I got a call late last night from a friend in another state. As soon as I saw the caller ID a flood of possibilities passed through my mind, none of them good.
Turned out it was a pocket dial…but it started me thinking: If my friend had been calling me for an emergency I would have been ready to do my best to help save her.
Well then, what should be my attitude toward my friends who aren’t yet saved, who haven’t embraced a relationship with Jesus Christ?
I decided to explore what holds me back from sharing the good news (gospel) with people who matter to me.
Fires of Hell and Lakes of Sulfur, Oh My!
One thing that holds me back is motive. It’s not that I don’t believe hell exists, I do. But if I try to tell a non-believing friend that she should accept Jesus or else, it sounds like a cruel threat:
- There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. Luke 13:28
- And anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15 (NCV)
- And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10
As a parent I learned early on that threats create a fearful and deceptive child, not an obedient one.
Why would someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus accept the idea that there are dire consequences to unbelief, let alone open her mind to the even more frightening, if remote, notions of Satan and hell; concepts that only a third of people even believe exist today. (“Is Satan Real? Most People Think Not,” Barna Group)
For me, sharing my faith must be grounded in the here and now. The truth is that regardless of how life goes — whether you’re experiencing the highest high or the lowest low — it all eventually becomes unbearable without a relationship with God. (Read: Grace and Truth: Overcoming Failure.)
In This World You Will Have Trouble (John 16:33)
No one gets through life unscathed. Whether suffering is a result of living in a fallen world or self-inflicted by our own sinfulness, pain is pain.
If you live long enough you’ll “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23): a parent dies, a spouse leaves, your child rebels, you get fired, financial security evaporates, your friend betrays you or some other trial or tribulation strikes. At these times you become aware of how quickly you reach your limits.
Where then do you turn for help? “There are no atheists in a foxhole,” the saying goes. If you know God, no matter how casually, you are likely to begin seeking after him with renewed interest and energy when you’re in trouble. It’s easy to see personal trials as an opportunity to test God’s mettle, a chance to see if He is who He says He is (rather than realizing that such situations are usually intended to test ours).
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1
In hard times it is natural and easy to point my friends to Jesus as a source of comfort and safety, peace and even joy. I can offer them the terra-firma of passages like the one above and the alluring respite of Psalm 23 with its green pastures, rest by still waters, restoration for the soul, and even a holy anointing before my enemies.
But if the first time I share this news with my friends is when they are in duress the promises may be disregarded as empty platitudes from a non-credible source (me). It ends up sounding as heartfelt as, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”
When You Get to the Top There’s Nothing There
At the other end of life — and just as perilous — is success.
I have shared this quote in other posts, but I find it bears repeating: When a reporter asked best-selling author Jack Higgins if there was anything he wished he would have known as a child he answered, “I wish I had known then what I know now, that when you get to the top there’s nothing there.”
Tennis star Boris Becker was the peak of his career and on the brink of suicide at the same time. He said of that season, “I had won Wimbledon twice before, once as the youngest player. I was rich. I had all the material possessions I needed …. It’s the old song of movie stars and pop stars who commit suicide. They have everything, and yet they are so unhappy. I had no inner peace. I was a puppet on a string.”
My favorite evangelist, Ravi Zacharias, often shares stories in his podcast, “Let My People Think,” of meeting with high-profile individuals across the globe; athletes, celebrities, politicians and others who by the world’s standards have it all. Yet he meets them in the depths of their despair, often a result of duplicitous living and indulgence in insatiable, worldly desires.
What I wish to offer at such times are the words of John:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:15-17
But could these words be received, or would they come out sounding like envy or self-righteous judgment?
Walking with God
A relationship with Jesus is indeed life-saving, in this world and eternally. I hope and pray that God’s desire that “none should perish” (2 Peter 3:9) will be fulfilled.
In hard times God gives me my next breath, strength to face another day and most importantly, hope, based on the promise that He works all things for good.
In good times, when I succeed in nailing my pride to the cross and recognize God as the only One who is good (Mark 10:18), my joy is multiplied in glorifying Him, the loving father who desires to bless His children abundantly.
But the biggest reason to share this life-saving secret with everyone I know is how it changes my experience of each day…and minute of my life.
When my grandmother had cataract surgery the first thing she did when she got home was call my mother about the tree outside her window; it was more lush and green and vibrant than she had ever seen.
That’s the best analogy I can think of for a life lived in relationship with the Lord. When I walk with God I see the world and those in it through His eyes and it is good:
- Awakening in the morning is an opportunity to recognize the gift of a new day, to thank God for the blessings of yesterday and to reflect for a moment on the unique masterpiece of each dawn.
- The irritable lady in the checkout line? She is a child of God and precious in His sight. Maybe her mother is sick or her husband is unemployed, or something else is causing her to have a tough day.
- That failure or disappointment? I give it to God and trust that His plan is to prosper me and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11). I remind myself that maybe this was simply not part of the plan. I know that good will come of the experience, no matter how painful.
- Time for coffee with a treasured friend becomes a valuable gift; an opportunity to share God’s love, share what He is doing in our lives, and learn and grow from each other.
I would love to tell you this is how I live my life every day; I can tell you it is how I am learning to live. When I do, I experience peace and joy in the blessings and even in times of trial; I feel humble gratitude for each success; and in all of this I bask in the abundant love of my Savior.
That is an experience worth sharing with a friend.