May 15, 2007

Starting Spiritual Conversations

An important part of evangelism is being able to start a “spiritual conversation.” In some ways this is the most difficult thing imaginable, and in other ways it is very easy. It seems that so many people are willing to speak about spiritual matters. The real trial comes in speaking about our personal beliefs without belittling what the other person believes.

Being able to speak about personal beliefs without belittling others is not a sign of spiritual cowardice. “You aren’t willing to say that someone else’s beliefs are wrong?” is a claim heard often. I think that we demonstrate the greatest level of love for neighbor when we respect their beliefs.

Does it mean that I agree with what they believe? No

Does it mean that I think whatever someone believes is okay? No

I do, however, think our primary action is to demonstrate our love for the person. This begins with actively listening to the person and respecting their beliefs.

As I have been reading the Journals of John Wesley, I found this entry written on January 2, 1738, “I went several times the following days, with a design to speak to the sailors, but could not. I mean, I was quite averse [willing, wanting to] to speaking; I could not see how to make an occasion, and it seemed quite absurd to speak without. Is not this what men commonly mean by, "I could not speak"? And is this a sufficient cause of silence, or no? Is it a prohibition from the Good Spirit? or a temptation from nature, or the evil one?”

Often our silence is not for lack of “want-to” is a lack of know-how. We simply don’t know how to start a spiritual conversation with others. In order to start a spiritual conversation, be aware of the following:

1. The Holy Spirit. Often we depend on our own insight or wisdom rather than be attentive to the voice of God. God has promised that His Holy Spirit will precede us. The Spirit must prepare a person’s heart to hear the Good News. Often the conversation will just open up in front of us as the Holy Spirit makes the way.

2. Timing. Sometimes we can blow up the whole process by rushing into a spiritual discussion that just is not there. We need to be willing to speak when the opportunity is there, but we cannot rush a person’s spiritual journey toward God. God moves people toward Himself one step at a time. Our well intentioned statement may do more to push people away than help them move forward.

3. Pray. Pray before, Pray during, Pray after. God moves in response to our prayers. He is willing to give us both the opportunity and the words if we are willing to ask.

4. Be natural. A word that is being overused lately is “Authentic.” But it does remind us that we need to be comfortable. We need to use typical words that everyone understands. We need to be humble and not preachy.

Often the simplest of questions will get the ball rolling. I have read the spiritual discussion starters in Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg. The problem is that out of context they seem so hokey. I think the questions will come if we are just aware of the opportunity or willing to share how God helped us with a problem. Then the questions like: “What do you think about God?” or, “What do you think a real Christian is?” will be able to be used.

I am a firm believer in the ability of the Holy Spirit to open the doors for us to share our faith with others. We just have to be willing to go through the door when the opportunity arises.

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