Before I became a follower of Jesus, I learned the power of a story.
My sister, Gretchen, had become a Christian and began telling me about the things God was doing in her life. Gretchen was shy by nature and not confrontational in any way. She was certainly not what anyone would call an “evangelist.” But Jesus had entered her heart, and Gretchen began to organically talk about the difference Jesus was making in her life. She had new joy, so she told me about it. She related with people with greater confidence, and she shared this with me. She had more meaning and purpose in her life, and she looked for opportunities to tell me about it. Her stories were organic, they were honest and they were true to who she was becoming as a follower of Jesus.
Through my sister and her new church youth group, I met Doug. He was a college student and committed Christian. He had been following Jesus for a few years, and he began telling me about how God had healed his heart after some deep pain and losses in his life. He was dating a girl named Lisa, and he shared how his friendship with Jesus was helping him build a healthy and strong relationship with her. Doug’s stories of God’s presence and power caused me to grow more curious about Jesus.
I began to wonder if the God who was at work in the life of Doug and Gretchen could actually love me. I became more and more interested in Jesus as I heard their stories of how God was at work in their lives. I had never thought much about religion, but their faith was so real and their stories so compelling that I found myself wishing I knew God like they did.
One of the best ways any follower of Jesus can scatter the seed of the gospel and point people to Jesus is to share stories of how God is at work in his or her life.
Through the years, I have discovered that many non-Christians aren’t convinced that we believe what we say we believe. In other words, they think we are “doing church” and “playing religion,” but they suspect it is vacant, empty and impersonal. So when we share real stories of how God is present in our daily lives, what people hear is that our faith is more than just punching the church clock for an hour a week. When we talk organically about how the presence of God is at work in our daily lives, it can cause people to desire what we have, a living and transforming relationship with the God of the universe.
As you scatter your stories of God’s presence and power, keep it organic. Don’t force it. Be thoughtful and sensitive. Here are some helpful guidelines to help you along the way.
1. Ask permission.
Don’t just launch into a long series of personal experiences of God at work in your life. Be polite and ask, “Could I share a powerful way that I have experienced God at work, helping me make it through a tough situation?” or, “Would you mind if I told you about how I have felt the presence of God guiding me through some complex times?” or, “I have been experiencing more joy in my life than I have in a long time. Can I tell you about where I believe this is coming from?” If they say, “No thanks, I’m not interested,” don’t push it. If they are open, and most people will be, then share your story.
2. Use ordinary language.
Stay away from churchy language. Avoid theological terminology. Take care not to get overly religious in your communication. The longer we follow Jesus, read the Bible and spend time in church, the more prone we are to use words that many people will not understand. Think through what you say. Instead of saying, “I feel so blessed,” say, “I am happier than I have been in a long time.” Be sure you tell your story with words that others will understand.
3. Be brief.
A story that lasts a few minutes is better than one that lasts a few hours. If they seem interested in how God is at work in your life, then ask, “Can I tell you more about this?” A brief story keeps it from feeling like you are trying to hijack the conversation. Shorter stories or testimonies of God’s work in your life give space for them to interact and respond.
4. Stay God-focused.
Your stories are about your life, new things that are happening and how you are being changed. But, God is really the focus of the story. It is God’s presence that has been bringing you comfort. It is God’s power that has carried you through. It is God’s love that is giving you hope. It is God’s grace that is lifting your sense of guilt. Don’t be shy to give God the credit and point out that your faith in Jesus is making a real difference in your life.
5. Be fresh.
God is working in your life in new ways every day. Don’t rely on stories from years ago. Be sure you are noticing how God is at work in your life now, and tell fresh stories.
6. Share the “before and after.”
Sharing the contrast of how your faith in Jesus is making you a new person is very helpful. Many people don’t believe there is any hope or power available for change in their life. Let them know that God has the power to transform them. If you have gone from fear to confidence, tell them about that. If God has taken you from apathy to passion, talk about it. If Jesus has taken a relationship that was loveless and infused it with new care and affection, tell the story. If you have moved from anxiety to peace, give God the credit. Let people know that your faith in Jesus is bringing all sorts of changes in your life, changes for the better.
7. Demonstrate joy.
To know Jesus is to experience a daily infusion of joy. This joy endures and grows through the great times and the profoundly painful times. The non-Christians around you are looking for a joy that is deep and enduring. As you tell your stories, be sure to articulate how your joy is growing.
8. Be honest.
Your stories are just that—they are your experiences. Don’t turn them into a sermon. Don’t become dogmatic. And don’t try to make your experiences normative for all people. Just share what God is doing in your heart, life and relationships. Be honest but also humble. You are not telling others what they should experience, you are simply telling about the difference your friendship with Jesus is making in your life.
9. Turn to the Holy Spirit.
After you have shared a story of God’s presence and power in your life, pray for the Spirit of God to take the seeds you have scattered and let them take root. Pray for the Spirit of the living God to do what you can’t do in the life of your unbelieving friend or family member, to create a hunger and desire for God. Pray that your story will ring true and open the door for more spiritual conversations. And, ask the Spirit to create a desire for that person to know the Jesus who can work in their life in personal and powerful ways.
God used my sister Gretchen and my friend Doug to tell me stories of his work in their lives. They shared with bold humility. They scattered lots of different stories. By God’s grace, the seed of their stories took root in my heart and mind. I began to wonder if God was real. I started to hope that if Jesus were real, he might work in my life. Their stories became one of the biggest factors in my heart being open to meet Jesus, surrender my life and become his follower. May our stories do the same for the people God puts in our path every day.
Kevin Harney is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International, and the author of the Organic Outreach series and many other books, studies and articles. For more information: KevinGHarney.com