A few years ago, while I was visiting my parents, I decided I needed a haircut. So I went to the shop where my mom goes to get her hair done. As Jim, the owner, trimmed my hair, we started talking about spiritual things. The more we talked, the more intrigued Jim became, and the more of my hair he cut. I ended up with very short hair, but our conversation about what I believed about Jesus Christ was worth it! Later I suggested to my mom, who knows Jim and his wife, Pam, that the next time she got her hair cut, she should invite them to the church group my parents host.
"There's no way they'd be interested. Not a chance," my mom replied. "Jim and Pam lead a pretty wild life. I don't know two people who are further from God than they are."
But I persisted. So the next time Mom went to the salon, she shot up a silent prayer: God, I don't think these people are interested in you. So if you want me to say anything to them, you'd better make something happen. Right then Pam, who was styling my mom's hair, said, "Jim and I understand you're in a group that talks about spiritual things. We'd like to come."
Pam and Jim started going to the group and eventually prayed with my folks to give their lives to Christ—all because of a conversation prompted by a relationship that had developed over a series of haircuts!
Unfortunately this kind of interaction rarely happens. Most Christians spend virtually all their time with other Christians. They're not significantly connected with people who are far from God.
But when it comes to the important matters of life, people don't usually put themselves in the hands of strangers. They listen to people they trust. This is especially true when it comes to the ultimate issue in life—our spiritual destiny. If people are going to be reached for Christ, for the most part, they won't be reached by strangers but by friends.
I have one friend whose kids are in the "soccer years." She's developed friendships with nonbelievers at her kids' practices, and struck up meaningful conversations by caring for people while she does what she'd be doing anyway. It can be that easy.
Try cultivating a relationship with somebody who works at a restaurant you frequent. Meet people at your health club. Have the neighbors over for dinner. Get to know them. Pray for them. Developing relationships with non-Christians is possible. As you follow Christ's example and learn to befriend people who don't know God, there are three things to remember.
Never say "no" for anyone. Jesus reached out to people everybody else gave up on—tax collectors, lepers, sinners, Gentiles. The religious folk of Jesus' day were sure these people would say no to God, but they surprised the religious establishment by saying yes. We never should say no to God for these people because we never know what the Holy Spirit can do.
I was at a banquet once and this slick guy sat down by me. We talked about a variety of topics, including religion. He said his family stopped going to church when he was 12. He seemed disinterested in church now, and I was hesitant to invite him to my church, but I did.
Imagine my surprise when he ended up visiting the next week. He started reading the Bible and soon began to contemplate accepting Jesus as his Savior.
The last time I saw him he was with a friend, and he introduced me as "the man who led me to Jesus."
I wouldn't have missed that for anything! The sad thing is, I almost deprived him of the opportunity to become a Christian because I erroneously pegged him as someone who wouldn't be interested in Jesus.
Think of your world. Is there anybody so far from God you're ready to give up? Maybe it's someone in your extended family who ridicules your faith. Maybe it's an old acquaintance who's resisted for years. Maybe it's somebody so deep in sin you think there's no hope.
Don't ever say "no" for anybody when it comes to spreading the good news of the gospel. You never know when someone's heart will soften and how God's Spirit will work.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person you invite to a Christ-centered function. A few blocks from my parents' home in California is the largest Buddhist temple in America. I went once to check it out and received amazing insight into how intimidating it can be to go into a place of worship as a stranger who doesn't know the customs. So when you invite someone to a Christian function, offer to pick her up instead of just telling her where it is. The likelihood she'll come is much higher if you suggest going together.
Offer to go eat or have coffee afterwards. That's a gesture of friendship, and it gives you a chance to discuss what's taken place.
Be the hands and feet of Jesus. In Mark 1:40-45, a leper approached Jesus and begged to be made clean. The law said lepers couldn't have contact with non-lepers. They had to cry out "Unclean!" and stay outside the village. But when this leper came to Jesus and asked, "Would you make me clean?" Jesus didn't turn away.
To everyone's amazement, Jesus reached out to touch this man who hadn't been touched in years. Jesus didn't have to do that; he could have healed the man through the spoken word. But instead, he reached out his hand to touch the man, then said, "Be clean." Was Jesus infected by leprosy? No, it was the other way around! Jesus was so full of life and health that he "infected" the leper with the good news of the kingdom of God. Jesus was more contagious with God's power and love than the leper was with his disease.
If the Spirit of God lives inside you, you're like that. You can be a contagious Christian who infects others with God's power and love as well. Take a look at your hands for a moment. How often are they extended in service to someone who's far from God?
The kingdom of God never has spread primarily through preachers speaking to unconnected strangers. It's never spread primarily through the mass media. God's kingdom is spread by the same method it's been spread for 2,000 years: through Christ-followers so convinced the life Jesus offers is the pearl of great price that they reach beyond their circle of Christian friends, develop meaningful relationships, and bring people to Christ—one life at a time.
John Ortberg, a teaching pastor at Menlo Park Church in California, is the author of If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat (Zondervan).
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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If you think it's just a set of rules, you may be surprised.
by Ruth E. Van Reken; illustration by Rai Whitlock