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The Mystery of Believing

02.12.20
in Blog, Disciple-making, Evangelism, Salvation-baptism
Four ways I’ve watched my friends turn to Jesus

My ears perk up when my local friends describe how they came to faith in Jesus. As a cross-cultural disciple-maker, I’m always looking for insight that I can adapt to the next situation.  

Of course it is always, 100% of the time, the work of the Holy Spirit that leads anyone to faith. But I also believe we are called to be students of the people around us and to grow in our skills as God’s tools for transforming lives.

I’d like to share four themes I’ve seen repeated over and over in my friends’ stories. My purpose in sharing these is not to make discipleship a formula. But understanding these themes has helped me pay closer attention to the Holy Spirit’s work around me, and I hope it helps you too.

1. Being a stranger in a foreign land

A few weeks ago, my family invited some coworkers to our house for dinner. As is our habit with guests, we told them we pray before eating. The husband and wife smiled at each other and said, “We’re Christians, too!” They told us they were working in America last year when friends invited them to church. They trusted Christ and were baptized before returning to our country.

For most people, spending extended time away from all that’s familiar can lead you to question your previously-held assumptions about the world. You often find yourself more desperate, lonely, and needy than ever before. You are hungry for friendship, for hospitality, and simply for help. When kind people choose to befriend you and display the love of Christ, you may find yourself listening carefully to what they have to say.

This observation has encouraged me to trust God’s plan when my local friends move away before they’ve trusted Christ. Rather than giving up on them, I find and recommend a few good churches in their new location. I tell them that making friends in a new country is hard, but one of the best ways to do it is to go to church. Then I pray and wait.

Are there foreigners where you live right now? God has given you a strategic opportunity. Reach out to them, and let His love shine through you.

2. Personal crises and suffering

Every spring, my local church network holds a “New Life Party” where everyone who has trusted Christ in the past year shares their story of faith. One time I invited my language tutor to attend. I had shared the gospel with her multiple times, but she had yet to believe. When I asked her impression of the event, she said, “Hearing all of their stories made it clear to me that I am not ready to believe.” She said that everyone who shared had gone through major suffering before believing — like divorce, a car accident, depression, cancer, etc. — and she had yet to experience such a crisis. (This left me rather puzzled about how to pray for her — ought I now to pray for a crisis in her life? Thankfully, she did come to faith about a year later, without a major crisis.)

This experience helped me see the value of every Christian’s story of faith, including the less dramatic ones. It also taught me to keep my eyes open for the crises that are happening around me. I want to be the friend that people come to when their lives are falling apart, because they have already seen Christ’s care through me. While I don’t pray for people’s lives to fall apart, suffering will come to everyone. So I pray that my unbelieving friends will acknowledge the pain already in their lives and allow it to lead them to the only One big enough to handle it.

Who are the people around you in crisis? When you share about adversity in your own life, do you tell the story in a way that highlights God’s faithfulness without minimizing the pain?

3. Community

In a group-oriented culture like the one where I live in Asia, being invited into a group that loves and welcomes unconditionally is so different from the usual experience. It shows Christ in a way that nothing else can. So when a local friend shows an interest in matters of faith, one of the first things I do is introduce them to such a community.

Sometimes friends repeatedly turn down my invitations, and I used to stop inviting them out of courtesy. However, one local believer gave this testimony: “I was not at all interested in going to church. But my friend kept inviting me, over and over, until I was too embarrassed to turn her down again. I finally agreed and went with her, and after going one time, I was hooked and soon believed in Jesus.” Hearing this story taught me not to give up too quickly in my invitations.

While Western culture is far more individualistic, our individualism has led to extreme loneliness, and people are desperate for authentic connections. Let us as believers welcome them into earthly communities that showcase the relationship their Father in heaven longs to have with them.

4. Social justice

One of my American teammates works at an orphanage for special needs children in our city. She stopped by the home of a local believing couple to share about a little boy who needed adopted and ask them to help spread the word. This couple had an aunt staying with them that they had shared the gospel with countless times. The aunt couldn’t believe an American would take so much trouble over a boy with whom she had little connection. A few days later, the aunt put her trust in Jesus, saying that watching my teammate’s actions on behalf of this orphan, and learning that she was motivated by Christ’s love, sparked her new faith.

Those of us who have been changed by Christ’s love engage in social justice because He cared for us when we were helpless and undeserving. Here’s the beautiful thing: Not only will God use you to care for His children, but He will also shine through you to observers who wonder why you would sacrifice to care for those who can never repay you.

I know well the discouragement that can come when we share God’s truth and see so little obvious fruit. I share these themes to encourage you that He is at work in all kinds of ways. May we never lose heart but continually rejoice in every sign that the Spirit is on the move.

Crossworld worker Chloe and her family make disciples in East Asia.

The people in this story are real, but their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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