By Gareth Maggs.
I wonder if there is any harder conversation to have than one on suffering? As I’m writing this, I have a list of more than 10 people in my head who are struggling through hard times and I’d love to share with them the truth of the Gospel. Yet I’m afraid of doing it. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this boat. How do we share the Gospel to those who are hurting?
As South Africans we’re facing a recession, we’re worried about our government, woman are being raped or killed and while divorce rates are going up, employment rates are going down. Oversees people are marking ‘safe’ on Facebook because of terrorism, while other countries are facing severe natural disasters. These macro issues alone are enough for me to write this blog, yet we can’t ignore the micro issues which certainly aren’t small. Many reading this will know of friends who are facing deep personal struggles. In Christ we have a hope which these people need to hear about and what’s standing in the way is our inability to speak to them.
Here’s some tips to help you share the truth in the midst of struggle.
1. Pray first and continue to pray
The biggest fears we face in sharing the good news with anyone seems to always revolve around us. ‘What will I say?’, ‘What will they think of me?’, ‘Will I know the answers to their questions?’, ‘Will they still be friends with me after the conversation?’. Prayer reminds us that it’s not about us, it’s about God. We need to rely on God to speak and on God to act. We are nothing but a vessel for sharing the good news.
2. Listen, listen and listen some more
I once heard it said that people are like balloons with their judgment in the centre. When they are struggling, the balloon starts to fill with questions, angers, doubts, fears and a whole range of other emotions. Before you can get them to think about what you have to say, you have to deflate that balloon and clear the person of all that is clouding their judgment. Listening is the best way of doing that. Let them speak and if you feel the need to talk, make sure your words are probing questions that get them to share more. Once you have received all the facts, only then should you speak in order to not sound foolish (Proverbs 18:13)
3. Strive for Christ-likeness
In the book of Ephesians Pauls calls fellow believers to ‘Walk in love’ in the same way Christ did when he gave his life for us (Ephesians 5:1 – 2). Christ’s sacrificial death is the ultimate way of serving another. Imagine how many of those close to you would listen to you if you walked in love? If you were known as the person who continually served by putting others before yourself. Firstly, they would likely want to share their struggles with you as they’ve seen evidence that you care about others, and secondly, they may be more open to your Gospel answer because they’ve seen it displayed in you.
4. Make Christ the centre of your conversation
Often when we help those in need we appear like we are from the TV series ‘Touched by an Angel’. We tell people ‘God loves you’ without really showing the extent of his love. Nothing says I love you more than the cross. The cross both shows the lengths to which God went for us and shows that he too suffered like us. We might not be able to give a reason as to why the person is suffering, but we can bring a lot of comfort through the Gospel. The Gospel is where we find God living and breathing as a human being, experiencing our day to day struggles. He lost friends (John 11), suffered temptation (Luke 4) and experienced financial difficulty (Isaiah 53:2). The Gospel is where we see God lose his only child. The Gospel is where we see God experience the pain of death The Gospel is what gets rid of the sin separating us from God so that we can walk with him and know that one day we will be with him forever in a place of no pain.
5. Set the pace by the person you are talking to
You may feel the need to jump in with the Gospel the moment someone mentions that they are struggling. This may work, but in my experience, people often dismiss the truth. This could be for many reasons; they haven’t felt heard, they’re not in a place to hear an answer, they don’t know you well enough, they have too many questions. Depending on the person, it may be good to start slow. I.e. you could start with a few casual chats and then move into listening to them before sharing the Gospel. However, it is important that you do eventually give the Gospel. You have the ultimate cure for their suffering, it would be a waste if you didn’t give it.
6. Be in God’s Word
We fear we won’t know what to say when we’re dealing with someone struggling. Yes, the Lord will work in us with his Holy Spirit, but nowhere in the bible does that give us the excuse to slack off. While God is the one who ultimately does the converting, he still uses us as a tool. If we do not take God’s word seriously in our lives, then we might not only say false things about Christ, but we may not have an answer when we are questioned. Love God’s word, take every opportunity you can to learn more about it through getting more involved in church, learning from older Christians and reading good books. If we do this, then the Holy Spirit will have a fair amount of our knowledge and experiences to pull from when we are questioned.
7. Prepare for rejection
No matter how loving we are and how clearly we display the Gospel, there will be those who reject the message. The Gospel is offensive (1 Corinthians 1:23). It’s offensive because people don’t want to give their own lordship up for the Lords. They don’t want to give up the way they live to follow the way of the Lords (John 3:19). No matter how wonderfully we explain the Gospel and no matter how obvious it is that the Gospel is the solution to the struggles people face, we have to accept that not all people will receive it. We can still pray for these people, continue a friendship and find ways of sharing the good news again.