The Apostle Paul’s Journey to Faith in Christ

Jesus also said,

The Spiritual Journey to the Christian Faith“This is what the kingdom of God is like.

A man scatters seed on the ground.

Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.

All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.

As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

(Mark 4:26-29)

If we think of evangelism in terms of process of a  journey to the Christian faith, what might that have been like for the Apostle Paul?

Allow me to speculate a little.

The Seeds of Faith

First, here are some background events and influences that shaped his journey faith:

  • Jewish scholar (likely with lots of discussions about meanings of texts).
  • Pharisee of Pharisee (Acts 23:6)
  • Of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews (Phil 3.5)
  • Studied under Gamaliel (Acts 22.3).

The Lord uses our our background to shape the spiritual awakening.

One could compare that to lots of seeds that the Holy Spirit can use to awaken faith.

A seed doesn’t bloom to harvest instantly.

There is no “on-off” switch.

The seed needs time to germinate, grow, and mature through a natural organic progression.

Our job as a witness to watch for markers of the journey that our friends are on to faith in Christ and nurture them along into the next phase of growth.  We can look for the seeds that are already there.

Possible Spiritual Thirst that Opens the Door

Then there are the event of the time when Paul first begins to appear on the scene in Acts:

  • Present at Stephen’s speech and stoning (Acts 8:1)
  • Trying to destroy the church, going from house to house (Acts 8:3).

One can reasonably speculate on how Paul interacted with the early Christian believers ready to suffer and die for their faith in Christ. We think highly of the witness of the persecuted church and it’s reasonable to assume that Paul saw that witness.

I can imagine him ruminating in late night hours as perhaps something bothered him about their witness.

  • Maybe he heard them praying for him.
  • Maybe he heard their witness to him.
  • Maybe he even felt their love.

Likewise, if Paul’s teacher is the same Gamaliel of Acts 5:34-39, Paul may have observed that even his teacher may have been troubled by the genuineness of the early Christian movement.

Perhaps he knew his teach Gamaliel was puzzled as well.

This restlessness (speculation, I know) prepared Paul for his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road.

I can imagine how the Holy Spirit was using these life moments to prepare Paul.

This is the drawing process.  (Read John 6:44)

We get to participate in the evangelism process

I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit draws people to faith over time.

Sometimes we get to plant, water, or harvest.

Each story I listen to of a journey to faith had more than one key turning point in the discovery of God.

It might have been a

  • Conversation
  • Sermon
  • Invitation to a church or event
  • Life circumstances
  • Late night musings over deep issues.

So much of our evangelism training focuses on the conversion, we forget to allow for the process of maturity.

We need to allow our seeking friends time

  • to make their decision,
  • find answers for their questions
  • become willing to consider the claims of Christ
  • find healing for wounds caused by Christians or other people that harm their journey.

Evangelism is often viewed only as the proclamation of the gospel.  In a technical sense – it is.

But when I think of evangelism as the process of faith awakening, there is a lot of potentially evangelistic activity.

What about you?

Answer this question:  Is Evangelism a Process or Event?  I invite your commentary below.

How to kill spiritual thirst

How to crush spiritual thirstYou’ve probably seen it:

An opening in a conversation when a non Christian expresses their spiritual insight, or opens up about some restlessness in their heart.

Then well-meaning Christians become a one-way torrent of gospel information about what a person needs to believe and why other religions are wrong.

Or maybe you’ve seen this:

Your small group has two first time guests who have come to check out a little more about Christianity, but a well meaning Christian tries to get them saved the first night by explaining the need to be washed in the blood of the lamb to satisfy the wrath of a God who hates sin.

These are conversation killers.

These are spiritual thirst killers.  The tender shoot is growing forth and just got squashed.

I’ve seen it in small groups I’ve been a part of, conversations that I’ve learned from, and mistakes that I have made.

How not to kill spiritual thirst.

When a person first opens up to their spiritual need, it’s the time to have a genuine spiritual conversation about their struggles and questions.

Allow God room to work in the life of the person with whom you are talking – we don’t have to rush the process, we are invited to help it along.

1.  Love means you listen

Listening shows love.   Impatiently spewing forth doctrinal truth to correct their mis-beliefs does not.

If someone has become vulnerable enough to freely talk about their spiritual thirst, or even share their current beliefs about life, death, or other spiritual themes, you need to listen.

In small group gatherings, love means listen to the beliefs and opinions of all who express them.  It’s important to listen to their story, not think about your own or how you need to correct them.

In personal conversation, love means listen to your friend and understand them.

