(Note: This post is the long-delayed completion of “Creative Bridge Building.”)
“So what about it,” I asked my co-worker friend. “Will you give me the words to that rap song?” He became embarrassed and laughed sheepishly. He finally said no. When I asked why he said, “Because you’re a Christian.”
My purpose was not to scold or nag him about the dirty lyrics. Instead I talked about why God’s moral standard applies to all of us, whether we claim to live by it or not. Three or four other co-workers became curious and gathered round to listen. One in particular entered the discussion with great vigor. He attempted to defend the lyrics as “merely entertainment.”
The best result of that conversation was that it spawned others. One co-worker came to me later and said, “One thing that has always bothered me is why God created me, knowing that I would rebel against him and go to Hell.” Well, that was more than I expected. But it did remind me that often, below the surface, people do think about eternal matters.
The Gospel is not hard to explain. The hard part is getting people to listen. How can we get their attention without being pushy or manipulative? Here are two suggestions.
This is hard in an environment that is filled with offensive language and behavior. But it can go a long way to opening minds. Suspending judgment keeps relationships open. I could have simply told my co-workers how offensive their rap was and asked them to turn it off, but that would have turned off the conversation too. No conversation, no progress. As it turned out, the rap stopped, but the conversations have increased.
Suspending judgment also keeps the conversation calm. Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason Ministries puts it this way: “If I become angry, I lose. If the other person becomes angry, I lose. If anyone becomes angry, I lose.”
Suspending judgment does not require us to withhold truth, but it does give us time to understand others better, to understand how they feel. It allows us to open our minds to understand their thinking. We need to know not only what others think, but how they think.
When encountering ungodly thinking, many of us are poised to give an answer to correct the wrong. After all, is that not what the Bible says to do? Yes, but I have found that an indirect approach is often more productive. If suspending judgment gives the opportunity to understand others, then asking questions provides the means.
Besides helping us gain an understanding of others, questions can also be used to lead them to consider a truth that they otherwise would miss or avoid. I have experienced this with a co-worker friend. Numerous conversations with him over several months and recent events have revealed many foolish choices leading to many broken relationships, including the one he is in now. After a recent crisis I gently pointed out to him that his greatest need is to deal with his fractured relationship with God. He agreed, but has not yet taken any steps toward that.
Several days later that topic surfaced again during a seemingly unrelated conversation. Again I broached the subject of his relationship with God. He responded, “I’ve always tried to deal with these things on my own.” After several moments I asked him, “How well has that worked?” He did not respond, so I let him ponder the answer himself.
Often that is all we can do directly. Are we doing that much? God has put certain people in our lives. Are we engaging them with grace and truth? Fruitful results await us. But they will not come until we plant the seeds.