This blog post is in a series of posts designed to help Christians develop a proper heart posture, lifestyle, and method for evangelism. This particular post begins the series, describing how we overcome our heart barriers that keep us from evangelism.
It took a nervous baby Christian attempting to share the Gospel with me to convict me to address all the barriers between my heart and living on Jesus’ mission. A few years ago I was on a plane ride back from a seminary course in Louisville. It had been a long week and I was exhausted. I spoke briefly to the man next to me, and the Lord immediately began to lay on my heart that I should share Christ with him. I had every excuse in the book—he looked uncomfortable already, I hadn’t had my devotion today, I wasn’t ready, I didn’t know where to start—and most of all, I had butterflies in my stomach.
We made small talk for 5 minutes and sat awkwardly for an hour. Finally, as the plane began its descent, this baby Christian unknowingly started sharing the Gospel with a Christian pastor! He looked at me, sweaty and nearly shaking, and said “I don’t know where you are spiritually, but I used to be an addict and Jesus saved me. He can help you too”.
I wanted to laugh and weep in that moment. I wanted to laugh because here we are, two sons of the living God, both eternally secure and going to Heaven and sharing the life of the Spirit—and we were too afraid to even mention the name Jesus to each other! Really though, I wanted to weep because I, the seminary trained pastor was too selfish and fearful to be willing—and this baby Christian with zero training was willing to speak for Jesus through the shakes and sweats. I resolved that day that whatever it took, I would, by the Spirit’s power, address and overcome whatever ugliness in my heart made me unwilling to speak for Jesus that day. The Lord’s done a work and continues to work on me in this area of my life; here's what I’ve learned so far.
Selfishness and Fear: My Great Barriers
As I examined my heart and lifestyle, I learned that selfishness and fear were the two great barriers that stood between me and a life on mission with Jesus. First was the glaring observation that I had so few evangelistic opportunities in daily life. A part of the reason I was so nervous/unwilling when opportunities came was because I had so few opportunities at all.
Then a scary, oh-no-I-don’t-want-to-look-in-the-mirror thought struck me: the reason I had so few evangelistic opportunities is because I was basically living a selfish lifestyle. I interacted with unbelievers every day but wasn’t intentionally getting to know them. I wouldn’t take the time to remember the grocery clerk’s name, or to have my neighbors over for dinner, or spend even 10% of my prayers for their salvation. I was too “busy” (a nice way to say “filling my life to the brim with selfish pursuits”) to know and care for unbelievers—which is the primary context in which one has significant evangelistic opportunities.
Then there was fear. First off, fear is different than nerves. (Nerves are natural in evangelism—in fact, a seminary professor of mine said “evangelism is two uncomfortable people having a conversation”!) Fear, in contrast to nerves, is letting your nerves and emotions paralyze you from obeying God and loving others. It’s allowing various specific fears and the unpleasant possibilities and emotions surrounding them control your actions. The most common fears are: “What if they ask a question I can’t answer?” “What if they reject me?” “What if I bumble the conversation up and forever convince this person Christians are idiots?” “What if this conversation ruins my relationship with this person?” The presence of uncomfortable emotions and questions is not necessarily sinful—but allowing those emotions to control you is. For me, overcoming fear looked like choosing to speak through my feelings of fear. It looked like acting like Jesus would help me even when in the moment I didn’t feel like he would. It looked like asking that conversation-shifting question about spiritual things, even if the moment felt awkward.
The Gospel was the Solution to My Gospel Barriers
So I learned the ugly truth about myself—my selfishness and fear was what really hindered my evangelism. But as the Lord showed me this ugly truth, He showed me a surpassingly beautiful one—that the Gospel I was too selfish and fearful to share was the solution for my unwillingness to share it.
First, the Gospel gives me a clean slate and access to the Father in my disobedience regarding evangelism. Christ died for me; I’m 100% right with God based on His life and death. The Father loves me and will pour grace on me even if I really am as selfish and fearful as I now realize.
Specifically, for selfishness: The Gospel tells me that I am not my own, for I was bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20). I belong to Jesus. He has bought me for His purposes—joy of knowing and being like our loving God in His outgoing mission to bring many sons to glory (John 17, Hebrews 2:10). The Gospel also tells me that Jesus Himself, the one who came to seek and save the lost, lives in me (Luke 19:10, Gal 2:20). Christ, the ultimate seeker of the lost, living in me, has the power to make me a seeker of the lost. These truths, slowly but surely, began to help me re-arrange my life around Jesus’ mission (see a future post for the details).
For fear: The Gospel addresses all of my fears surrounding evangelism. What if this person rejects me? The Father has fully embraced me in Christ—His approval is what my soul longs for and will find fully as I trust Jesus. What if I jack up the conversation? If I’m speaking any aspect of the Gospel with any degree of clarity, that is impossible—because the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). The Gospel gives me the power to speak for Christ and the assurance that the Spirit works even in my “weakness and fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3) because He worked through the weak, trembling apostles before me. The Gospel addresses both my specific fears and gives me the faith to speak in the midst of fearful feelings.
Have you not shared the Gospel in months, or ever? Do you feel convicted/guilty about that? Most likely, it’s your selfishness and/or fear. Praise God, that same Gospel can change you. Preach it to yourself, massage its truths into your heart, and this week, step out of your selfishness and lay down your life to intentionally know an unbeliever—and by faith, speak for Jesus through the butterflies.