Growing up, I heard story after story of people who got to witness to others on airplane rides. Their seatmates were captive audiences, and apparently always eager to hear about the gospel! I thought it was a great way to witness, and when it was my turn to fly, I started praying for boldness to speak up at every opportunity. I was eager and ready for someone to ask me something that could lead to an evangelistic conversation.
But flight after flight happened, and nobody talked to me. Everyone was stuck in a book, glued to their headphones, or taking a snooze. In fact, I barely shared more than half-dozen words with most of my fellow travelers, despite our many hours in close proximity.
I began wondering what was wrong with me — why didn’t God ever give me those opportunities that I’d always heard about? Eventually I realized that personality played a part: most people who shared those sort of “airplane conversion stories” were outspoken extroverts, who thought nothing of initiating long conversations with total strangers.
But we’re not all made that way . . . some of us are a lot less outspoken, and much less inclined to get personal with people we’ve never met. Typically we call those people introverts — and I’m one of them.
I’m rather quiet with people who don’t know me well. I’d rather observe than talk . . . but if we’re going to talk, then forget the small talk or the personal updates! I’d rather discuss the deep things — like the origin of the soul, or the nature of black holes, or the cyclical patterns of weather.
But none of that helps me start an evangelistic conversation with my seatmate on an airplane, or a fellow member of my library’s book club. None of that helps me “go . . . make disciples” as Christ commanded in Matthew 28.
How then can I hope to share the gospel with those who need it most?
How can I fulfill Christ’s Great Commission, if I can’t even start a conversation about the weather? How can I turn the topic to eternal matters, if I can’t even muster up the courage to ask a stranger’s name?
The answer is two-fold: boldness and initiative. Or we could call it, boldness in action.
The thing is — most people aren’t going to walk up to you (especially if they don’t know you very well) and say, “Hey, are you a Christian? Because I need to hear the gospel.” Even if they know you go to church, they’re not likely to ask why you go or what you do there.
Unbelievers are even more hesitant to ask about spiritual things then we are to tell them — so as believers, in possession of the truth, we need to make the first move.
And that requires boldness.
And that’s hard!
Before you tune me out and think “but that’s just not the way I am,” consider two first-century examples with me.
Peter and Paul — Boldness in Action
If anyone had a right to rest on their own abilities, they would have been it. One was outspoken and blunt in every situation; and the other was one of the greatest evangelists of all time. Yet both of them prayed earnestly for boldness in sharing the gospel.
In Acts 4, we see Peter and John being arrested by the religious leaders of their day for teaching people about Jesus. The next day, when they were asked about their authority to teach, Peter gave a stirring response that ended with a clear statement about Christ’s power to save men from sin. The high priests were left speechless by their boldness!
But they didn’t rest on that experience or chalk it up to natural ability. Peter may have been an outspoken extrovert (he certainly got his foot stuck in his mouth a lot!), but once he rejoined his fellow believers, he prayed earnestly with them for even more boldness to preach the gospel:
“‘. . . grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Paul had to pray for boldness, too. Despite his mighty works as a church-planter, missionary, and evangelist, he could not rest on his own ability or eloquence to turn men to Christ. In Ephesians 6, he tells the church to pray for all the saints, and especially for him — that he might have boldness to proclaim the gospel:
“. . . keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
If boldness to turn conversations to spiritual things didn’t come naturally for Peter or Paul — why would we expect it to come naturally for us? Many of us are naturally timid when it comes to controversial topics like religion, or politics, or whether the Red Sox are better than the Yankees (they are, by the way).
But Peter and Paul didn’t just pray for boldness — they acted upon it! They prayed . . . and then they went. They prayed, and then initiated conversation. They prayed, and then healed a man in Jesus’ name.
They prayed for boldness — and then they made the first move. They didn’t sit around waiting for fellow travelers to ask a question about doctrine, or for fellow temple-goers to exclaim over their sinfulness. They didn’t hesitate out of fear or wondering how they’d come across. They didn’t carefully consider every word and vocal inflection, and plan the conversation out in their minds before uttering the first word.
They boldly spoke up first.
I need more boldness, but I also need to take more initiative. I need to pray for opportunities, but I also need to be ready — and willing! — to grab hold of those minor statements by others, and connect them to spiritual things.
- When someone shares a burden for their child, or their health, or their family — speak up and share how Christ can give them hope.
- When someone laments injustice or oppression for women or minority groups — explain how we are all made in God’s image, and all in need of His redemption.
- When someone mentions the glory of a beautiful spring day — tell them how to have a personal relationship with the Creator of the world.
- When someone talks about their weekend plans — be bold to invite them to church with you!
Those are just a few examples of how to take bold initiative in sharing the good news of the Gospel. What else comes to mind?