When was the last time you shared your faith in Christ with a friend? Do you have a tendency to avoid talking about spiritual matters because you fear being too confrontational?
I remember going back to the dorms after church one Sunday with a young Christian named Bill who had just enrolled at Ohio University. I invited him to lunch back in my dorm. As we entered the dorm lobby, several football players who were friends of mine were sitting there watching the NFL game on the TV. The smell of a couple of pizzas that had just been delivered caught my nose and I sat down to ask if I could grab a slice. Of course, they said, and offered me a beer. No thanks, I said, and I reached into the nearby cooler and grabbed an ice cold Pepsi.
One of the guys (named Joe) was sipping a beer and eating a slice of pepperoni when Bill asked him, “So, if you were going to die of alcohol poisoning tonight, where would you spend eternity?” I almost choked on my pizza! Joe was not drunk at 1:20 pm, but the blunt question thrown at him was not expected and startled him. He quickly said, “What?” Bill responded, “You heard the question!” Joe shot back, “What rock did you crawl out from under? Do you actually think I am going to drink myself to death with one Budweiser before halftime of the Browns and Bengals?” Not sure what to do, Bill looked at me for support, but sensing I was not going to back him up, he left the dorm in a angry huff. I looked at Joe and his pals and said, “I do not know where that came from,” and we went on watching the game.
That night I ran into Bill in the cafeteria. I asked him, “What was the idea of attacking Joe with your accusation of over-drinking, death, and eternity?” He replied, ”Wasn’t that the topic at church this morning? Didn’t the pastor say we should provoke people to think about their eternal destiny? I just thought that was a way to get a spiritual conversation going.”
Ironically, the message we heard at church was based on Colossians 4:2-6 [read it now]. In it, the apostle Paul was instructing the Christians at Colosse to make the most of every opportunity to share their faith with those outside of the church. “Let your conversation always be full of grace…seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (v 6).
Sadly, the guest speaker ruined Paul’s metaphor by pointing out that salt causes pain as it is rubbed into a wound. That is true enough. But Paul’s clear meaning is that we should use words, stories, circumstances, and even questions, to awaken the curiosity of others. Someone said it always easier to catch flies with honey rather than vinegar. We should not subject people to an inquisition in our attempts to generate a spiritual conversation.
There is no question that our eternal destination is one of the most significant matters each of us must face. But the tone and manner in which Bill approached Joe had nothing to do with the reality of meeting God someday. Nor did Joe hear a gracious and reasonable question and be asked to respond if he so chose. Joe received a self-righteous condemning disapproval of his beverage, which was like salt in an open wound. Bill is lucky Joe didn’t hit him for such a move.
I had not known Bill long, but recognized I had a chance to redeem the situation. Bill meant well, but his approach was clumsy at best. I asked him if we could discuss what it meant to be a witness for Christ and some ways to build rapport with people. I explained that I had invested time hanging out with Joe and his pals and earned the right to ask questions, even on subjects like faith and its implications. I suggested that Bill apologize to Joe for being so forthright (or wrong) and ask for a second chance. To his credit, Bill agreed to do so, and he and Joe ended up being friends. It took awhile to get back to a conversation about eternity with Joe, but Bill learned a valuable lesson. Learn from your mistakes, ask questions and listen, and rely on the Holy Spirit to find creative ways to talk to people about their spiritual journey and Jesus.
Walk wisely. I told Bill that we were to be “Wise as serpents, gentle as doves, but never a bull in a china shop.” Our seasoned speech should be thought provoking, but not merely provoking.
Love is a verb,