(personal thoughts on sharing our faith this Christmas…)
As we enter the month of December and as Christmas quickly approaches, traditionally we might have started to think (or be encouraged to think) about whom we might invite to our church Christmas meetings. Maybe for the first time, they might come and see and hear the true meaning of Christmas and the hope that we have in Christ.
Of course, this is beyond any possibility as we find ourselves in the grip of government restrictions and the misery that is COVID-19. How encouraging then, that God has been stirring his people. We might not be able to invite our friends, family and neighbours to our Church meetings this Christmas, but we can take our message to them instead, to their streets and to their homes, during a season where this hope is much needed!
I’ve always been someone who has enjoyed sharing my faith. But as a believer, one of my biggest frustrations has been that often you don’t get to see the end result of what you shared. You may have found yourself asking the same questions! What ever happened to that person that I felt nudged to pray for at the bus stop; did it ever make a difference? Did that person read the booklet I gave them after that great conversation I had with them about Jesus? Or maybe feeling the discouragement of seeing a neighbour who you’ve spent time getting to know, and had a number of conversations with about faith, suddenly move, for you never to see them again, leaving you feeling that all that time spent with them and conversations have just vanished into thin air.
Now I don’t think it’s wrong to want to see the fruit of your labour! The person who mixes together the ingredients of a cake will want to sit down a few hours later with a slice and a hot cup of tea to see what it tastes like. The person who spends many hours in the garden, taking out weeds, planting seeds and watering them, will then (come summer) want the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the harvest of what they planted. Yet with evangelism you’re often left guessing: whatever came to be?
And if we’re on the subject of gardening, something I read which really inspired me to overcome my frustrations, is to see evangelism and sharing our faith as a bit like gardening itself. To get a garden to a place of harvest and full bloom, can take some time, which certainly won’t happen overnight. This period of preparing the ground can feel slow, repetitive and often hard work.
Now we must never forget, that the power of the Gospel is really that powerful. That God by his Spirit can take someone out of darkness into his glorious light with just one mention of the name of Jesus. But often we know that it is not like that. Before someone comes to the humble recognition that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour by the power of the Holy Spirit, there has been a journey of preparation, which can take months, often years, and sometimes decades. During this time, they may have read books, or even parts of the Bible. They may have attended Church meetings and Alpha Course sessions, while internally they are thinking, considering and possibly weighing up the evidence. Basically, saying no many times before they finally say yes!
Something else we must never forget, is that reaping the harvest and seeing someone converted, is something completely out of our control, because that’s God’s job and not ours. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians that it is God that shines light out of darkness; our job, he says a few verses earlier, is to preach Jesus Christ as Lord! I have found this really liberating: my task as a Christian is not to produce the harvest – but to help create it by preparing the ground. What does that look like? Sowing the seeds by talking to people about Jesus! Doing everything we can, with many prayers and the way we live our lives, to help create and empower such conversations.
Some women in LifeLine Church own and share an allotment patch, which they have been busy working on over this summer. Though they are planting their own individual seeds, it is very much a group effort as they prepare the ground and protect their crops. Likewise, God’s people should view evangelism as a team effort, not just for one person but the whole body, whatever their giftings. One-person might have done the hard work of getting to know and befriend their non-Christian neighbour. Someone else may have sent a bible verse to a family member. Another may have shared their testimony at the front at Church, or shared #HopeThis Christmas on their Facebook page. One might have cooked a beautiful cake for Alpha, another may have invited their school friend to youth for the first time, and on it goes. The Apostle Paul says: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
Coming back to our current climate, we are in unprecedented times. Who could have imagined at the beginning of the year that we would not be able to hold a Christmas nativity, let alone meet as a Church for most of the year? And with so much uncertainty going into 2021 regarding the economy, the vaccine and uncertainty of when restrictions will end, many people face a worrying Christmas.
Reading through the book of Acts, we see the birth and rapid growth of the early Church, and it’s gripping stuff. Many times, we see the global Church face battles and struggles, whether it be mocking, intimidation or outright persecution and martyrdom. Yet despite fallouts and even gross sin in the Church, we see a repeated theme and pattern – that the word of God continues to spread and grow.
What an opportunity we have this Christmas to come alongside our hurting communities with a message of hope! This has stayed alive when everything else stopped and has the power to transform lives and communities whatever the crisis or season. As we seek to lovingly share this message with people we care for, and with people we may or may not know, let’s pray and believe we will witness and see a beautiful harvest. But even if we don’t see the end result, don’t be discouraged, we are preparing the ground. We may never know this side of eternity who will respond, but we can be sure heaven does. Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel that for every sinner that repents there is a party in heaven beyond our wildest dreams; it means that much; it’s that worth celebrating. How encouraging!
Gardening this Christmas anyone?