Inside each one of us there is a hunger to experience the love of God and until we allow Him to come and satisfy that hunger we will never feel complete. Without knowing God people feel lonely, worthless and their lives lack meaning. They seek to block out the pointlessness in all the wrong ways. It might be through seeking cheap thrills, making an exhibition of themselves to gain attention, flirting, obsessions with video games, alcohol or gambling. The list is endless. When we look round at our friends and family we might recognise some of the symptoms. We know what they are seeking. We know who they are really searching for but how can we help them to encounter Jesus, their Saviour?
The best starting point for evangelisation is prayer. We can pray for those around us who don’t know Jesus, that they will be open to the Holy Spirit in their lives and for their conversion of heart. We can also pray for courage and the right opportunity to speak to them about God’s love, for the right words to use and for sensitivity, so that we can understand how they are feeling and come alongside them in their struggles. All our efforts to evangelise must be made with love and humility. If we are trying to help someone to encounter Jesus then we should look for opportunities to start a conversation about God’s love that might help them to think about their lives and prompt them to ask questions. It’s no good saying things like, “You need Jesus” or “Repent, you are a sinner.” Our approach should be subtle and sensitive.
One way to turn a conversation towards spiritual things is to introduce what God has done or is doing in our lives. The listener can’t argue with this and should be interested enough to want to hear more about our faith and how it helps us. For example you could say something like, “I always pray before I start revising. It helps me to concentrate and focusses my mind. Don’t you think that God would want us to do well in our exams?” or you might say, “I went to Confession on Saturday, it was an amazing experience and I felt so good afterwards. Don’t you think that it is incredible that God died for our sins?” These are the sort of open questions that invite the listener to respond with something more than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ and can open up a conversation to talk about the love of God and our faith.
When we have engaged someone in conversation and got their interest then we should listen carefully to their stories and views so that we can gently rebuke any false ideas. We should try not to be antagonistic and say things like, “You are wrong” or “That is not true” but say rather, “Have you thought of it this way…?” or “This hasn’t been my experience…..” In this way we are showing them God’s love and helping them to open themselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. By listening to their stories we may be able to show them where God has been working in their lives. This will be much more effective than trying to tell them everything that Christians believe all at once. In the story of the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus began by engaging the woman in general conversation and then gradually reveals Himself to her.
A WORK OF GOD
Remember, that it is not our efforts alone that will spread the Gospel. We can talk to people about Jesus but it is God who will change their hearts and bring them to conversion. He is just using us as His instruments to reach out to His people. He can also use us to touch others when we volunteer to help the poor or visit the sick or elderly. It may be just a kind word or a helping hand from us that could make all the difference to someone’s life. The Holy Spirit might inspire us to invite a friend to come to Mass with us. All we have to do is invite them and pray that the Holy Spirit will touch them deeply through the Liturgy. Sometimes people say no to an invitation but that is not a sign of our failure, we have succeeded by stepping out in faith to invite them and that is all that God is asking of us. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only asks that you try.”
We may not always be as successful as we would wish but we don’t know how God will use our few words and kind actions to change the lives of others. People also have the choice to accept the Gospel message or not. St Paul, the great evangeliser said, “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:3 – 5) All we are called to do is to be faithful and open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to let God work through us to show His love to others.
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28: 19-20
Written by June Palmer