I was at an event today, a conversation about ‘Living the story. Telling the story.’ One of the people in the conversation asked, ‘Do people out there really want to hear the story of Jesus? Do they want the message we have to give?’
Obviously that raises the question of what our message is, and I’ll have a go at dealing with that at some point. But I think the questioner had had experience of rejection when sharing the message….and was tempted to put the blame for this at the unbeliever’s door. Of course I don’t know the circumstances. But I do come across it quite often – a slight repressed anger at someone who hasn’t responded to the gospel in the way we might hope.
Earlier in the day I preached from the Parable of the Sower. And it’s clear in that account that some people don’t want the message, or can’t hear it at the moment. But some definitely do want to hear it. And if you ask, ‘Do people want to know they are unconditionally, profoundly, eternally loved?’ or ‘Do people want to know everything they’ve done wrong has been forgiven and forgotten?’ or ‘Do people want to know the foundational peace of being connected with the one who created the heavens and the earth?’ the answer must be, ‘OF COURSE they do!’
And if the uptake of our message is lower than we’d like, when the content of the message is so amazing, shouldn’t we be asking what we’re doing wrong? Or even better, shouldn’t we be asking the people we’re sharing the message with what we need to do to be heard?
I wonder when you last asked a friend or colleague who’s a non-church-goer to help you tell your story in a way they could hear it? Have you ever asked what would really make a difference to them? It might be something you’ve got no control over – like the sexuality debate or the Crusades – but it might be something you could do something about. Maybe you use jargon that people don’t understand. Maybe you don’t ask enough questions to find out what your conversation partner is really asking. Maybe your actions and way of life undermine your words.
With the best intentions, and out of a desire for God’s glory, and sure of the truth of the gospel, we can still come across as complacent, deaf, or even arrogant.
And yet, Jesus, being in very nature God…. humbled himself…. and invested huge amounts of time and effort learning to speak the language of the locals, explained patiently in a myriad of different ways the mystery of his Father’s kingdom, lived a life completely aligned with his teaching, and gave up that life as the last thing he could do to open our eyes to his love.
Sharing our faith is a long-term, whole-life, costly commitment that demands humility, empathy, and imagination, not just an occasional conversation. Are we in it for the long haul?