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!