Witness
Comments 5

How to Talk about God

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

– Psalm 105:1-3

Talking about God is not about converting people.

I feel like I need to say that because, in my middle-class, well-educated, mostly secular world, there is a hesitancy to talk about God and our experience of God, even among people of faith and even, astonishingly, within some faith communities. Within my own (generally liberal) Quaker context, I think this stems from a recognition that our experiences of God differ and the more we discuss our experiences, the more those differences will be evident. Perhaps we do not wish to offend. Perhaps we do not wish to be vulnerable. Perhaps we do not have appealing, nonjudgmental models for how to talk about God.  Perhaps we struggle with the connotations of the word “evangelism.” Whatever the reason, many of us struggle with how to talk about God.

So again, talking about God is not about converting people. True conversion is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit, not human techniques and tactics. We have no responsibility for the state of anyone else’s soul. What we do have is the responsibility to testify to the love and goodness of God using our words, along with our actions. We also have the privilege of getting to know the faith stories of the people in our lives. But how can we do that without being weirdos or alienating those we care about?

Stop Avoiding the Topic
I used to lament the fact that I had no opportunity to talk about God with friends, family and co-workers until I realized that I was – intentionally or unintentionally – avoiding talking about God when the opportunity arose. There are so many opportunities to start discussions about the things of the spirit!

Follow up questions can help you go deeper when:

  • Someone mentions going to church services: “Where do you go to church? What do you like about it? How does it bring you into closer relationship with God?”
  • Someone of a different faith mentions preparing the house for Passover or hosting an iftar during Ramadan: “How does your faith play out in community? Are there unexpected blessings or challenges to practicing your faith in our workplace?”
  • Someone mentions that they formerly practiced a certain religion: “If you don’t mind my asking, what was it that led you to stop being involved with that community?”
  • Someone mentions having attended a religious school: “Are you a member of that tradition? What was it like to go to that school? Were there things about going to a denominational school that you particularly liked or found uncomfortable?”
  • Someone mentions a personal struggle or tragedy: “I’m so sorry to hear that you are going through that – is there something I can pray for you about? Would you like me to pray with you now as well?”

Keeping your ears, heart and mind open to the person in front of you will quickly lead all kinds of opportunities for God-centered conversation to present themselves.

I have only once had a person not eagerly jump into a conversation started like this, and that was probably because I had literally just met him and we were in a corporate training event sitting half a table away from each other in a room full of people. It certainly wasn’t great timing on my part! In general, though, I have found that people are very open to discussing spiritual matters with someone who genuinely wants to hear about them and their experiences. If that describes you, don’t hesitate to invite people into a deeper conversation. If that does not describe you, please don’t strike up a conversation about God just because you feel you should. People are very good at distinguishing between someone who wants to build an authentic relationship and someone who views them as a project. If you don’t care, don’t bother.

Get to Know Your Own Story
As you invite others to share their faith journeys, eventually you will be asked about your own. This is a great opportunity to testify to the impact that God has had on your life and how in him you have found meaning and freedom and whatever other blessings he has given you. But you can’t share your own story if you don’t know it. Take time to reflect on the blessings God has given you, on how you have changed since becoming a disciple of Christ, on how you have been knit together with other believers in Christian community, on how you have seen the Kingdom of God come into being around you. Think about the Bible verses or spiritual works that have touched your spirit and the fruit that they have borne in your life. “Gospel” means “good news.” If you don’t have good news to share about God, you need a heavenly perspective, stat! It’s an emergency! We can’t invite others into the fullness and richness of new life in Christ if we haven’t experienced it ourselves. Let’s make a habit of reflecting on the ways God has blessed us and testifying to God’s goodness. It makes it much easier to declare God’s goodness to others when the occasion arises.

Get to Know the Bible
Certain themes and stories from scripture will resonate with you more strongly than others, and it is normal for you to have a “native language” for talking with and about God. Maybe for you, God is primarily a shepherd or  deliverer or judge of the wicked or healer. It will probably be easiest for you to minister to people who see God similarly. However, as you get more familiar with the Bible, especially with the Psalms, you may find new ways of thinking about and talking about God, which will equip you to speak with greater understanding and love to folks with different perspectives and in different situations.

