As a general rule, big heavy things don’t turn fast. Zipping around a hairpin turn in a two-seat sports car is one thing. Lumbering down the same road in an 18 wheeler is entirely different. The greater an object’s mass, the more difficult it is to overcome inertia. Think about how much easier it is to push a toddler on a swing set than a grown man. Or consider that it takes a cargo ship miles to turn around. A lot of work needs to be put into turning something heavy; patience is needed to see results.
This principle of physics is a helpful framework for our concluding thoughts on evangelism. If it is an appropriate metaphor for the rate of change in our personal and church lives, then it is helpful in that it offers to us a realistic expectation for changing our attitudes and actions related to evangelism. That is to say, the reality is that making evangelistic encounters an intentional part of your life will take time because you are more like an 18 wheeler than a sports car, more like a grown man on a swing set than a toddler. The remainder of this reflection will consider the means by which we encumber ourselves and the solution to our encumbrance.
At the beginning of July, I mentioned that fear of man is the number one reason cited by Christians for why they do not evangelize. This fear is rooted for some in a sense of inadequacy. I don’t know enough theology to defend the hope that I have. For others, it is rooted in the unknown. How will my family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers react if I share my faith? For everyone who experiences it, this fear of man has weight to it. Though we cannot measure in a physical sense the weight of fear, it lays heavy on those who experience it. As a heavy burden, fear of man weighs down the one who bears it so that fatigue creeps into each day. It slows you down, and makes turning around a slow process.
There are many other things that weigh us down. The cares of this world and the demands of hectic lives are only two examples. These weights encourage us to continue moving in the same direction. Just as the 19 wheeler resists the turn of the steering wheel as it lumbers down the highway, so our heavily laden lives resist any turning from our present course. And since evangelism is for many of us not on our present course, it makes sense why turning to a new course will take time for us.
At this point, I want to emphasize the biblical mandate to evangelize. In his biblical theological reflection on evangelism, Pastor Donny cited John Stott’s summary statement to that effect. “It is the Bible that lays upon us the responsibility to evangelize the world, gives us a gospel to proclaim, tells us how to proclaim it, and promises us that it is God’s power for salvation to every believer.” Moreover, the Apostle Peter acknowledges the weight of fear with respect to proclaiming the good news, yet he still directs the church to be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the church’s hope (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). So, we have a responsibility and an expectation to evangelize.
With that in mind, resistance to evangelism reveals a heart encumbered by the burdens of this world, whether fear, the cares of this world, the demands of hectic lives that distract us, or something else. Consider your own reaction to evangelism. What is your first response? Do you immediately resist it by pointing out all the ways it won’t work? Do you dismiss it as the work of the church but not you individually? Do you lament the infertile ground of our present culture and abandon all hope of conversion? Resistance to a lifestyle of evangelism reveals how heavy laden your heart is. The greater the resistance, the heavier the burdens on your heart are.
But what is the solution? Certainly it is not to try harder or do better on your own. If you’re behind the steering wheel of an 18 wheeler, you don’t turn the wheel sharper to get the truck to turn around. That just ends with all your cargo strewn about the road. Rather, in the words of the well-known philosopher-theologian Carrie Underwood, the solution is this: “Jesus, take the wheel.” Or, to change the metaphor and be biblical, the solution is this: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). Our solution is to take on the easy yoke of our Lord Jesus Christ to ease the burden.
But how do we get to this solution? In a word, prayer. Pray that God would unburden your life. Pray that God would open your eyes to the spiritual needs of your family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers. Pray that God would give you opportunity to present his life-transforming grace to those around you. As you pray, consider also how you can be specific. Pray for specific occasions with specific people.
Then, do not resist the prompting of the Holy Spirit when you find yourself in exactly the situation for which you prayed.