Tolerance is not approval, but giving space to people to express their views even if we disagree.  There is a time to engage in critique, but not at the first glimpse.

2.  Love means you ask great questions

Asking great questions invites your conversational partner to express their opinions and beliefs.  Asking questions invites further conversation, further sharing, and further insight into people.

Good questions uncover the truth about what people really think, and they create the opportunity to share life and truth together.

I like to follow my curiosity when people express something I don’t understand:

  • How does that comfort you?
  • How did you discover that?
  • How does that happen?

I also like to follow my curiosity about where beliefs might cause internal conflict:

  • Does that answer all your questions?
  • Where do you wish you had more answers?
  • Can you elaborate on that?
  • How is it working for you?
  • How does your position X work with your conviction Y?
  • How does that satisfy the longing that I hear you express?

Drilling down with “how” questions, without it being an interrogation, allows a conversation to grow deep, and creates the safety and security between you to allow for the formation of new ideas.

Don’t kill spiritual thirst, water it.

Rather than squashing spiritual thirst in my enthusiasm to share the gospel, I listen and  use questions to help the spiritual conversation along.

I call this watering – nurturing a spiritual journey to Jesus.

I trust in the sovereignty of God to be at work.

By giving space for small group visitors or my friends to express their beliefs or even disagreements about Christianity, I eventually earn the right to express my belief and engage them in meaningful and safe discussions.

I get the chance to answer questions, shape ideas, and help a person in their discovery of Jesus.  But only after helping them feel safe talking with me.

30 Days of Prayer Day 8: Spiritual Blindness

This entry is part 8 of 23 in the series 30 Days of Prayer

Praying for spiritual BlindnessBefore we came to know Christ, we were sinners.

Before we started following Jesus, we were spiritually dead, and spiritually blind.

If we have been a Christian for a long time, perhaps we have forgotten how our spiritual eyes couldn’t see in the dark, how impossible it was to see

  • the value of God’s truth,
  • the preciousness of Jesus,
  • the price of our salvation
  • the outrageous love of God for us.

Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price

Perhaps we can’t recall the process of evangelism that removed our spiritual blinders enough to take the leap of faith and begin to follow Jesus.

How has Jesus changed your life?

  • Personal forgiveness for a troubled past.
  • Healing of your personal brokenness.
  • Completeness.
  • Gratitude for physical healing.
  • Tremendous experience of God’s love.
  • Finding a purpose for your life in God’s plan.
  • Avoiding hell.
  • The personal joy you get from regular spending time in prayer or worship.
  • Obedience. Jesus said so, so I need to share my faith.

In your journey to faith, your spiritual blindness was removed by the Holy Spirit, allowing God to speak into your life.

As people around you spoke into your life, as strangers spoke the right word to your heart, the influence of your church community and messages brought clarity, your spiritual blindness was removed.

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed!

Amazing Grace

In today’s prayer, thank God for His work in your life to bring you to that place of seeing, understanding, and believing.

Ask God to excite your heart with memories of your conversion process (or awakening process) that first drew you to following Jesus.

My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king;

my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. (Psalm 45:1)

Today’s Prayer:

I thank You God for the influences in my life that helped me become aware of my own need for You.

I thank You that, by Your Holy Spirit, You removed the spiritual blindness that existed in my heart.

I thank You that You made Your offer of grace so irresistible, that I had to respond.

You did not wait for me to draw near to You

But You clothed Yourself with frail humanity

You did not wait for me to cry out to You

But You let me hear Your voice calling me

And I’m Forever Grateful to You

I’m Forever Grateful for The Cross

I’m Forever Grateful to You

That You came to seek and save the lost

Juanita Buyan, Forever Grateful

(Readers: Click thru to see the video)

Today’s Action

  • Is there a hymn fragment or a worship song that has deeply moved you in your walk with Christ? Write it out. Try to write out why that touches your soul.
  • Make a list of people of influence who spoke into your life during the process of removing the spiritual blindness.
  • Thank God for their personal influence in your life, one by one, by name

Continue

Be sure to grab the RSS feed (via one of the buttons above, or the text below) to get the next day’s guide.

Image Credit: Elbragon

Every life has a story

Watch this video and comment below.

Every life has a story.

One listening evangelism exercise we do is to spend time praying for the strangers we might meet.

As we go out into the streets, strangers will occasionally start talking with us about their stories.  If we slow down long enough to listen, we might hear their spiritual thirst and share a little of the water of life with them.

If you are leading an evangelism training small group, how can you use this video for discussion?

Share your thoughts below.

