My first semester in college, I was the only Christian in my program, and the only believer in my dorm complex. I felt overwhelmed. How could I tell every person about Jesus all on my own? I felt like I needed to run up to everyone and blurt out the good news.
What helped me those first few months was reading the life of Jesus. I found that Jesus never operated alone, and he didn’t exclaim the gospel to every person he met.
I discovered Jesus worked in a team. Before he even called his first disciple, he was in partnership with the Spirit and the Father. At his baptism, which was the inauguration of his public ministry, we don’t see a brave and lonely individual determined to save the world on his own. Instead, we read of the Spirit settling on Jesus in visible form and the Father so unable to contain his excitement that he burst out with a loud shout of approval for his Son. Whatever Jesus was about to do, he was not alone; the whole Trinity was involved.
I also learned that Jesus had a lot of conversations with other humans. You’d think, with his unhindered hotline to the Holy Spirit, that Jesus would just ask his fellow members of the Trinity what he needed to do in each situation and then boldly act on that advice. Instead we read of Jesus asking people questions before he heals them, and engaging in deep conversations about their lives. Listening to God and listening to people were both important practices for Jesus.
A Closer Look at a Jesus-Style Encounter
There are numerous examples of Jesus having conversations and working in partnership with the Trinity. His encounter with the paralyzed man in John 5:1-19 is a great example.
In this story, Jesus walked into a crowd of sick and disabled people. But instead of healing every individual, he approached just one of them. He asked this person, a man who has been physically challenged for decades, if he wanted to be healed. The man said he had no one to take him to the famed magic pool of healing nearby. Jesus ignored the magic pool and instantly cured the man’s disability. The religious leaders then became irritated because the healing took place on the Sabbath and therefore broke their sacred religious codes.
It’s a story that leaves the reader with a few big questions:
Why did Jesus approach just one person? Why heal on the Sabbath when Jesus could have avoided controversy by waiting until the next day?
Why did Jesus ask the man if he wanted to be healed? Wasn’t it obvious that the man would wish to be made whole?
Jesus provided a great answer to these questions when – after the healing – he explained that “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). In other words: Jesus had been listening to the Father and following his lead. There was one man he was being prompted to approach that day. So he focused on that individual for that moment. Despite being God, Jesus had become so fully human that he relied on the leading of the Father and the Spirit rather than his own divine insight.
And why did Jesus ask the man if he wanted to be healed? Kenneth Bailey, a New Testament scholar who lived in the Middle East for many decades, describes the plight of the unwell in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. He says that a long-term disabled person would have no trade or profession. Their only expertise would be begging. If they were healed, they would be unable to exercise the one skill they possess. After all, who gives money to an able-bodied beggar? Jesus asked the man this question because he wanted the man to make the choice of wholeness for himself, and not to have it foisted on him. Jesus had real conversations so that others could make genuine choices.
Putting It Into Practice
You, too, can do evangelism in partnership with the Trinity and through listening and asking excellent questions of the people you meet.
A simple way to do this is to ask God where he is already at work. Whenever you enter a classroom, a dorm, a café, a park, a chapter meeting, or anywhere else, ask God if someone is there in whose life he is already at work. Then approach that person and start a conversation.
You could also ask God if there is anything else you need to know about that person. Then pause a moment to catch his response. I did this recently and felt God tell me that I should open the topic of relationships with someone. I didn’t tell this guy I had “a word from God.” I just started talking with him and raised the subject. It turned out to be an area he was really struggling with and we were able to talk in depth and even pray together.
Even if you don’t get any specific details from God, it’s still worth approaching new people and starting conversations. You can imitate Jesus’ pattern of asking good questions. Rick Richardson, in his book Reimagining Evangelism, suggests these as some good questions to ask:
Do you have any religious background and does it mean anything to you today?
Have you ever had what you would consider a religious experience? What was that like?
Have you ever had an experience of feeling close to God? What happened?
Do you think there’s a God? What do you think God might be like?
What do you think about prayer? Do you think it works? What do you think it does?
Questions like this open the conversation and help you understand the unique relevance of Jesus for the person with whom you’re conversing.
So, go ahead: Start asking God who he wants you to speak to and what he wants you to ask them. In my first year of college, I discovered that working with God is a whole lot more fun (and effective!) than working for him. And you never know where it might lead.
Have a quick story of how listening to God and/or a person has helped you have a meaningful spiritual conversation? Share it below.