Since my conversion in 1999, I have spoken to many people about Christ, including friends, family members, classmates, and even random people on the street. It is the most wonderful feeling to be able to glorify God and lift the spirits of those who are hopeless. Unfortunately, there also have been some sour moments when I know that God's name was not glorified by my idle ramblings. During those times, it might have been better if I had not opened my mouth at all. In this article I would like to give a personal account of what I believe worked in my personal evangelism and what resulted in failure.
There exists only one Truth, but this does not mean that there is only one way to present that Truth. I quickly learned that we can't approach everyone with the gospel in the same manner.
The apostle Paul wrote, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor 9:22). Likewise, we should all be conscious of and sensitive to each person's religion as well as family, economic, and social background. Preaching the gospel is not mass advertising. God's message should be tailored to each person's life-situation. To be good preachers, we must first be good listeners.
Paul did not preach to the Gentiles in the same manner as he preached to the Jews. When speaking to Christians of other denominations, we should familiarize ourselves with their beliefs and doctrines. We should also have a solid understanding of the Bible and of our own beliefs so that we can speak with confidence and wisdom.
When preaching to people of other religions, we should try to understand why they believe what they believe. I once tried to speak to a Muslim friend about my newfound faith in Christ. My efforts proved futile because she already believed that the Koran was the truth. I had very little understanding of Islam and the Koran, so I could not convincingly explain to her why she should believe in the Bible instead of the Koran. I assumed that Islam was just a culture-specific tradition. I found out later that the Koran is very similar to the Bible in that it contains most of the stories mentioned in the Old Testament. Like the Jews, the Muslims believe in Jesusâ€”but only that He was a great prophet.
All this time, I was trying to convince my friend that the Bible was the only true book in the world. Meanwhile, she was not even disagreeing with the validity of the Bible; she was really struggling with how Jesus, a man, could be God. I sincerely regret that I did not do my homework before approaching my dear friend about Christianity. With a rushing desire to bring my friend to Christ, I was not patient enough to rely on God's wisdom and have faith in prayer.
Shining the Light of Christ
It is our duty as followers of Christ to shine bright in this world of darkness. No matter whom we are speaking to, we must let them see God's light and love in us. If we tell them that God will give them peace, then we must have peace. If we promise joy, then we must also express joy in preaching. If we say that their lives will change, then we must present ourselves as living examples of holiness.
When I was first drawn to Christ, it was not because the church or doctrine motivated me. Rather, it was because I perceived a significant change in the character of my would-be husband in Christ. He somehow had become more loving, calmer, and gentler. I needed not to be persuaded by his words, because I was convinced by his actions.
When I met the church members, I really felt that their countenances were like those of angels. They seemed so different from people I had met beforeâ€”the brothers and sisters were sincerely kind, gentle, pure, and innocent. Of course, everyone has their weaknesses, but it was at that critical time when I was forming my impression of the church that I needed to see all the goodness in them and of the Holy Spirit.
From this experience, I learned that love is a very powerful tool in evangelism. In a world where everyone is looking out for himself, a person expressing unconditional love is an exception.
I had a co-worker who was one of the unfortunate contractors affected by a mass layoff in my company. I did not know him very well, since I had only been with the company for two months. Still, I felt bad for him when I heard the news, so I visited him at his cubicle to wish him well and take him to lunch.
To my surprise, he was visibly astonished and touched that I had come down to see him, since we only had a few brief conversations in the hallway. He was feeling pretty depressed and accepted my invitation to lunch.
We went for a walk and had a pleasant conversation about life and how one could draw closer to God. Thank God, when we returned to the office, he told me that he had been really worried about his job situation, but after the walk he felt really uplifted and hopeful.
I will never forget when he looked at me and said, "You know, you are really an exception." As a Christian, we must try to be an exception every minute because we never know when someone is paying attention.
Praying for God's Abidance
It is pure joy when I am able to glorify God's name through evangelism, but it is the worst feeling when I know that I did not preach according to His will.
I had a bad experience when I was trying to preach to a classmate in college. By chance, I met her at the library, and I did not pray before approaching her because I was pretty confident that I could preach on the fly. I had heard many sermons on our doctrines, and I had spoken with ease to many people about my personal experiences with God.
But this time when I spoke to my classmate, I could not put one comprehensible sentence together, nor was I prepared to answer any of the questions she had concerning our church. My heart sank when she said that my description of our church reminded her of a cultic church that her uncle had encouraged her to join. I fear that I left her with a bad impression of God's true church. My tongue, which should be used to edify, was instead a stumbling block to her faith.
From this experience, I learned that we must have God's abidance in any holy work. Peter and John were untrained and uneducated men, yet God used them and gave them the gifts to carry out His plan. We must not rely on our own understanding but instead utilize God's words to move a person's heart. It is not by our own understanding that we can move a person's heart, but only with God's words and the Holy Spirit working through us in His time.
Welcoming All Without Reservation
It is sometimes difficult to be unbiased toward people who we wish could be saved, but it is important that we welcome everyone into Christ without prejudice. God's pure love is unconditional, and to Him every soul is precious, worth more than the whole world.
There was one time when I hesitated to allow a sister to bring a potential truthseeker to the Bible study held in my home. This sister had just met this man on the train and knew very little of his background. I was concerned about having a stranger know my address, and I wanted her to get to know him a little better before bringing him into my home.
Immediately after I said this to her in a telephone conversation, I felt really bad, as if the Holy Spirit was rebuking me for having so little faith in God's protection. I knew that I should welcome anyone who wished to draw closer to God, but I also could not help fearing that this person could be a potential robber or murderer.
I prayed to God for guidance and I repented for having so much self-concern and so little faith in Him. Through prayer, I came to realize that I should honor God with all of my possessionsâ€”for all that I have, whether it be my home or my life, was given by God. I called the sister back to tell her to bring anyone to my house who wanted to hear the Truth.
Just as God trained Peter (Acts 10:34) to refrain from calling any man common or unclean, we should not hold any prejudice or reservation in holy work. God has shown me that His divine love is very different from the love that I thought I possessed. I do not know if I will ever really be able to love my neighbor as myself, but I know that I am just beginning to understand what love really is, as described in 1 Corinthians 13.
God does not distinguish between family members, friends, or strangers, and God does not reserve His love only for people closest to Him. Thank God for His goodness and mercy. May the love of Christ fill us all so that our efforts in evangelism will bear much fruit.