(HT: Shawn Anderson)

Spiritual Thirst Opens the Conversational Door

A young man came to me one evening during the camp meal and he asks,

“Do the non-elect go to hell?”

I was startled.  This question was out of context, out of the blue, seeming to come from left field. I was in this guy’s life for just a couple of days while we were on a work team together at a service camp hours away from our homes.  We were painting trailers, cleaning yards, and doing community service type work. Most of the conversations during this week of co-laboring with teenagers focused on mundane trivial stuff like sports teams and Hollywood gossip, and even who had started liking whom.

“Pastor, do the non-elect go to hell?”

This was a question out of the blue, asked by an 18 year old doing more than making conversation.

Some questions reveal spiritual thirst.

I’ve learned that questions like this are more likely a reflection of something deeper underneath. Eighteen year old boys don’t regularly ask me that question. Most don’t even think upon such things. Here is where I sensed the Holy Spirit underlining this moment, drawing my attention to this boy’s spiritual thirst.

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

I could sense this was not an academic question of curiosity, but something underneath was causing this man to think along these things. Instead of answering I ask:  “Well, why do you ask?” And he says,

“Well, because I’m afraid that I’m not elect and that I’m going to hell.”

There it is. The real motive behind his question was a fear that he was separated from God.

Spiritual Thirst opens the conversational door.

A lot of practical evangelism training starts with us trying to manipulate the conversation to our required starting point. If our gospel starting point is man’s sinfulness, we have to steer the conversation to that point, attempting to convince people of their sinfulness. If our gospel starting point is God’s kingdom and our role in it, we have to steer the conversation there. So many scripts require us to attempt control of a conversation. Manipulating conversation is part of the root of the our conversational fear — we feel like we have to control the conversation. Intuitively, controlling the conversation doesn’t feel good. So how to we have a spiritual conversation that moves a person towards Christ without manipulation?

Listen for Spiritual Thirst.

“Well, because I’m afraid that I’m not elect and that I’m going to hell.” There is the spiritual thirst. A fear that he was separated from God. His spirit was not bearing witness with God’s Spirit that he could cry, ‘Abba Father’. Our conversation naturally centers around Romans 8:16, “Our spirit bares witness with God’s Spirit that we can cry, ‘Abba Father.’” He is experientially aware that he is separated from God. This makes it very easy to talk about sin as the cause of that separation.

If anyone is thirsty, let him come.

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast [of Tabernacles], Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.”  (John 7.37) Scholars tell us that during that feast, the High Priest would go to the Pool of Siloam, take a golden pitcher, dip it into that pool, and carry it back to the temple. There he would pour that water out on the altar of sacrifice. At that moment the Levites would blow the trumpets, and the great crowd would cry out,

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).

There would be leaping, and dancing, and shouting, and singing, and great hallelujah’s would fill the air. Jesus said something entirely different on that last day.  He rewrote the litany:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” (v.37b)

Jesus knows we have spiritual thirst

“If anyone thirsts.” Jesus plainly taught that if anyone wants a relationship with God, it can be obtained. But notice that this claim to a relationship here is specifically addressed only to those who are spiritually thirsty. That thirst is the starting point of a person’s quest to seek God. That thirst is the restlessness of the human heart that drives one to Jesus.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God”(Psalm 42:1-2a).

“God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

“I spread out my hands to You; my soul longs for You like a thirsty land” (Psalm 143:6).

Does this describe the longing of our soul? A thirst for knowing God that is almost a desperation?

Spiritual Thirst is the conversational starting point

A recent survey of my readership showed that nearly one out of three do not know how or where to start a spiritual conversation with their friends about Jesus. Spiritual thirst is the starting point. Spiritual thirst is the initial contact point. Spiritual thirst is the need that causes people to seek the water to satiate it. Spiritual thirst is the experiential evidence that helps a person see their separation from God. Spiritual thirst is the launch point that makes conversation natural. Spiritual thirst is the conversational context to begin the conversation. Spiritual thirst is the open door to the heart when it comes time to starting a conversation about following Jesus.

Some other examples of Spiritual Thirst:

I want to give you examples of how spiritual thirst can play out in real life.

Let me ask you this?

In your journey to faith in Christ, what was the underlying need that drove you to start seeking for God? What helped you realize that you were separate from God? For more information on my thoughts on spiritual thirst, click some of the related links below. Talk #2 in the Fear Free Evangelism Study Course is all about spiritual thirst and the role it plays in drawing people to start following Jesus.

Well Water Image Source: Flickr, Department for International Development