You know that moment when you’re meeting someone for the first time? At first it’s two people playing it cordially cool. “Hi, how are you? Where are you from? What do you do?”
Then all of a sudden you unknowingly trigger the other person’s passion subject. Their eyes light up, and you get a 45-minute lecture on how Ikea furniture not only allows a person to furnish their apartment on a budget, but also makes them more intuitive in assembling things.
We’ve all been on the other side, too. Just let someone bring up your favorite sports team in conversation, your personal hobby, your favorite restaurant. “Bru Burger? I love Bru Burger! You haven’t been? Are you a fool, or do you hate delicious food and enchanting atmosphere?”
As humans, we naturally talk about what we love. But our goal is never just about expressing our passion. We want others to share in our enjoyment of what we love. Author and theologian C. S. Lewis, saw this:
All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless … shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it.
The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses (Romeo praising Juliet and vice versa), readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. … praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. … I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.
[This is] what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, [with everything] we value. (from "Reflections on the Psalms")
This totally changes my way of thinking about evangelism.
What if we couldn't help it?
Evangelism – sharing your faith, witnessing, proselytizing (or whatever word makes you get a nervous pit in your stomach) – is one of Christians’ least favorite pastimes. And I get it. I’m a pastor, and I’m not naturally drawn to it. People half expect me to steer every conversation towards Jesus and the Bible, but it doesn’t make me any less terrified to ask people if they want to repent from their sin and turn to Christ as their savior.
I just really don’t want to be rejected by people. I don’t want people to roll their eyes and lump me in with the Bible-thumpers who stand on street corners screaming that everyone is going to hell.
I want to be liked. I want to be respected. I want my friends, neighbors, and family to say, “I don’t normally like Christians, but I like how you don’t try to push your beliefs on me.”
So many of us struggle to find the nerve to open our mouths and tell a friend the freedom we’ve experienced by knowing Jesus, but have little trouble finding the nerve to share the joy we’ve experienced by knowing Frisbee golf.
But what if talking about Jesus became like hitting on my passion subject? What if any and every conversation reminded me of who Jesus is to me? What if those who heard me talking about Jesus felt much less like they were having beliefs pushed on them, and much more like they were being invited into enjoying something I found truly, arrestingly beautiful?
I think this is what Peter experienced in Acts 4.
In Acts 4, the apostles Peter and John are arrested and put on trial for talking about what they love: Jesus. The religious rulers were greatly annoyed as they watched roughly five thousand men believe in Peter and John’s teaching. So they arrested them, put them on trial, and “charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (18).
“But Peter and John answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (19-20).
The word for “cannot but speak” in the original language is where we get our English word for dynamite. It’s like they’re saying, “What we’re talking about is exploding out of us!”
They’re on trial. Being threatened. And they say basically, “Sorry bro, can’t help you; I don’t have the superhuman strength to hold the words in my soul. I was in a place of being so lost, so confused, so hurt, so self-destructive, but Jesus has ripped me out of a slowly sinking ship and put me in the family of God for eternity! So do what you got to do, kill me if you have to; but until the breath has left my lungs for good and I go to be with Jesus, I can’t help from screaming the good news that the true king has come. He’s come for me and he’s come for you, too!”
How to Control your Feelings
Now on one hand, this gives me a more compelling vision for evangelism than I’ve ever heard. But on the other, I immediately despair because I don’t always feel that way about Jesus. Worse yet, I fear I can’t get myself to feel that way about Jesus.
There is so much that could be said in this area, but in order to keep this blog post a readable size, let’s suffice it to say I’m right. I can’t get myself to feel passion towards Jesus. But I’m not meant to.
Peter didn’t make himself feel unstoppable passion in Acts 4. Right before Peter goes on the rant that ends with him saying he doesn’t have the strength to hold back from speaking about Christ, his speech is prefaced with the words, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them …” (8).
A beautifully freeing truth about the Bible is that while it repeatedly commands us to have joy, to praise and sing, to enjoy God, it never says: now go work up the feelings and emotions to do these things. It always says the Holy Spirit gives them.
Are you more excited about your current hobby or guilty Netflix pleasure than seeing others’ lives changed by Jesus? Do you find yourself in a spiritual “dry season?” Don’t clench your fists and strain your forehead trying to produce feelings you don’t have. Get on your knees and beg God for them. If they don’t show up immediately, keep asking. Ask weekly. Ask daily. Ask hourly.
At the end of the day, maybe we don’t need any more training in the art of being culturally conscious evangelists. Maybe our weakness isn’t a lack of cleverly alliterated gospel presentations. Maybe what we need is for God’s Spirit to make us so obsessed, so over-the-top infatuated with Jesus, he just so happens to be the topic we can’t help geeking out about.
Image: "Emmaus," by Emmanuel Garibay