Monday, January 23, 2012

What Do I Say?

One of the biggest hurdles to evangelism, the thing that turns us away from doing anything the most, is when we think to ourselves, “What do I say?” When we think of opening our mouths to someone and preparing that perfect opening line, that icebreaker to evangelism, we lock up. We avoid confrontation altogether, even though it may not be confrontation at all. We are conditioned to think that any talk of religion is confrontational, so we don't even try. However, Jeremiah said the same thing to God in his first chapter. And God responded that he would give Jeremiah the the words to say. Be not afraid.

Jonah is commissioned twice by God to go to Nineveh. I want to compare the first commission of Jonah with the second commission, and see if we can get a better idea of how God gives us the words to say. Here are the two commissions:

Go at once
to Nineveh
that great city
and cry out against it
for their wickedness has come up before me

Get up
Go to Nineveh
that great city
and proclaim to it
the message that I tell you

The first commission is before the storm and the fish. The second commission is after the fish. What's so special about the fish? That's where Jonah repents of his sin, trying to run away from God's plan for his life. In the fish we hear the following in Jonah's prayer: “Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?””

So the second commission has the additional words, “get up.” Jonah was probably in temple on his knees when he got the second commission. We think that he was spit out by the fish and immediately dragged his stinky, fish-smelling self over to Nineveh. I think God gave Jonah some time to repent and get back into a routine of being a servant of the Lord, on his knees in the temple.

Nineveh is still a great city, but in the first commission, God lets Jonah in on the details of what he wants him to do: cry out against it—and the WHY: for their wickedness has come up before me. The second time, the Lord is not giving Jonah so much details. Like Jeremiah: when you get there, I will fill your mouth with words. Proclaim to it the message that I tell you. Jonah just needs to go and be God's mouthpiece, and he needs to not think so much. He needs to be in a more subservient role. He cannot know the details this time, because we have seen what he does with too much information. He runs away.

So, we, too, must not be too involved in the management of our evangelism. We know we are called to evangelize, and that is really all we need to know. God gives us the words to say when we get there, when we are face to face with our subject. If he gave us the what and the why before we set foot outside our homes, we probably would never leave our homes. We would stay in bed with the covers over our heads—our own personal Tarshish.

When Jonah gets to Nineveh, God gives him the message to say: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The effect is astonishing. The whole city repents, including the king. Never has anyone been able to produce such an effect in a single day. This could only come from the power and grace of God. A SENSE of God filled the city. The simple phrase that Jonah spoke became a contagion—a virus that spread throughout the whole city until everyone was infected.

When we talk to someone in public, we shouldn't worry about what we say. When God's power and grace are behind our words, they will spread like a contagion. In our gospel reading, Jesus knows this, because he does the same thing: he merely says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” That is not a very potent phrase in itself. I don't think I would be successful with that phrase in a coffee shop. People would just stare at me—or would they? If the power and grace of God were behind that phrase, perhaps I would be able to build up a following. It's all about having faith. Jesus knows the will of the Father, and he had no problem saying a mere, “follow me,” to Matthew. He didn't even include the second part of the phrase for Matthew. What would it have been? “And I will make you a taxer of men?” Matthew was already a taxer of men. All Jesus said to Matthew was two words: follow me. The power and grace of God did all the rest. Everyone immediately drops their nets or leaves their tax booths. They leave the stuff right there. They aren't worried that the stuff is going to get stolen. Sometimes Dad is left behind, too. Standing with the net in his hands, watching his sons run off with some guy. This is drastic stuff, and we aren't capable of making it happen. Only God is capable. He makes it happen, and when we have faith in him, he will give us the perfect phrase to say.

I was talking to a young man the other day, and I just couldn't figure out what to say to him. What do you do? He answered homework, and left it at that. Suddenly, it just popped out of my mouth: do you like music? Yes. What do you listen to? The Beatles. Me, too. The face lit up, suddenly he was accessible. Music is easy, but when was the last time we asked someone what their spiritual life was like? Do you believe in the supernatural? Do you believe in God? Sometimes just a phrase like that might be the opening. Maybe we should try that this week. Ask one person this week if they believe in God—obviously where you don't know what the answer will be—and see if the power and grace of God come rushing through the one phrase and leads the conversation into a contagious flurry that brings someone closer to Jesus.