s evangelism easy? Is it simple? Can it be comfortable? I’ve never been able to answer any of those questions in the affirmative. And I’ve tried. For many years, I listened to and read books by evangelists who have tried to encourage me to “just” share my faith as if it was like breathing or striking up a casual conversation. That never worked.
At one point I thought, “Maybe evangelism is difficult” and tried that concept on for size. It fit. I found encouragement from the apostle Paul’s saying his evangelistic efforts in Corinth were “in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3)1. Now that’s my kind of evangelist!
As I’ve observed my own and others’ experiences of proclaiming the Good News, I’ve seen at least four tensions. I believe Paul referred to these very tensions toward the end of the Epistle to the Colossians. Consider his admonitions and see if these might shed light on your own efforts to reach out with the gospel.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Col. 4:2
Tension Number 1: The Inseparability of Prayer and Proclamation
Did you note how seamlessly Paul flowed from the topic of prayer to the task of outreach? It’s easy to see why, given the fact that evangelism involves a human agent and a divine power. For some reason, God has chosen to have His gospel spread by people—vessels with less than perfect motives, methods, or track records. But He also comes alongside and softens hard hearts, opens blind eyes, and attracts wandering souls. Whenever one person tells another person about Jesus, at least two miracles must occur. In the unsaved person’s life, God must raise someone who is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). In the Christian’s life, He must provide the words, love, and wisdom needed because apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (see John 15:5).
Thus Paul urges us to “devote” ourselves to prayer in connection with his discussion of proclaiming the mystery of Christ. As many people have put it memorably, we need to talk to God about people and then talk to people about God. We should regularly lift up in prayer the “outsiders” that God has placed in our lives—in our families, at work, in our neighborhood, and wherever else His sovereign hand has led us. It is no accident that the other Soccer Mom on the sideline next to you or the guy sitting at the desk across from you or the family that moved into the house next to yours are all in your life. Pray for them and “watch” God pave the paths for you to strike up conversations, develop friendships, or offer help in times of need.
The fact that Paul tells us to “devote” ourselves to prayer might suggest that it’s easy to quit. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about prayer, it is that it takes devotion. It also helps to use some aids or helps for the task—a bookmark in your Bible with a list of names of nonbelievers you’re praying for or a set time in your day when you lift up the names of people who don’t know the Lord or a reminder on your phone that pops up their names on a regular basis. To be devoted to prayer for non-Christians’ salvation may seem more like a wrestling match than a comfortable ride, but it’s worth the effort.
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