Talking to strangers about the Christian faith
John Wright (pictured right), a lay reader at Stoke Holy Cross church near Norwich and an international director of the Full Gospel Business Men's Men's Fellowship International, writes about being effective witnesses for the Christian faith to complete strangers.
All called to be witnesses
Most Christians accept in theory if not in practice that we are meant to be witnesses. We like to do this by reflecting the fruit of the Spirit to those around us. We are not so good at speaking and this may well be the best thing for family and friends. Did not St Francis say, ‘Speak if you have to.’
But with strangers we meet it is a different matter. We see people daily who are drowning in their sins and we pass them by. I have done it often enough myself. It is inconvenient; I am in a hurry;
it might be dangerous; I might die of embarrassment!
Of course we are not all evangelists but we are witnesses and witnesses talk. What do they say? They give their testimony like St Paul. How they came to discover God was real after all. I asked the Lord for the difference between an evangelist and a witness. He showed me a football field. The goalkeeper kicked the ball to a back who kicked it to a midfielder who passed it to the striker who kicked it into the net. Ten witnesses, one evangelist. We are all engaged in the process of salvation. The purpose of this article and the stories in The Jericho Road and The Desert Road South of Jerusalem is to introduce you to the excitement of daily witnessing to strangers which brings joy on earth and treasure in heaven.
Drenched with joy
A young man came up to me at the Living Water Bible Camp in Norfolk. He told me what had happened after my talk the previous year on ‘Speaking to Strangers.’ ‘I was sitting on a park bench in Norwich,’ he said, ‘when a man came and sat down nearby. I felt the Lord prompt me to tell him that God loved him but I was glued to my seat with fear. Then the man got up to leave. The Lord said to me, “I am not going to condemn you for this but you have missed an opportunity.” I was so ashamed of myself. I rushed forward to deliver my message. The man said, “Thank you very much” and walked on. No great deal. But on my way back to my seat I was drenched with joy!’
For this reason I was born
There is no doubt from the scriptures that we are to be witnesses ‘proclaiming his salvation from day to day’. This was the original and continuing purpose of Pentecost. ‘For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth’ said Jesus to Pilate. If we claim to be the body of Christ, if we boast we are filled with the Holy Spirit, then we are expected to ‘walk as he walked’ 1 John 2:6, and to ‘do the things that he did’. This is the mission that goes with membership of the royal priesthood, the holy nation. It is ‘that you may declare the praise of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ The fire of Pentecost is given to those who obey him. It soon goes out if we don’t use it. We have to stay in the firing line.
Food you know nothing about
Jesus gives us a marvellous model of what it means to walk as he walked. He had had a hot, tiring, morning’s walk. The disciples had gone off to get food from the village. I can imagine Jesus resting under a fig tree having a time of sweet communion with his Father in heaven.
Then a Samaritan woman comes to draw water from the well. The Holy Spirit whispers to Jesus, ‘Go and talk to her.’ Jesus had every reason not to do so. It was not done for men to talk to strange women; it was certainly forbidden for a Jew to talk to a Samaritan; Jesus had come for the lost sheep of Israel; he was tired; he needed to pray. But his heart ruled his head. This immediate, unquestioning obedience led to a gift of knowledge about the woman’s marital history.
The outcome was that a Church was planted in Samaria. All hung on that simple act of obedience. Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘I have food to eat you know nothing about. My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’ The consequences of simple acts of obedience are incalculable. On one occasion when I was told to speak to a young man it led to his friend being saved from suicide. (See story no 11 in my book ‘The Desert Road South of Jerusalem.’)
Make a splash for Jesus
Admiral Lord Nelson said, ‘A Captain will suffer no criticism if he lays his vessel alongside the enemy and opens fire!’ The wretched people we pass each day are caught like a fly in Satan’s web of deception. Surely we can have a go and see what the Holy Spirit will do who ‘confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.’
Norfolk people are rescued every year from drowning in the Broads. Those who dive in to rescue them, who sometimes cannot swim themselves, often say, ‘If I had thought about it I never would have risked it.’ But their heart ruled their heads. We too need to learn to jump out of the boat. It is the only way to walk on the water. Children love doing it and making a splash. Jesus told us to become like them, making a splash! Then what a testimony we will have to encourage our Church next Sunday!
