“Use your words, please!”
This is one of those mommy phrases that makes me cringe just a little bit. And yet, I use it. Almost daily. You see, I have a two-year-old. If you’ve spent much time around toddlers, then you understand how much they struggle to express themselves appropriately. I personally am going to teach mine to say, “The struggle is REAL, Mom!” as he wails and flails across the kitchen floor when I tell him that snack time is over. Bless it.
We would never use this phrase with another adult without seeming pretty ridiculous. But maybe we should. We tell our kids constantly that they need to use appropriate language to express what they are thinking, feeling, wanting, etc. Instead of flailing and screaming (oh.my.goodness.the.screaming), I want my son to do something that will actually benefit the situation, such as saying, “May I have more snack please?” or “I am feeling really angry because you said no to me!” Most anything would be more helpful than demonstrating his stance with action, in this situation.
Why not apply this to ourselves? I’m sure you’ve heard this adage before:
“Tell everyone you meet about Jesus, and if necessary, use words.”
Basically, this is a lie. It’s not biblical. This is one of those goofy Christian sayings that may contain some good intentions or a shred of truth, but is actually harmful to you in running your race. At worst, it provides the church, and all of the introverts therein, with a license to be lazy and apathetic.
Let me pause here to clarify what I think the shred of truth is in this saying. The intention, I would assume, is to encourage believers to love their neighbor well. That faith without works is dead. Maybe we should not pass out Jesus tracts to random strangers going in and out of nightclubs. The unbeliever will know we are Christians by our love, not our judgments and condemnations. We should not evangelize in ways that are unhelpful, and certainly not in ways that are hurtful!
Now, let’s get to the problem with this adage. YOU HAVE TO USE YOUR WORDS. Not in a hurtful way. Not to shame, judge, or condemn. And yes, building a relationship first with someone you want to share Jesus with is important, but not mandatory in every single situation. Sometimes God just tells you to speak and that’s obedience. Even if I’ve never taken brownies to that person and I don’t know the names of all their kids.
The Gospel requires us to open our mouths at some point. Always. I can take cookies to my new neighbor. I can do their laundry when they are sick, deliver meals when they have a new baby, mow yards for the elderly, babysit their children, join that lonely person in the breakroom for lunch every day of the week, or even throw out the “I’m praying for you!” card, but if I never actually speak the name of Jesus, point them to the Rock that is higher, then all of my good deeds are just like passing them a box of Band-Aids. When we demonstrate the Gospel, we must also declare the Gospel.
Paul was on it: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Romans 10:14
Please don’t think that I am saying that good deeds are not important, beautiful, and obedient. They are. Jesus fed hungry people, healed sick people, partied with people, made wine for people, loved on children, and hung out with his friends because these things are good and necessary. But if this was all He ever did for the people He met, we would all be lost and without hope! He preached, he taught, and he told people the Truth about who He was and what he had to offer to them. When He healed someone of their ailments, He also said, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ because He knew that the now healthy person’s eternity is infinitely more valuable than any hardship they were facing here on earth. His compassion is infinitely greater than ours.
In Acts 4:20, when the Apostles Peter and John are told to stop talking about Jesus, they come back with, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” They had no other option.
Here is where the rubber meets the road. A couple of weeks ago, God presented an unexpected delight to my husband and I: a trip to New York, complete with free airfare and the chance to spend some time in Greenwich, Connecticut with some old friends from our Dallas days (which, ironically, could be opening up a whole new venture for me). We have been quite the jet-setters over the past year, and I felt so guilty about it, that I almost canceled the trip. And yet, God was up to something. With each new travel, He has been showing me and leading me to new thoughts and possibilities.
I was overwhelmed by the masses. There are just so many people and so many buildings and so much history in a place like New York. Which means, so many, many souls represented by a relatively small geographical area. And with a population that is 2% Christ followers, at best. Pretty soon, it was all I could think about. If you visit the 9/11 memorial, you will see the names of all the individuals who were lost on that terrible day. I was struck by the probability of so many of them not knowing Jesus on that day.
Of course, I am not responsible for anyone’s salvation, let alone the entirety of New York City. But shouldn’t I care? Shouldn’t I have stopped for five minutes to spare some dignity and a little of the Good News with the woman who sat outside a pharmacy next to a Solo cup of change with her head buried in sorrow and shame? But I don’t know how. And I let fear rule. I think that night I came to the crossroads of demonstrating and declaring the Gospel. In that moment, God showed me that I am stuck. I am stuck in a pretty little rut of loving actions and am now praying for a breaking of my heart that loosens my tongue. I would love your prayers.
Perhaps here is a better Christian adage for us.
*Photo credit: Charelle Raybuck on behalf of Wells of Joy Church, Nairobi, Kenya
For more info on the inspiring factors to this post, check out this sermon from the ASCC, Why Don’t I Share the Gospel?