Week 9: April 30

The Gospel in Our Words

by Brian Benoit

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DAY 1: Speaking Starts with Listening

Read: John 4:1-30

“I recently observed a conversation a few Christians were having with a man who has yet to come to faith in Jesus. It was amazing to me, and saddening, to watch the Christians missing the point of this man’s struggle and questions. It seemed those speaking to him were more concerned about convincing him they were right than about listening to his heart. As a result, he walked away without any good news about Jesus, becoming even more convinced that this “religion” wasn’t for him.” - Jeff Vanderstelt, “Gospel Fluency” ch. 13

“It is of vital importance that Christians share the gospel.”

“Evangelism is a job for every Christian.”

As you read these statements above, what comes to your mind? How do you imagine “evangelism” or “sharing the gospel with others”? What does that look like?

Here’s a statement I fully believe to be true: When it comes to sharing the gospel with others, speaking starts with listening.

If we are going to share the gospel effectively with others, it is essential that we listen first, and speak second. Why? Because the gospel, at its very core, is good news. If I never listen to anyone’s story, if I never discover where they’re at - what they’re longing for, and what kind of pain they’re dealing with, I can never discover how the gospel is good news for them specifically.

If we listen well, we can look at someone and say, “Let me tell you about Jesus who can step into your life, and change all that. Let me tell you how the story of Jesus is good news for you,” When we share the gospel this way, it will take on a whole new sort of power that the generic message of “we’re all sinners in need of a savior” can’t touch.*

So, if speaking the gospel effectively to someone else starts with listening, how can we do that better? In the course “Emotionally Healthy Relationships” we go through a skill called “Incarnational listening” which I think applies well here. Here are three small things you can do to listen more “incarnationally.”

Set aside your agenda and responses. When we listen incarnationally, that is all we are doing – listening. I know how easy it is for me to formulate a response in my mind as the other person is speaking, or to jump in when there’s something I want to say. That’s not listening, that’s conversation. Listening requires you to set aside responses and agendas, and simply listen. To shut off that “response” reaction in your head, it is helpful to periodically repeat back to the person what they just said. This will force you to pay close attention to what they are saying, so that you can accurately recount their words.

Enter into the person’s feelings. Listening incarnationally is more than being a good listener. It requires you to enter into that person’s world, and see it through their eyes. The easiest way to do that is to put yourself into their situation and imagine how you would feel. Then, check that out with the other person. “Wow, if that happened to me, I would be really sad. Is that how you’re feeling?” Allow the person to respond – whether they agree with your assessment or not! – and then take on their feelings about the situation for yourself. Maybe they don’t feel sad, maybe they feel angry or lost. Feel that with them.

Find the gospel touchpoint. Before, during, and after you are listening, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you where in the person’s story they need the gospel. He might not reveal it right away. There is no pressure to share the gospel immediately after you listen! God’s pace is much slower than ours most of the time. You can always come back to the person later and bring up the conversation again. But be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence as a third party, and constantly be looking to him to reveal to you what part of that person’s life the gospel needs to touch.

Listening well is not easy. It takes practice, patience, and time. Don’t give up! Perseverance in this practice will yield great results if we are willing to set aside our own agenda, and listen for where the gospel needs to be spoken.

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” - David Augsburger

“If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first fifty-five minutes asking them questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last five minutes I will share with them something of the truth.” - Francis Schaeffer

*I’m not saying this isn’t an important message. Sin is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Jesus died to break its power over us. What I am proposing is an approach that applies the good news in a more specific manner to each person’s unique life circumstances.

Questions for Reflection:

Can you think of a time when you really felt listened to? What was it? How did you feel at that moment?

Of the three listening skills mentioned today (set aside your agenda and responses, listen incarnationally, find the gospel touch point), which do you want to get better at? Why?

Who is one person you can practice listening with this week?

Day 2: Transparency Makes All the Difference

Read: John 9:1-25

In today’s scripture, we read of a blind man who had an encounter with Jesus. Touched by Jesus’ healing hand, this man who was once blind gained his sight! What an amazing experience that must have been. He was quick to share with everyone around him that it was Jesus who had performed the miracle. Then, the Pharisees came along, and peppered him with questions. How could this upstart character ‘Jesus’ be performing miracles? Their frustration and anger is evident in reading the text even 2,000 years later. And then, the man speaks to them the clearest, most concise gospel message in the Bible.

“Here is what I know about Jesus. I once was blind, but now I can see.”

It’s just that easy.

Ok, maybe I should say, “it’s just that simple.” Sometimes it’s not easy. Here is where the blind man’s story often diverges from our own: it was pretty evident to everyone that he was blind. There was no hiding it. In that culture, his only option was to sit on a street corner and beg. So when he said, “I once was blind…” It was no surprise to anyone. They had all seen him begging at one point or another.

We on the other hand… we live in a society that pushes us to hide our flaws and cover them up. Don’t let anyone see weakness or faults. Present a perfect picture to the world (sometimes, quite literally. I’m looking at you, Instagram). This mindset has crept into the church over the years, to the point where we feel that any problem, fault, or sin we might be dealing with needs to be covered up, so that everyone can see “good Christians have it all together.”

Unfortunately, when we do this, we’re robbing ourselves (and God) of gospel sharing opportunities. If we never show people our “I once was blind” moments, we will never get to share with them the “but because of Jesus, now I can see” moments.

