too. In fact, that’s a role you can pray for the opportunity to play in another person’s life. Indeed, all evangelism starts with prayer.
Next, there is probably going to be a point at which a conversation happens in which the Gospel is shared clearly, and the person finally accepts it. This will almost certainly not be the first time the person has heard the Gospel. It may have been shared several times prior to this moment. But this is the time that the harvest is finally ready. God has you there at that point not so much to do anything other than take in the harvest when it’s ready. You can pray for this moment to come. In fact, you should, because all evangelism starts with prayer.
And while you should pray this for everyone, you should be praying this and more specifically for the folks who are in your current sphere of influence who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus. Listen: Your job is not to save the whole world. That’s the church’s job. But even that isn’t every individual church’s job. We are not equipped to minister and proclaim the Gospel to folks in uptown Charlotte as well as we are to our community here in Oakboro and the greater Oakboro metro area. He may call us to get involved somewhere else and we need to be ready to jump in with both feet in obedience to His call, but until then, our chief aim is the people currently within our sphere of influence. Your chief aim is the people currently within your sphere of influence. Let’s get even more specific than that: Your chief aim is that person you called to mind last week.
All evangelism starts with prayer. That includes your evangelism. It doesn’t start with you. It starts with prayer. It starts with an invitation to the Holy Spirit to be the absolute central part of the whole process from start to finish. From the softening of their heart, to the openness of their mind, to the conversations that will lead them along the path, to the point they finally embrace the Gospel with all their heart, mind, and strength. All evangelism starts with prayer.
So, here’s what I want you to do as we wrap up this morning. I want you to call to mind that person you imagined last time; the one who is currently in your life that God just may be calling you to help connect with Jesus. If you weren’t here, we missed you, and now I want you to call to mind that person in your life. And here’s how we’re going to finish today. We are going to put this into practice immediately. This isn’t something we can afford to wait on. I want you right now to spend a few moments praying for this one person. Pray that his or her heart will be softened by the Spirit to be receptive to the Gospel message. Pray that God will engineer this person’s circumstances so that he or she is coming into more and more regular contact with believers who will love them winsomely and well in Jesus’ name. Pray for an opportunity to begin broaching the subject of the Gospel with them. Pray for the words to speak. Pray for a receptive mind. Pray for clear communication. Pray for the destruction of obstacles and excuses. Pray for a willing heart. Pray for a church community—led by you—to provide good follow up discipleship so their embrace of the faith isn’t a solo, unaccountable flash-in-the-pan. Pray for clear guidance by the Spirit into the full and complete life of Christ. All evangelism starts with prayer and your personal evangelism is starting right now.