What goes through your mind when you hear that word?
Fear? Excitement? Guilt?
This is my 'evangelism story' from since I became a Christian. I've struggled with seeing evangelism as a privilege. It doesn't help when other Christians go on and on about how if we really love Jesus, then we wouldn't have any fear. This doesn't encourage the timid and help the weak. It just paralyses them.
The main thing I've learnt over the years is that I will never love Jesus as I should, but that He loves me - more than I can ever comprehend. His acceptance of me is because He purchased me with His own blood - not my evangelism ability or lack of.
I've blogged my testimony before here. In Part 3, I wrote about my family and friends' reaction to my faith. I had some Christian friends who openly showed their joy and excitement that I was now following Christ. But some others came across as a bit indifferent. It was almost like they didn't really believe me. One person admitted later that she was always so very happy for me, and should have showed it more.
As a new believer, I had this very naive view that my non-Christian family would be happy for me. That fellow students at uni would be respectful after finding out I was a Christian. It seems ridiculous now. After all, I wasn't very respectful of Christians before I became one. My mum had been encouraging me to go to Christian 'events', but when I told them I was now a Christian and was attending a church regularly, she did not react well. It made me realise that her aim was for me to keep out of trouble at high school and uni. She never actually wanted me to BELIEVE it.
I was shattered. I started hiding my faith. I feared man much, much more than I feared God. I wasn't openly Christian. I decided that if someone asked if I was a Christian, then I would be happy to talk to them about it, but I would never aim to start evangelistic conversations. I wanted people to like me....even people I didn't really respect or like much. I only wanted to talk to non-Christians I felt 'safe' around.
Being part of the Christian Union at uni was both an encouragement and a burden. I felt so much pressure to be involved in stranger/walk-up evangelism...it was as if this was the only way to evangelise. One guy was a very gifted evangelist and did regular stranger evangelism on campus. He often invited others to join him, but he was very encouraging about it. He emphasised that he didn't want anyone to feel guilty if they didn't want to accompany him. But on another occasion, I was hanging out with someone before Bible study when they said, "We've got some time to kill. Let's do some stranger evangelism." When I told this person I didn't want to, they kept pressuring me, "Why not?"
I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. I felt like I wasn't a true Christian. I felt like God didn't love me, that I'd lost my salvation. Satan got into my ear and I believed his lies. He whispered that if I was ashamed of Jesus, then He would be ashamed of me before His Father.
This was 2004 when everything really went pear-shaped.
I was afraid to die. If I died I would go to hell so I had to stay alive at all costs. I became very depressed. On top of my workload for uni, it was difficult to cope. I felt like I had no-one to talk to, no-one would understand. A lot of Christians admitted they found evangelism scary, but it didn't offer me any encouragement. They might have been scared, but they didn't hide away like I was. They loved Jesus enough to be bold, despite their fear.
In the end, I decided to seek out a Christian counsellor. I needed to speak to someone who didn't know me.
God used that lady to bring me back from despair. I thought she would just tell me to be brave and bold. But she didn't. She opened the Bible and showed me Romans 8:1. That was the beginning. I had allowed Satan to chain me with his lies. Now God's Word was going to set me free.
God helped me understand grace better. I thought I knew what it entailed before, but now I was coming to a much deeper understanding. I could NEVER deserve His love. It was freely given. He wasn't going to give up on me. I could come before Him, confess my sin, and He would forgive and change me. It might be a long and painful process, but He was for me. He would empower me to live for Him and to speak His lifechanging words to others.
Early in 2005 I got baptised after my housemate suggested it. It was a chance to share what God had done for me with people who weren't Christian. Even though my parents and brother were the only non-Christians who accepted the invitation to come, I got to speak uninterrupted about the difference Jesus makes, both now and for eternity. One of my cousins was quite horrified that I got baptised. In my darkest days, I would have felt mortally wounded, but now I found myself not being so worried about her disapproval.
It has been a long process and it's nowhere near over. In hindsight, I can see that, unlike many of my friends who grew up in Christian families, I had to have a 'coming out of the closet' experience as a Christian. Although every Christian has to explain who they are to non-Christians they meet, it wasn't the same as it was for someone who has always been known for being a 'church goer' or 'religious'. It probably sounds like I'm making excuses, but I'm not. I know it is my own sin, the fear of man which is the problem.
The difference since 2004 is that instead of looking for God's approval in evangelism, I look to the cross. Sharing my faith has become easier over time although it's still a struggle. Once people know I'm a Christian, it's actually the exciting privilege it should be, and not a burden. So, if I talk about my experiences of evangelism, rest assure I'm not wanting to brag. It is God's work. If you're finding it tough, I understand.
God will not give up on His children. He will refine and change them. My greatest encouragement is the apostle Peter. He went from being someone who denied Jesus and fled to save his own skin, to someone who boldly and fearlessly proclaimed the gospel - even though it led to his death. That is my prayer for myself - to let the love of Christ compel me to share the good news with others.
The post Gospel Speech at our School by Jean from In All Honesty really encouraged me this year. Check it out.