When I think about influential people with whom I have spent time, I can’t help but think of my grandmother. She was a wise woman who loved Jesus and His church and deeply cared about other people. I still can close my eyes and find myself in her kitchen – sitting on her countertop, smelling baked pears in the oven, sharing rich conversations about life with Jesus and the gospel.
To this day, my grandmother remains in my mind as a beautiful example of someone who cared deeply and valued relationships with others. When it comes to our engaging our neighbors with the gospel, I learned three things from her: posture, proximity and prayer.
The Importance of a Right Posture
What is the right posture for followers of Jesus who want to engage their city with the gospel? For me, I never want to forget what it was like to be without Christ. Paul writes in Titus 3: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slave to various passions and pleasures, passing out days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”
It’s easy to look around and ask, “What is wrong with people?” When those words take hold in my mind or heart, my critical nature is exposed. I lose compassion for those around me, especially those who are without Christ. Christ has set me free from the ways of this world, and I want others to experience the joy of knowing Christ!
Every day I have the opportunity to see one of the most incredible views in the Rocky Mountains to the west of Denver. It’s a stunning vista. Most days, I say a simple prayer: “Lord, please never let me grow numb to the beauty you have created.” Similarly, the gospel is precious to me and, I never want to grow numb to the joy I have in knowing Christ. This is the posture to cultivate. Remember what Christ has done for us and what He can do for our neighbors as well. He calls out of darkness into light.
The Significance of Proximity
Recently, my pastor discussed the time commitment it takes to be in relationship with others. He pointed our attention to Jeffery Hall at the University of Kansas who says it takes more than 50 hours of interaction to move from acquaintance to casual friend, 90 hours to move from casual friend to friend and more than 200 hours to qualify as a best friend.
I’m not saying you must spend 50 hours with a person before you introduce them to the way of Jesus. Here’s what I am saying: it takes time. In a society where margin is largely ignored, we must encourage those who belong to our churches to build in margin for their neighbors.
Those who know me best probably are rolling their eyes. I am horrible about building margin in my calendar for unexpected moments, new interactions, or conversations. However, in my past, when I created margin for gospel conversations, the Lord faithfully provided opportunities for me to engage with others – especially those who may not be a part of my daily rhythms of life. You won’t reach people with the gospel unless you spend time with people who don’t know Jesus. And you won’t spend time with people who don’t know Jesus if you don’t plan to spend time with them.
One of the most practical ways to engage people with the gospel, to borrow verbiage from a colleague of mine, Taylor Field, is to “meet the need first.” At Send Relief we say it this way: “meeting needs, changing lives.” For example, a couple of years ago as we distributed food for some of our refugee neighbors a man yelled from across the street, “We want some food too!” I stopped what I was doing and visited with him and his friend, who just needed a simple meal.
I never could get the first man’s name, but his friend was willing to talk. Zack was quiet and, hiding behind his sunglasses, reluctant to share his story. But in a moment of vulnerability, he described his situation simply: “I’m lost.” Ironically, I looked down at Zack’s shirt, which had the J.R.R. Tolkien quote on it, “Not all those who wander are lost.”
Zack and I grabbed a meal together, sitting on the front steps of our church. I listened to his story. Over a Chipotle burrito, he shared how he had made some terrible decisions that had led to him being estranged from family and friends. Zach needed grace that day, and it was grace he received. I shared the gospel with him, and I can only describe it this way: Zach pulled his sunglasses off, looked me in the eye and said, “I’m not lost anymore.”
Sometimes it’s as simple feeding the hungry. Other times, the need may be more complicated. We all have limitations and must face the reality that we may not be able to meet the need in the way we would like to. If the needs seem overwhelming, you may need help determining how to respond. Church leaders or individuals can help determine next steps by walking you through a community assessment. Send Relief has a helpful resource to help you consider how to respond to the needs in your community.
I have found that when you live a generous life and meet the needs of others, it opens doors to personal connections, which may very well lead to gospel conversations. Generous living is contagious, so invite others to serve with you, even if they aren’t part of your church or faith community. You’ll be surprised how that opens even more opportunities to talk about Jesus.
The Effectiveness of Prayer
I run a certain route through my neighborhood at least three or four times a week. I also have a rhythm of driving through a certain area of our city on a regular basis. I take these opportunities to pray for my city. I look at my neighbors as I pass by; I smile and ask the Lord to bring His kingdom to them and through them. I started this rhythm years ago. When mission teams visit our city, we invite them to participate in prayer drives or walks. I know this may not yield the immediate, visible results we want, but our team in Denver will tell you that nothing of significance has happened apart from the prayers we have prayed. If we are going to live as missionaries in our cities, we can’t neglect the work of prayer for our neighbors.
Published April 3, 2023