Passage: Colossians 4:2-6
A 19th Century American Methodist preacher called EM Bounds wrote 11 books, 9 of which were on the subject of prayer. It is no surprise therefore that he is known for this quote- “Before we talk to people about God, we ought to talk to God about people.” There are many excellent evangelistic courses, some of which (eg Alpha) have experienced unprecedented online demand during lockdown for which we give thanks. There are plenty of resources for personal evangelism (eg the Uncover series) which have helped to make one-to-one bible reading more accessible. There are also lots of courses in evangelism training to help equip believers to share the Gospel. So the church is not lacking resources for evangelism. But where the church has perhaps lost its way is in the vital connection between prayer and evangelism. To help us see this crucial link, we’re looking at a short section from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
Speaking to God about People (v2-4)
“Devote yourselves to prayer”. To devote yourself to something is to make that thing a priority. Prayer becomes a part of your whole life- when alone, with the family, with a friend, with your small group, as you gather for worship. You pray when you feel like it and also when you don’t! Paul and Epaphras were great prayer role models for the Colossians (1:9 & 4:12). Paul says that their prayers are to be “watchful and thankful.” The watchfulness is due to the urgency of the hour as Christ has promised to return and the thankfulness is for the blessings that the Lord pours upon us. What does Paul ask the Colossians to pray for? Bear in mind he’s under house arrest in Rome when he writes. “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ (the Gospel), for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” I think if I were in prison, I’d be asking the church to pray for my release, but not these guys. They’re asking that God would “open a door for our message.” They want to make Christ known. For most of us, God brought us to faith in Christ through someone proclaiming the Gospel. It might have been a preacher from a pulpit or an evangelist on a University mission. It might have been a Christian friend or a Sunday school teacher. When we spend time in prayer, it’s important we ask God to open a door for the gospel in people’s lives. Pray too that those entrusted with the task of preaching & teaching would proclaim Christ clearly.
Speaking to People about God (v5-6)
We’ve probably all witnessed damage done by over-zealous Christians who’ve ridden roughshod over circumstances and sensitivities and put people off Christ. Paul’s instructions here are therefore extremely helpful. “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders”. But wisdom mustn’t be confused with caution, because he then says, “make the most of every opportunity.” I was a keen cricketer as a youngster and always remembered two bits of advice as I nervously went out to bat- “Play a straight bat” and “hit the bad ball”. There was wisdom in the first expression of don’t throw your wicket away and the encouragement in the second one to make some runs because that’s why you’re at the crease! (Nightwatchmen aside). There’s always a challenge between these two practices as Dick Lucas flags up in his commentary- “The new convert, typically is urgent but can lack tact and discretion. The older Christian has the wisdom and experience, but often lacks the boldness and importunity.” Paul then helpfully guides us in the words that we use. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” Note that he talks of a conversation or dialogue. Sadly, often our evangelistic opportunities become monologues and rather dull, canned Gospel presentations. Our words are to add flavour and to be winsome, not grating and harsh. All of this is with the aim that “you may know how to answer everyone.” Do you see where the impetus has come from? The outsider! Peter says something similar- “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (3:15) Giving an answer implies a question! All sorts of things might have prompted the ‘outsiders’ question (an event in their life, something they’d noticed about your life, a world event that has shaken everyone’s lives) but these are precious God-given, not manufactured, opportunities. Remember we’ve been praying for an open door for the Gospel! Here it is!
The motto of the Cub Scouts is ‘Be Prepared.’ This should be the motto of the Christian when it comes to telling others about Christ. Here are six ways to Be Prepared- 1. Be Prepared to explain the Gospel- Who is Jesus? Why did He come? What is the right response to Him? These three questions provide a framework for explaining the Gospel. 2. Be Prepared to tell your story- people love to hear human stories. A model is Paul telling his conversion story to King Agrippa in Acts 26 (life before Christ; meeting Christ; life since). Keep it brief. 3. Be Prepared to go to the next stage- a fruitful means of evangelism is reading the Bible one to one with someone. The Uncover series produced by UCCF is a terrific resource. 4. Be Prepared to answer their questions- we may not be able to answer all of them, but we can do some pre-work on the most asked questions (If you could ask God one question? by Barry Cooper and Paul Williams is an excellent book) 5. Be Prepared to invite someone to church- this is a step that we so easily forget. I’m eternally grateful to a colleague in the City many years ago who invited me to a lunchtime service. 6. Be Prepared to lead someone to Christ- you might be with someone who is convicted of sin and their need of Christ and you can help them with a simple prayer of repentance and faith in Christ.
Dear Lord God, help me to see every person as an image-bearer of you and therefore precious. Please transform my prayers to be more Gospel focused and please use me to introduce people to Your Son as you give me the opportunity to do so. Amen