Rules of engagement
A fisherman always carries worms as without them he can’t catch a fish. So we need to carry worms with us. The Full Gospel Business Men produce a unique testimony magazine called ‘Voice’. It is a brilliant resource for any Church interested in evangelism. Even better emulate Isleham Baptist Church near Ely. They have written out their own testimonies on their computers with a nice digital photo on an A4 sheet folded in four. They call them, ‘My Story.’ They carry these in their shopping bags and briefcases and say to people they meet in Sainsbury’s queue, ‘You might like to read my story.’ It is no surprise that the Church is growing.
It is important to talk at the moment you meet people as otherwise a wall of silence builds up. Also, to ask people their name and use it in the conversation. Be sure to be at the same level which will mean getting on your knees if they are sitting down at a table in a restaurant. The Holy Spirit will show you what to say. Because one may only have a moment or two I tend to go straight to the point and ask, ‘Are you a churchgoer?’or ‘Have you heard the news?’ and then tell them about the cover story in my Voice Magazine. The Holy Spirit will use your personality. He will show you new ways of approaching people. You will grow in confidence and learn as you break through the fear barrier. It is harder if you have not done it for a few days, like an unused muscle protests at unaccustomed exercise. You will find more help on this subject in my book ‘Rescue.’
Every day brings an opportunity. Always look out for captive audiences. Cab drivers, paying a bill, delivery van drivers, will all give you a minute or two. This morning two van drivers, Mark and Stuart, called from the local Peter Jones. I told them stories and gave them a Voice Magazine. Then Kirstie telephoned to sell some insurance. I told her about a friend who was a Mafia Boss in Newcastle on Tyne. Jesus appeared to him when he was about to commit suicide. He is now a Vicar! Then I was speaking to Debbie at Volvo Customer Relations. I talked about her famous namesake in the book of Judges and encouraged her to get a Bible. Four people had been challenged to think about whether God might be real and it was only ten thirty!
Then there are the ladies who do cold calling on the telephone. You might try this approach. ‘What is your name?’ ‘Linda.’ ‘That’s amazing, Linda, I know someone who knows you. Do you know what he said about you?’ ‘No, go on, what did he say about me?’ ‘Linda has stolen my heart.’ ‘Oh, who is that then, what is his name?’ ‘His name is Jesus, Linda, and he loves you very much’. This opens people up in a wonderful way. Everyone wants to know they are loved.
Go and do thou likewise
Jesus commended the unjust steward because he was thinking about his future. How many Christians are concerned about how they will fare before the judgement seat of Christ for works done on earth in obedience to the Holy Spirit? Jesus told many parables about idle servants who knew what to do in their master’s absence but did not do it. They will merit a severe beating! He spoke of a buried talent, virgins with no oil in their lamps. There is a terrible urgency to consider our ways and to learn from the Good Samaritan with the command of Jesus ringing in our ears, ‘Go and do thou likewise!’
Making God sick!
Many Christians believe we are the generation that will see the Lord’s return. This is the season when evil will abound and the love of most men will have grown cold. It is the season of the Laodicean, lukewarm Church which makes God sick! Most people tell me they don’t share their faith with strangers because of fear. Jesus said in Revelation 21:8 that the cowardly would end up in the fiery lake of burning sulphur.
In the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Amman, Jordan Revival of 1931 the Holy Spirit said this, ‘And thou, who hast been blessed and hast tasted the sweetness of the grace of God, why dost thou bury it in thine heart? Why dost thou not proclaim it openly and speak of it? But thou art ashamed. Dost thou despise Him who has honoured thee with it? Be not ashamed and fear not forever.’
Disgrace for the sake of Christ
Others tell me they are concerned not to appear to be over fanatical. They are happy to be known as people who go to Church and to do good works. But to have the name of Jesus on their lips is, for them, a step too far. They forget that Moses regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ of greater value than the treasures of Egypt because he was looking ahead to his reward. Hebrews 11:26. We are called to be overcomers if we wish to inherit the kingdom. Perhaps we have preached the kindness of God without the balance of his severity. Both are scriptural.
The question we might ask ourselves is not what I ought to do (the law) but what do I want to do (the Spirit). Do I want to show my gratitude and love for Christ by obeying him? Or is my Christian walk a religious sham? Of course he who plants and he who waters is nothing but God alone who gives the increase. But there is a reward. Daniel says that he who saves souls is wise and will shine like the stars eternally. Above all, if we have been faithful, if we have been overcomers, if we have loved not our lives even unto death of embarrassment, we shall at the end hear that most marvellous of all greetings, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’
Then the trumpets will sound for us on the other side!
This article first appeared in The Sword Magazine (formerly Prophecy Today)