Through it all, do pray for God to fill your heart with a love for him that is visible to others and a love for others that makes you eager to invite them into a new relationship with him. Love has to permeate your faith conversations or you may find yourself pushing people away from God instead of inviting them closer to him. And please be gentle with yourself. It can take a long time to overcome the inhibition that keeps our faith not just private, but almost hidden. While I am so much better than I used to be, I still really struggle to take advantage of the many opportunities for eternal conversations in daily life.

Do you have any thoughts on why talking about God is such a challenge? Do you have any tips for how we can get better at sharing our faith with others and inviting others to share their faith – or doubt – with us? Share in the comments!

 

Advertisements
This entry was posted in: Witness

5 Comments

  1. Hello, Adria! This is a thoughtful and well-conceived essay. I have worn plain garb for most of my adult life, so inquiries and discussions about matters of faith are frequent, particularly from people who don’t usually associate with me or know me well.
    Occasionally, people who are facing difficult situations or who need help quickly assume that I will be able to meet their need, based on my apparent religious commitment. A young woman approached me at an airport because she needed a trustworthy person to watch her luggage while she attended to an urgent problem. I wanted to help her but feared a conflict between boarding my plane and safeguarding her luggage. With much regret, I turned her down.
    Another time I came across an accident on a dark winter night. Along with other motorists, I pulled the victim from his car so he wouldn’t get caught in an explosion. Then I stayed with him on the shoulder of the road until help came. He cried out for someone to read the Bible to him. I looked around at the others present, and no one felt able to do what he requested. I went back to my car and got my Bible. I read to him and prayed for him. He groaned with relief. I learned later that he was a student at the college where I taught. He had been told that a minister was at the scene and comforted him. I told my students that there was no minister there, only me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bill! I appreciate your kind words. It does not at all surprise me that your plain dress serves as an invitation to folks to engage with you on matters spiritual. I understand that many Muslim women view the hijab as an opportunity to discuss Islam with others. Of course, their show of faith probably plays differently from yours for most Americans…

      Like

  2. I haven’t told you about various times when others assumed I was a Catholic clergyman because of my plain coat. Once when Darlene and I accompanied our son David to a college for an interview, one of the admissions people suggested that we walk down to the football field and watch part of the game. The team was playing against a Catholic college. The game was over before we got there, but a disgruntled fan accosted me on the sidewalk and accused me of using “your voodoo” to gain victory for the Catholic team!!! I didn’t even know what he saying; my son had to explain it to me!! We both laughed about the mistaken identification.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Whether in my day to day life, or in my work as an Interspiritual/Interfaith Minister and Spiritual Director, I have no problem with this because I make sure that I ask people what their perspective/definition is. I explain mine, and I have no agenda of needing them to meet me or come to agree with my understanding. A weighty Friend once used the term “microtheology”, and I like that: the truth that each individual, even if they nod their head to a specific Creed, Dogma, or denominational understanding and belief, still has their own unique understanding of That Which Transcends Ego, or the Divine if you will, and their relationship to it.

    Many people do not identify with an external deity, an old man in the sky who sticks his hand down to mess about in people’s lives. Once folks are freed from feeling like they need to meet us in some sort of preconceived notion like that, and if they are liberated by us to express themselves and to be allowed to see “God” as us when we transcend our egos and manifest our higher values of compassion, honesty, presence, how we behave when we transcend ego and put other people at the center of the universe, they are much more willing to discuss these things. I also find it valuable to have some discussion about the word “God” being a placeholder – for that which might be called All That Is, The Ground of All Being, Reality As We Know It, The First Cause, The Behavior of The World, The Other, The All, The Force of Evolution, The Life Spirit, The Divine Spark Within…

    But if we come to the table with a locked-down set of expectations and an agenda to proselytize, chances are we will meet resistance. Too much damage has been done by fundamentalists clubbing people over the head with the completely non-biblical 20th Century American construct of “Jesus as your personal Savior”. When I make space for people to have their own understanding of That Which Transcends My Ego, it goes pretty well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jack, how do those conversations start in the first place (outside of your work as a minister, of course)? When God comes up, sometimes I find myself tempted to change the subject!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s