I had a conversation with a Christian friend recently; and at the end of it, I realised why non-Christians sometimes don't like talking to Christians.
Our talk began with a statement that was innocuous enough: that God calls some to Him and know Him. Then, we tangled our way through a maze about predestination.
This was followed by circuitous arguments about why God would call humans to serve Him when He knew not everyone would respond to the call; why He would desire for something to happen and then events unfold contrary to his expressed Will, why He made us with free will and the power to choose evil...and on and on it went.
It grew late and I felt my energy being sapped (I was already exhausted after a 12-hour work day), so I tried ending the conversation with the tried and true phrase: "let's agree to disagree".
To no avail. She persisted. I became frustrated when at the end of it all, my friend, who had initially professed a divergent view to mine (which she staunchly defended throughout our talk), suddenly concluded by admitting that she had agreed with me all along. She had just wanted a debate.
Some Christians get a kick out of philosophical clashes that meander into thorny territory, ultimately leading nowhere. It's almost as if we have a need to be heard and to prove that our point is right. No wonder the writer of Ecclesiastes declared: "people never stop writing books. Too much studying will wear out your body." (Ecclesiastes chapter 12, verse 12). In the New Testament, we're admonished not to "quarrel about words" (2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 14).
The topics we touched on were important issues, yes, but, reflecting on the conversation, I can't help but feel that some Christians' obsession for philosophising, along with the arrogant way we sometimes cling to recycled religious ideology even when the Bible contradicts it, alienates the very audience we are trying to reach: people who don't have a relationship with God.
What does it all mean?
The bottom line is people want to hear your story: how did it feel to encounter God for yourself? When did you really know that God was there and He cared about you? What difference has He made in your life?
In what concrete ways do you know He is with you daily? What's it like to talk to God? What's it like to have peace and joy in the face of crisis? What challenges has He taken you through?
People care about these questions because they want a solution to a problem they can't even fully understand. They feel an emptiness, a loss they may not be able to articulate. They worry about death and the safety of their loved ones.
They grapple with questions like: "Is this life all there is?"
As Christians, we have the answer: No. Life on earth can be better than it is now. And life afterwards is perfect.
I've realised that non-believers or seekers do not want pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all answers. They resent it; and before you can even finish your sentence they've already shut down emotionally.
How terrible it is that the very words meant to tell others about Christ have the effect of isolating them from Him!
Before you can explain concepts such as the Trinity or what the Rapture is or whether the book of Revelations is literal and if humans will actually live on earth in paradise, you need to be able to identify with that basic human need for acceptance and love; to feel as if you matter. I've found that if you connect that need to what Christ means to you, you'll have an eager audience.
And importantly (this is hard for me to do): listen. Ask questions. And pause long enough to hear what the person you're speaking to thinks about God and faith. We're reminded in James chapter 1, verse 19 to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Proverbs says a foolish person "takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." (Proverbs chapter 18 verse 2).
Let's not be so hasty to trot out the over-used phrases we band about amongst sanctified Christian company that mean absolutely nothing to non-Christians. Some Christians have a tendency to be super-spiritual to the point of being seen as completely un-relatable by the listener. Like everyone else, your non-Christian friend would be grateful for practical advice or help when they find themselves in a bad situation.
As we mature as Christians, let's not to lose our humanity and our ability to identify with the real needs of a soul who does not know God.
A simple message
The message of the gospel is simple. Christ died on the cross for our sins in order to reconcile us back to our loving God and we can have a new relationship with God if we accept his sacrifice.
As Christians we hear this so often, it sometimes loses its impact. May you never become so used to what the cross represents that it no longer moves you. It is a powerful story of love and redemption in what appeared to be a dark moment in human history - when the Son of God was killed at the hands of humans.
Being reminded of what the cross means and your desperate need for its saving power helps sharpen your focus as you navigate daily life.
My challenge to you is one I give myself in conversation: to always be led by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, remembering that: "...rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." (Proverbs chapter 12 verse 18).
Sharma considers herself a child of the Caribbean, but when she arrived in New Zealand, she discovered that she is also a kiwi at heart. She holds a PhD in Law from the Victoria University of Wellington.
Sharma Taylor's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sharma-taylor.html