How do we love our neighbor right now when our neighbor doesn’t even want us to knock on their door?
As a pastor, some of the rhetoric I hear goes something like this: “Now is the time to press into mission and serve our communities. Now is the time to get out there and love people. Now is the time to meet needs in Jesus’ name.”
Problem: at least here in Maryland (U.S.A.)—and in many other States and countries around the world—we’re supposed to stay home. In fact, in God’s mysterious providence, that’s one of the best ways we can love our neighbors in the midst of a global pandemic.
So I’ll be honest, it’s hard to figure out how to encourage church members to continue loving people in these times. As a pastor, I’m asking myself: How can we continue to prioritize gospel proclamation right now?
Thankfully, God’s Word is not silent. Last week, I was reading the book of Colossians and was encouraged. In this brief article, my hope is to pass that encouragement on to others who are longing to be a missional presence during this time, yet struggling with the reality that options are limited.
Pray for Unique Opportunities
Paul is writing the letter to the Colossians from a prison cell. As he closes his letter in chapter four, he asks for personal prayer. For what does he ask?
“That God may open to us a door for the word” (Col. 4:3)
Why do I find this encouraging? In the same breath, Paul states where he is:
Paul was a guy on the move. He loved traveling from town to town, opening the Word, preaching the gospel, mentoring pastors, and discipling new believers. Now he’s sitting in a prison cell. For many of us, we’d be tempted to give up. Maybe we would feel our ministry has providentially come to an end. In the same way, perhaps many of us wonder: What good can I do on lockdown?
Clearly, Paul doesn’t have many options (I doubt he was allowed a daily walk or trip to the local store!). But he doesn’t give up. He knows he is called to preach Christ. It’s worth noting that Paul doesn’t ask for a door out of jail to be opened. He seems to settle into this new reality. But what he does ask for is the opening of figurative doors for gospel activity.
Evangelism always begins with prayer. If God has given us extra time for anything, let’s pray. Time spent praying is never time wasted. We should pray for unique opportunities to preach Christ.
More than building doors, more than creating opportunities, we must pray that God would open doors of unique opportunities. In my own life, the most fruitful evangelistic moments have been (seemingly) random openings with unbelievers brought about by nothing other than God’s initiative. Ask God to surprise you with open doors for the gospel.
Use those Unique Opportunities
Open doors are easily missed. We miss them through our own laziness. We miss them through our lack of intentionality. More often than not, we miss them because we’re not clear on the gospel.
Speaking of the gospel, which Paul calls “the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3), the Apostle asks for prayer, “that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Col. 4:4). Here, Paul is concerned about two things: 1) content and 2) clarity.
The content is the gospel message. As an illustration, if I tasked you with a specific message, and you decided to only partially share that message, then you would have failed to faithfully declare the news I gave you. You lacked content.
Yet, not only must Paul have the correct content, he must be clear. I have personally missed opportunities because I shrouded the gospel message in mysteries only I understand. The ironic thing about Paul’s “mystery of Christ” is that it is no longer a mystery. That’s the point. We are declaring in clarity what was once veiled.
Both content and clarity are needed in effectively communicating the gospel. I’m concerned many Christians miss open doors simply because they lack content and clarity. One writer recently listened to sermons from the largest evangelical churches in the States. Sadly, he notes: “In 36 sermons, the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was unclear 36 times.”
Saints, don’t miss opportunities through lacking gospel clarity. I must habitually remind myself of this truth every time I am presented with a gospel opportunity. It actually takes thought and work—every time.
Eyes to See and a Mouth to Speak
How should we pray during this Coronavirus quarantine? Let’s pray for eyes to see unique opportunities and a mouth to speak the content of the gospel with clarity. The evangelist operates as a ‘gospel spy’—always on the prowl. Always searching. Always praying. Always looking for open doors, however small. He senses pain and asks leading questions. Could this be an open door? He hears fear in his friend’s voice, and gently turns the conversation toward Him who frees us from fear. But the evangelist isn’t hasty. He doesn’t manipulate a gospel-opportunity. He prays for open doors. Saints, we’re living in a strange time, but our work isn’t finished. Let’s begin with prayer.
What content is necessary in order to share the gospel? Our friends at 9Marks offer a good explanation here.