I did not grow up in a Christian home. After witnessing the World Trade Center buildings collapse on September 11, 2001, I was invited by a fellow NYU student, Lauren, to join her friends for a night of prayer. I said, “No, thank you. I don’t pray.” Even though I turned her down, she befriended me, and over the next few months, she and her friends became my friends. I was attracted to the way they loved one another and me, and was often amazed by their generosity and care. I eventually accepted one of their many invitations to come to church, because I grew to trust them and love their community. About a year later, in large part thanks to their persistence, I became a follower of Jesus.
For much of the almost twenty years since then, I have loved to take opportunities to point others to the One who saved and continues to renew my life. I’ve had the privilege of doing this in my personal life and in my professional life while I was on staff with Redeemer Presybyterian Church of NYC. When I reflect on how I’ve seen people become followers of Christ over the years, including my own family, I see God working in many ways. I’ll share three with you today. If you’re interested in sharing your faith with loved ones in your life, consider these things.
1. God works through authentic relationships. I not only rejected Lauren’s first invitation to check out her faith community, but many invitations. However, invitations to Bible studies, prayer and church on Sunday were far less than her invitations to just do life together, to eat meals, watch a movie, and hang out together. She was a friend who took time to know me and support me through challenges. If you want someone you care about to experience the beauty of the gospel, don’t do “friendship evangelism,” just do friendship. Does your friend or family member know you love them regardless of whether or not they ever agree with you? As Proverbs 17:17 exhorts us, love your friends at all times. Jesus is patient and persistent with his children, even as day by day, it varies wildly if we’re moving closer to him or farther away. Extend that same patience and persistence to your loved ones and never give up hope.
2. God works through community. People have often asked me, “How did your family become Christians? What did you say or do?” I like to highlight that, of course, God did it all, and that a lot was said and many people were involved. They didn’t just hear the gospel preached once and decide to trust in Jesus. There were many brothers and sisters in Christ that loved, prayed for and pursued my family members for years. My family didn’t just hear about the gospel, they experienced it through the kindness, hospitality and friendship of others. God provided friends who were committed to helping my family members experience Him. They were like the friends of the paralytic man in Matthew, Mark and Luke, whose friends ripped a hole in the roof of a crowded home so the man could be lowered down and come face to face with Jesus. Mark 2:5 says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Do you have friends who will love, care for and pray for your loved ones with you? Build a community with a shared vision to do whatever it takes to bring your loved ones into the life giving presence of Jesus.
3. God works through his compassion and justice. These days, Christians are often known more for what we’re against, than for any good we do. We’re known for our infighting, political affiliations and lack of concern and complicity with the current and historic suffering of others. Therefore for many, Christianity is an irrelevant religion that isn’t worth their time or worse, Christianity is a toxic religion that should be avoided at all cost. If we are to love our friends well and share the gospel in a credible way, we must have compassion and understand what they think about or have experienced of the Church, Christians and God. It may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve often had the opportunity to share about the gospel with people simply because I was able to empathize with their deep concerns about the Church and Christianity. And, in addition to extending compassion to your loved one, invite them to join you as you practice God’s compassion and justice in your city by doing life with and building up those who have been underserved or marginalized. I have seen so many people become willing to learn more about our faith because they witnessed Christians addressing poverty, systemic racism, and suffering. They saw that our faith actually addresses the pressing issues in our world today and might actually make a positive difference. Does your life reflect a different story than the division or indifference to suffering easily seen in our world today? May our lives point to the One who says in Jeremiah 9:24, “I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.”