The world is full of hurting people who need the power of Jesus in their lives, even though it may seem like they have it all together. Speaking the gospel is simply being willing to be honest and say, “I sure am struggling with ______, but this is where Jesus is in it with me,” or “I used to _________, but because of Jesus, now I ______.”

In doing that, we are demonstrating the power of the gospel in our own lives, and offering it to anyone else who needs it. We are preaching the gospel.

Questions for Reflection

Read today’s Bible passage again, and this time, imagine you are the blind man.

What are some feelings or thoughts you might have experienced as a blind man? Write them out.

Why do you think the blind man was so willing to share his story?

What is your “I once was blind, but now I can see” story?

Who can you share your story with this week? Take some time to listen to the Holy Spirit, and see where he might be prompting you.

Day 3: The Only Lesson You Need on Speaking Fluently

Read: Matthew 25:14-30

When I went on my first mission trip to Ecuador, I spoke zero Spanish. Despite that, I was determined to pick up as much as I could in order to communicate in whatever rudimentary way I could. I was no stranger to learning languages at this point in my life, and I decided to lean heavily on my proficiency with French to help me fill in blanks. After all, the two languages do share a common ancestry – Latin. There are enough similarities for me to figure it out… or so was my rationale. About halfway through the trip, I had picked up a word or two here and there, and managed to speak haltingly about my family and pets. My confidence was growing. And as is often the case, that was my downfall. We were sitting at dinner with the students at the mission school, and talking about our favorite animals. I got excited, and wanted to say, “I love penguins!” I wasn’t sure how to say that though, so I cobbled together some linguistic assumptions in my brain:

I know the word for penguin, but what about the rest? The French word for “love” is “amour,” so (maybe) if I want to say I love something in Spanish it’s similar… but it’s a verb, so I need to conjugate it to “amo”… and if I want to say “I” it’s the Spanish word “me,” right? I think so. So “I love penguins” would be “Me amo pingüinos.”

And I said it confidently! Me amo pingüino!

Here’s the problem. I said it completely wrong. (Big surprise). What I said sounded exactly like “Me llamo pingüino,” which, if you’ve had any level of education in Spanish (unlike me), you know means “My name is penguin.” In my effort to convey my affection for those cute flightless birds, I instead made a confident statement about my name.*

Which leads me to the only lesson you’ll ever need in speaking fluently, whether that be speaking the gospel or speaking a new language: 

You just have to start speaking.

There comes a time in every language learner’s life when they are faced with a situation that forces them to move from theory to practice. From book work to actually speaking. And those moments can be scary! Whether you’re in a classroom, where you don’t want to look foolish, or a foreign culture where you’re afraid of being misunderstood, speaking in a language that’s not native can really feel like “putting yourself out there.”

I’ve seen it happen time and again. People who truly have enough language skills to communicate in a foreign language will suddenly get really quiet when the rubber meets the road. They don’t want to say the wrong thing, so they don’t say anything at all.

How can we apply this lesson to sharing the gospel fluently? Here are two ideas.

Start with speaking to other language learners. When learning a foreign language, the safest place to mess up and look silly is in the classroom, where everyone else is in the same boat. If the thought of sharing the gospel with someone is scary, start with the other “language learners” in your life – Christian friends. After all, the gospel isn’t something that you hear once, and never need to hear again. The whole world needs to hear the gospel, and that includes you and me! I might be missing a place where Jesus wants to offer me healing, or you might be missing a place where Jesus is working and transforming your life. Share those things!

Don’t be afraid of looking foolish. Many times, the thing that prevents us from sharing the gospel with others is a fear of looking foolish. “What if they laugh at me?’ “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if they ask a question that I can’t answer?” These things can really paralyze us when we think about sharing the gospel. But, just like learning a new language, we have to accept that those sorts of things will happen. When I was trying to speak Spanish in Ecuador, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was going to say something very, very wrong at some point. I accepted that as part of the learning process. So, when I confidently told everyone that my name was in fact “Penguin,” I was able to laugh at myself and move on with my day. I didn’t beat myself up or get (too) embarrassed. I used it as a learning moment.

You may feel that the stakes are a bit higher than “accidentally mis-naming yourself” when you share the gospel. I suppose that’s true. But you know what is also true? God can use anything for his glory. And he’s working with you in this, because it is his greatest desire that the whole world hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can’t think of a better reason to “embrace messing up.”

Just start speaking.

*What I have since learned is that I should have said, “Me encantan pinguinos.” I think. I’m still learning.

Questions for Reflection

What is your greatest fear in sharing the gospel? What holds you back? List some reasons below.

Have you ever had a bad experience in trying to share the gospel?

Where is one place you can share the gospel with someone else this week – either inside or outside the church?

Day 4: Reflection Day

Listen to the song “The In Between” by Matt Maher

Which of the following lyrics do you identify with?

What part of your life story do they describe?

From death to life

From darkness to a shine

From fear to a peace I can’t explain

From doubts to a hope

Holding on and letting go of all the empty promises of shame

From orphan to Your child

From a stone to running wild

From a seed in the ground to breaking out

Reflect on how Jesus and the gospel has transformed your life. What pair of words (like the lyrics above) would you use to describe that transformation?

From ___________ to ________

Say a prayer thanking Jesus for transforming you in this way.

Ask him to bring someone to you this week who needs to hear how the gospel has transformed your life, and for the courage to share that transformation when the opportunity arises.