It is natural, when we are telling people the good news, to want to make sure we have all the right words – it makes us feel safer. But having the right words won’t help if we’re living the wrong life! A life with God that is authentic and satisfying is what provide opportunities.
I’ll mention three characteristics of that kind of life. (There are of course more.) First, it is genuinely optimistic. For the first twenty years of my marriage, my wife told me I was a pessimist. I always countered that I was a realist. Now, I can say that I am an optimist.
This optimism is not a Pollyanna, turn a blind eye, kind of thing. It is a life of hope built on the certainty that God will make things right. God is so much a part of the hopeful life that it is inexplicable apart from him. If your life can be explained without recourse to God, you’re too much like everyone else.
The authentic God-filled life is also a connected life. Connectedness is largely missing in our society. Over the past few decades, social scientists have consistently found “slippages in self-confidence, growing regrets about the past, and declines in virtually every measure of self-reported physical and mental health … regardless of gender, age, marital status, and educational attainment.” This in one of the world’s wealthiest nations.
Studies have found that this unhappiness is rooted in a failure to connect. Here’s how one sociologist summarized it: “Americans over the past several decades became increasingly detached from family and friends …. There is indeed a large body of evidence indicating that social connectedness … has a powerful influence on self-reported health and happiness.”
It was God who said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We understand that, but we don’t know what to do about it. Jesus does. He offers a connected life. If we are living that life, connected by dozens and dozens of threads to our church family, we will have opportunities to tell others the good news.
The optimistic life and the connected life bring opportunities and so does the principled life. Whenever we see someone living by principle, we have questions. Why do you do that? What do you get out of it? Don’t you miss it? Are there other people like you?
This is not just true of Christian principles; any principled person will raise questions. “You’re vegan? Don’t you miss a good steak?” “You only buy fair trade coffee?” “You use cloth diapers – what’s that about?” But when the principles that make you different come from Christ and his apostles, the door to sharing the good news opens smoothly.
“You mean you are celibate? Really?” “You go to church every week? I mean I know people do that, but you’re like the first one I’ve ever actually met.” (By the way, inviting people to church is still one of the most common routes by which people come to Christ. Think about who you can invite.) “I don’t understand how you can forgive her?” “Why do you give so much money to charity?” “Aren’t you going to respond to the things he posted about you?”
If you are living a life that is optimistic, connected, and principled, you will get those kinds of questions. You need to be ready with answers. And the best place to go for answers is to the life and words of Jesus because they naturally open a door for sharing the good news. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read theologians and philosophers – some of us, at least, should. What I am saying is that we need to be so familiar with Jesus that we can answer people’s questions in his words and with examples from his life.
Here is what I mean. Someone says to you: “You’re inviting me to your baptism? I thought people got baptized when they were babies.” And you say, “Well, I’m kind of a big baby,” and you both laugh. But he says, “Why now? I mean, it’s not like you have to get baptized to go to heaven, right?”
That is an opportunity to seize! But handle it wisely. Instead of going into a long theological explanation that will go right over your friend’s head, explain that you take seriously what Jesus what said about making disciples and “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” That will almost certainly raise further questions in your friend’s mind, which is good. But if it doesn’t, you should ask a question: “So, haven’t you ever thought about getting baptized?” Questions open doors.
One of the things I’ve heard many times over the years is: “If I walked into a church, the walls would fall down.” That person is telling me that he’s done a lot of things he shouldn’t have done and he can’t imagine that God would want him anymore. That one throws the door wide open to talk about Jesus. He spoke about this kind of thing over and over. One of many places you could go is Luke 7:36-50.
You could say: “So Jesus was having lunch with a seriously religious guy, when a woman came in and did something really embarrassing. Only Jesus was not embarrassed. The religious guy thought: ‘Jesus obviously doesn’t know what kind of woman she is – what a trashy life she’s lived?’ But Jesus did know. He told the woman her sins were forgiven and put the religious guy in his place.”
And then you could ask: “You ever read one of the biographies of Jesus?” If your friend says no, you can suggest a good biography: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. If they seem interested, you can ask them if they want to read it at the same time and get together over coffee to talk about it.
 See Herbst, C. M., “‘Paradoxical’ Decline? Another Look at the Relative Reduction in Female Happiness.” Journal of Economic Psychology (2011).