James Choung: “One word from God is worth a thousand sermons.”
Given that at least a part of your witness is relational—one that builds trust between a Christian and his or her friends—how else would you partner with the Holy Spirit to help that person trust Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior?
I usually see two ends of the possible spectrum:
One end trusts that the Holy Spirit is at work in your verbal persuasion.
You might ask for the Spirit’s guidance in the preparation of your talks, or for the Spirit’s presence before you hang out with your friends, or for the Spirit’s peace as you step into tricky conversations about faith and life. Then, you might brush up on solid arguments from C.S. Lewis or Lee Strobel. And hopefully, on your best days, through good listening and presentation skills, your neighbors are persuaded to give their lives to Jesus. These kinds of activities can often help your friends grasp the truth of the Christian faith.
And, no doubt, God is at work in these things.
On the other end you might pray for the Spirit’s filling in your life, and then you gently place your hands on your friends to pray.
And on the best days, something supernatural happens. You might pray for someone’s cold or cancer to go away, and they are healed on the spot in Jesus’ name. Or God might show you something about your friend that your friend hasn’t revealed to anyone, and amazed, he or she gives their allegiance to Jesus. These things also happen from time to time, and they can often help your friends experience the reality of the Christian faith.
And yes, God is at work in these things, as well.
Both ends of the spectrum are effective and legitimate ways of sharing your faith. So please don’t hear any critique here, although we can always improve the ways we do evangelism.
Still, both of these practices can put a lot of pressure on a Christian to be the conduit of God moving powerfully, either through persuasive presentation or incredible intercession. And although I’ve had experiences on both sides of the spectrum, I find it hard to muster up enough faith to do this all the time. I’m sure some of you are made of hardier spiritual stock than I am!
But what if there were a way to help your friends experience God in a way that was even more inviting, while taking the pressure off of you to come up with something brilliant or miraculous?
One way we’ve been doing that is through listening prayer.
Now that might seem like an odd choice for evangelism. In the past, I’ve seen listening prayer used with Christians to increase their sense of intimacy with God. Books like Dallas Willard’s Hearing God help us in this direction.
But what if we could help our friends who don’t yet know Jesus to do the same—to hear God for themselves? Would that offer some extra help to persuade them about the truth and reality of God?
I started experimenting with this on accident. I was already on a trajectory: It became clear to me that the one thing that every Christian should be able to do is recognize God’s voice in the everyday—through Scripture, community and the Holy Spirit—and obey what they heard. At least, that’s what every Christian should strive to do. (For more details on how I got there, check out Real Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out). So I was doing a lot of teaching on hearing God in that season.
Five years ago, I was prepared to speak on listening prayer at a weekend conference in the Pacific Northwest. At some point in the preparations, the organizers told me that there were people who didn’t follow Jesus yet in the room. After some initial wondering of whether or not I should change my talk, we decided to stay with the planned material. On Saturday night, I invited people to hear God’s voice together.
The next morning, I gave an invitation and two people gave their lives to Jesus. When I asked them what happened, Christine told me her story. She started to explore Christianity after the death of her Christian grandmother a few months earlier. She was close to her grandmother, and her death prompted Christine to ask questions about the purpose and meaning of life. So she started hanging out with a Christian fellowship.
During the listening-prayer exercise the night before, she saw Jesus in her mind’s eye with his hands extended toward her. Then, she saw her now-deceased grandparents behind him, with him—and all of them were inviting her to follow him. The experience flooded her with faith, and she gave her life to Jesus during the invitation the next morning. When I saw her again a year and a half later at a different conference, she was still growing in her relationship with Christ,
After all that she’d learned as a seeker, she had an experience with God that convinced her that Jesus was real, and that he was worth her complete allegiance. What’s great is that I didn’t even need to be particularly persuasive or miraculous. I just gave them an opportunity to hear God’s voice through a modified Ignatian prayer exercise.
Michael, the other seeker, also had an experience with God that moved him that night to become a follower of Jesus the next morning.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was speaking at a weekend conference and Jacky came as an atheist. He was a fraternity member who had been introduced to the Christian community by a campus staff worker and was at the conference that weekend to investigate whether or not Jesus was real. He was taught how to listen to God’s voice in an earlier seminar so that when I gave an opportunity to hear God that evening during my invitation to faith, he heard Jesus tell him, “Believe!”
When I met him after that evening session, he said, “Yesterday, I was an atheist. Today, I’m a Christian.” As I write, he’s starting a Bible study for fraternity brothers on his campus.
Christine, Michael and Jacky gave their lives to Jesus because they were given the opportunity to hear God speak before they were Christians, and he spoke.
And one word from God is worth a thousand sermons.
James Choung is the national director of evangelism for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and an ordained pastor with the Association of Vineyard Churches. He has written True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In and its follow-up, Real Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out.