Okay, quiz time. Today, we come to the end of this series. What better way to end Knack 2 is there than to have a quiz, but not just any quiz: a quiz on famous last lines in classic fiction. Now, I think the quiz is easy, but, then again, I chose the books. All you have to do is name the author and the book from which each great last line appeared.
- “I am haunted by humans.”
- “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
- “For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
- “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
- “All human wisdom is summed up in two words — ‘Wait and hope.'”
- “He loved Big Brother.”
- “He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”
- “But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
- “It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracting search after her missing children, only found another orphan.”
- “He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.”
What better way to end this series than with Brian McLaren’s excellent book on evangelism appropriately entitled, More Ready Than You Realize (Zondervan, 2002). Here’s our final question: what do we want to accomplish as we have spiritual conversations with the people around us? That’s an important question because more than half of the job in getting somewhere is knowing where you are going (or as Yogi Berra said: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”). So here are six great goals for our spiritual conversations, goals that I hope you have seen before in these posts, but still welcome in this final post.
Goal Number 1: We want to have a great conversation about the deeper issues of life. Our goal is not to convert them, convince them, defeat them or derail them. We simply want to have a great conversation about faith and hope, justice and meaning, truth and beauty and love. In short, we want to talk to people like Jesus talked to people. McLaren writes (pg. 15):
“If you know anything about Jesus at all, you probably know that he was an amazing conversationalist. Unlike the typical evangelist-caricature of today, Jesus was short on sermons, long on conversations; short on answers, long on questions; short on abstractions and propositions, long on stories and parables; short on telling you what to think, long on challenging you to think for yourself; short on condemning the irreligious and long on condemning the religious.”
Trust me, if you have a conversation like that, you’ve made major headway in leading someone to Christ. Our goal is to have great conversations, and I believe you are ready for that sort of evangelism.
Goal Number 2: We want the other person to trust us with their spiritual doubts and fears and hurts. And the way we help them trust us, is to show that we truly care about them as people (evangelism starts with being a caring, giving, listening, friendly human being and not a spiritual shark swimming around looking for someone to devour for Jesus). And when people trust us (and enjoy us), then they will be more than ready to share with us their spiritual questions and doubts. Spiritual conversations almost spontaneously combust when a caring Christ follower encounters a person on a spiritual journey. McLaren writes (pg. 21):
“All around me, all around you, are people who would stay up half the night reading or talking if they could get some help with their spiritual questions. All they need is someone who cares and who has some spiritual experiences and wisdom to share.”
And don’t forget that person who cares and who has some spiritual experience and wisdom to share–that’s you. Our goal is to care for the people God puts in our path by listening to their stories, honoring their questions and valuing their perspective and I believe you are ready for that sort of evangelism.
Goal Number 3: Whatever happens, we never want to come across as a spiritual know-it-all, a judgmental jerk or an arrogant bully. And therefore, it is often so many times better to lose an argument, to bypass a question, or to ignore an insult, than to come on even slightly belligerent. In other words, when in doubt, don’t and, if you did, apologize quickly and profusely. McLaren’s two lines here are worth the price of the whole book (pgs. 38 and 41):
“Many people want to talk about God, but not just anybody is safe to talk to.”
“Many people have stayed away from Christianity for good reasons.”
If you said, “yikes,” either silently or out loud in response to those two statements, then I believe you are ready for the sort of evangelism that values the relationship over the task.
Goal Number 4: Tell stories. We used to value laws and bridges and steps. We used to go down Roman roads and hold up signs of favorite verses. But those things don’t work the way they used to. Instead, we need to tell stories. We need to tell personal transformation stories or stories of personal struggles. We need to tell stories of faith or stories of “doubting faithfully.” We need to tell stories that illustrate and we need to tell stories that challenge. And maybe most of all, we need to tell stories of Jesus. McLaren likens the power of stories to a song. He writes (pg. 16):
“So the gospel comes to you not like a commercial on the radio or a political slogan in a campaign or a scientific formula in a classroom, but like a song. It sneaks up on you, and then sneaks inside you. Somewhere in your journey through life, you begin to hear this song whose music captures your heart with its rhythm, melody, ambiance, and glory and you begin to move to its rhythm. Thus you enter the dance.”
Our goal is to share the stories that move our heart; stories that speak of hope and redemption, forgiveness and release, love and joy, and searching and finding. And we hope our stories also move our friends’ hearts. In short, our goal is to become great storytellers; and if you want to hear great stories and tell great stories, then I believe you are ready to engage people in spiritual conversations.
Goal Number 5: We want to encourage people to think deeply about Jesus and the gospel. Our goal is not to convince. Our goal is to make them think. Remember that great quote from Socrates: “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” While Socrates was not talking about evangelism here, he could have been. We can’t lead anyone to Christ (the Holy Spirit does that), but we can make people think. Therefore, we need to think deeply about how we can make people think about Jesus, about God, about life and death, truth and beauty, goodness and hope, and love and meaning. McLaren writes (pg. 49):
“There are a thousand forces in our lives pushing us away from ‘thinking about it’ – forces saying, ‘Buy this product!’ Anesthetize yourself! Focus on your body; forget about your soul! Impress other people; forget about God! Seek power, pleasure, prestige, not God!’ Spiritual friends, wherever they go, are gentle and persistent agents working against these contrary forces, patiently helping people to keep ‘thinking about it.’”
How freeing it is to realize that our call is not to convince, but simply to encourage people to think deeply about life and its meaning. And how wonderful it is to realize that you can do that right now with your friends and neighbors. You don’t have to have all the right answers. In fact, all you need is a couple of great questions. Once, again, if you want to nudge people into thinking about God and life and hope and joy, then you are more ready than you realize to engage people in evangelistic conversations.
Goal Number 6: We want to help people take the next step. I grew up believing that our job was to get the person to the prayer as soon as possible. But that is theologically ridiculous, relationally insensitive and spiritually naïve. Our job is to see our role as one link in a chain that God the Holy Spirit is assembling. And if the Spirit is the one wooing the person to faith, then we can be content with our little role and not force the issue. As such, our calling is to encourage the person to move one step closer to God. McLaren writes about helping people locate themselves on their spiritual journey. He says (pg. 108):
“I sometimes ask people: ‘How would you describe your relationship to God at this point? Are you strangers, acquaintances, dating, engaged, happily married, unhappily married, separated, divorced or something in between?’ These kinds of questions seem to help people help me know how to help them. By telling me where they are in the process, they help me know how to help them take the next step. ‘Helping people take the next step’ is a great way to define spiritual friendship, wouldn’t you agree?”
If you are ready to help people take the next step, then I believe you are ready and able to engage people in evangelistic conversations. In fact, you are probably more ready than you realize.
So, take the next step and get out there and help people think by sharing compelling stories with them, by having great conversations with them and by being great friends with them. And don’t be a jerk. That’s evangelism. And I hope these posts have helped you to develop a knack for sharing your faith with the people God puts in your path.
Now, that’s a great last line, but let’s finish our quiz and reveal the sources of some of the greatest last lines ever (Even if you didn’t get them all right, at least I made you think!).
- Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief
- George Orwell’s Animal Farm
- William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
- Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities
- Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo
- George Orwell’s 1984
- Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
- C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle (Book 7 in The Chronicles of Narnia)
- Herman Melville’s Moby Dick
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
PS: No blog post next week, but we will see you in two weeks when we start our Advent series. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving!