Growing a Heart of Love

When we were born again the Holy Spirit poured God’s love into our hearts. (Romans 5:5) As we follow Jesus because of His love for us we see how His love can touch and change the lives of other people we know and meet as we share His love with them in so many ways. 

I have discovered that the longer I walk with Jesus and follow Him the less I focus on this love and simply take it for granted. I have also discovered that spreading that love to others who do not know Him becomes less and less of a priority as I begin to take His love for granted and life continues on as before. So then I find myself needing to “grow a heart of love” towards the lost once again. In other words, going back to the basics of the faith – loving people enough to tell them the Good News of salvation through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

To being regrowing a heart of love for those who are lost, broken, and wandering far from God, we can pray that God will give us a heart like Jesus’ heart towards those who are still living on the borderlands of faith. Pray for God’s love to fill our hearts to overflowing.

But be warned: this prayer is dangerous.

It’s risky to pray this because when we ask God to give us His heart, we know that this is one prayer He is always willing to answer. His love will help us feel on a new and deeper level. Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). God loves people with absolute desperation. If we have even a small fraction of God’s heart for people, tears will flow, compassion will grow, and hearts will break. We will never be the same.

Another way we can grow our heart for those who are spiritually disconnected is to study the life of Jesus. As we discover how the Saviour related to those who were deep in sin and spiritually lost, we can gain a vision for connecting with others that will shape our hearts and our lifestyle choices. Jesus talked with and let His heart be touched by an adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), a dishonest businessman (Luke 19:1-9), “sinners” (Matthew 9:9-12), and a broken woman (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus’ example and his love for people, even the ‘tough people,’ can inform our priorities and help reshape our hearts into ones that look a lot like His.

One additional way we can grow a heart for people on the borderlands of faith is to notice and connect with people who are far from God. Jesus had a way of seeing the sick, stopping for the broken, making space for children, touching those who had leprosy, and connecting in an authentic way with people many others in the religious community avoided. 

We can develop a discipline of noticing and making space for those who are spiritually disconnected and often marginalized even by Christians. As you spend time with these people, God will grow new love within you.

As we prepare the soil of our hearts for the work of outreach, it is critical that love rules the day. Love brought God from Heaven. Love put Jesus on the cross. Love offered salvation to you and me. And love will drive us to our knees in prayer and then into the world searching for those who are still lost. When we love God and our hearts are captured by His love, we are compelled to reach out to those who are still far from Jesus. 

EVERYONE HAS A STORY – Part Four

In review, we have previously looked at the following points regarding telling your story about what Jesus has done and is doing in your life…

1> Ask for permission and don’t be pushy.                                                                                    2> Use ordinary language.                                                                                                                  3> Start briefly and share more as it becomes appropriate.                                                        4> Highlight God’s presence and power

5> Clearly present the before-and-after pictures

6> Share the source of life transformation

7> Let the joy shine through

8> COMMUNICATE WITH HUMILITY

A testimony is not a bludgeon we use to pound people into submission. It is a witness to what God is doing in our lives and a gift for others to enjoy. We need to be careful that our testimony does not come across as a speech in which we tell people that we are right and they are wrong, or point out how good we are now and how bad everyone else is who does not know Jesus. Rather, a testimony is a humble declaration that God is moving in our lives and that we are grateful for what He is doing.

9> REMEMBER WE HAVE MANY TESTIMONIES

Be careful not to get locked into one testimony. Don’t just memorize a scrip and robotically deliver the same words with the same inflection every time you tell your story. Instead, listen to the people around you and discover where they are in life. When you share a testimony, make sure it is relevant for them.

For example, if you are talking with someone who is dealing with loneliness and you have experienced God’s presence in a way that has strengthened you when you have felt alone, share that testimony. But if you are conversing with a spiritual seeker who is wondering if God provides for our needs and takes care of His people, you might tell a very different story – a different part of your testimony. As you walk with Jesus, you will have more and more stories about how a relationship with God transforms various areas of your life.

People love to hear stories, and that’s all a testimony is. In the course of most days you will have opportunities to share organically about the difference your faith in Jesus is making in your life. Pray for these opportunities, notice when the door is open, and then share your stories in a natural way. 

The Holy Spirit will infuse what you share with power. Remember, your part is not to change lives or even to have all the answers. But you can talk about the ways God is moving in your life. Your stories might be just what another person needs to hear.

EVERYONE HAS A STORY – Part Three

This is the third in this series of blogs regarding giving your personal testimony. Previous blogs had commented on the following points regarding giving a part of your Jesus story…

1> Ask for permission and don’t be pushy.                                                                 2> Use ordinary language.                                                                                              3> Start briefly and share more as it becomes appropriate.                                  4> Highlight God’s presence and power

5> CLEARLY PRESENT THE BEFORE AND AFTER PICTURES

When giving your testimony work to present a contrast between who you were and who you are now. In other words, gently state the difference encountering Jesus has made in your life. For example:

  • From hate-filled and self-centered relationships to loving and caring relationships
  • From a life without purpose and direction to a life of deep meaning and clear direction
  • From fear of death to confidence in this life and hope for eternity

Though such a pattern isn’t mandatory for every testimony, it does help people see the difference Jesus can make in a life. If you have experienced a transforming work of God, let it become the focus of one of your testimonies. Here are a few more examples:

  • From loneliness to a sense of belonging (to God and His family, the Church)
  • From anxiety to peace
  • From financial irresponsibility and fear to hard work and financial stability
  • From selfishness to generosity
  • From addiction and enslavement to freedom from addictions

The list of options is as diverse as our life experiences.

6> SHARE THE SOURCE OF LIFE TRANSFORMATION

As we share the story of our life transformation, it is critical that we articulate that Jesus is the source of the change. We could not have brought it about on our own. We don’t want our lost friends and family members to think that the transformation in our lives is the result of going to church or hanging out with a nice new group of people or even getting ‘religious.’ The only power that can changes from the inside out is the work of Jesus. His death on the cross, in our place, and His resurrection in glory are the reason we are becoming new people. We should be careful to express this as we share our stories. 

7> LET JOY SHINE THROUGH

Joy is a universal language. If we talk about God’s work in our lives, the amazing changes we are experiencing, and the relationship we have with Jesus, but do so without joy, we will send the wrong message. Knowing the Father, walking with Jesus, and being filled with the Holy Spirit should bring a flow of joy that is visible and contagious.

This is not to say that we should paste on a fake smile and blurt, “Praise the Lord,” at the end of every sentence. It means the joy of the Lord is evident in our lives, even in the tough times. When the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is growing in our lives, people will see it. Joy is always part of our story, because we know Jesus, the Author of joy. 

EVERYONE HAS A STORY – Part Two

We are looking at the fact that everyone has a story to tell. You have a testimony. In fact, you have a number of testimonies because God is at work in your life on a daily basis. Last time we saw:

1> ASK FOR PERMISSION AND DON’T BE PUSHY.                                                   2> USE ORDINARY LANGUAGE

Let’s continue and look at two more points briefly…

3> START BRIEFLY AND SHARE MORE AS IT BECOMES APPROPRIATE

A short testimony is almost always better than a long one. Rather than telling your life story, try sharing just one experience with God or one event that led you to faith. Then you can always ask, “Could I share a little more about my relationship with Jesus?”

This question gives listeners a natural opportunity to enter into the conversation or to let you know that they have heard enough for now. If it looks like a conversation is winding down, make sure they know the door is open to talk at any time. 

In his book “Just Walk Across the Room,” Bill Hybels encourages believers to develop the discipline of sharing a brief testimony. He suggests trying to share your story in one hundred words of less. It’s doable!

When the door is open to share a testimony, do it with clarity and boldness, but keep it brief. It could lead to questions and deeper discussion. But be careful not to launch into a fifteen-minute story that feels and sounds like a sermon.

4> HIGHLIGHT GOD’S PRESENCE AND POWER

As you tell your story, make sure God is central. A testimony in not so much about us as it is about the presence and power of the God who is alive in us. One way people will see God in this world is through His power manifested in us.

Some Christians may warn you not to tell “strange and fanciful stories” that will freak people out. I agree. But if God has moved in your life in a powerful way, don’t be shy to talk about it. Has Jesus brought you healing? Have you been delivered from an addiction or bad habit? Has the Holy Spirit given you a clear leading? All of these stories can be part of your testimony. People want to know if this God you say is real has power to move in this world. If you have seen His power, tell the story.

Testimonies are about declaring that the presence of Jesus is real. As Christians, we are not playing religion or just going to church events. We have met the living God, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and Jesus is our closest friend. We can talk with confidence about how we experience the presence of God in our lives, in the hard times and in the good times. 

When people hear us affirm God’s power and presence, they know we are serious about our faith. They might not agree with us, but they can’t deny our personal faith is authentic. 

EVERYONE HAS A STORY – Part One

Christians don’t have just one story or testimony; we have many. Our testimonies are stories of God’s power and presence in our lives. Every new day brings fresh stories of God’s goodness and grace. 

Years ago I read Rebecca Pippert’s book “Out of the Saltshaker” on witnessing to others about Jesus. She wrote, “Every Christian has a personal story to tell … God has called you to be a very specific, very special person, and your story, your life, is a testimony to God’s goodness, his grace, his forgiveness. So share who you are with people. Let them know you have struggles, but that God has made a difference.”

In the Scriptures, we read about a woman at the well whom Jesus spoke to about salvation. So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’”   (John 4:28-29)

Your story can be a changed relationship where Jesus has brought forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing between you and an important person in your life. It can be about finding a new purpose in life and that life is not ‘live…die…end of story. It can be how you overcame, with God’s help, living in fear and are now walking in faith and freedom. 

Followers of Jesus don’t have one testimony; we have many. Because God is active and working in our lives, we have new stories to tell every day. These stories, or testimonies, recount how God is present and powerful. Every time God works in your life; every time He moves in your circumstances and situation; every time He shows you a new truth and gives you a new understanding – you have another testimony or story to tell. God moves, works, and transforms lives and, as He does, you have more to share about His presence and power in your life. So, your story should always be fresh and current.

In some situations your testimony will be a recounting of how you first became a follower of Jesus. At other times it will be a story about how God is at work in your life today. No matter what kind of testimony your share, there are a number of things you need to remember.

1> ASK FOR PERMISSION AND DON’T BE PUSHY

If you have a sense that the door is open to share a testimony, first ask for permission. “Would you mind if I told you a little about a way God has changed my life?” Or, “I’d like to tell you how I first came to have a relationship with Jesus. Would that be alright with you?” 

We honour people and show them respect when we allow them to tell us whether they are ready to enter into this new level of conversation.

2> USE ORDINARY LANGUAGE

The longer we follow Jesus and the more time we spend with other Christians, the more sensitive we need to be about our language when we tell our story of faith. We can’t and shouldn’t assume nonbelievers will know what we mean when we refer to sin, redemption, grace, or dozens of other wonderful words. These terms, and others like them, are rich and helpful when believers are talking together. But when we share a testimony with those who are not born again, it is best to assume that others won’t know these terms and to use plain language. 

The Fifth Step Of Effective Outreach

We have been looking at reaching out to others as a way of life. Jesus called us to “be” a witness for Him and not just to “do” witnessing. So, our lifestyle, our words, our attitude, our actions must all reflect Him and help others to know the love of God as found only in Christ Jesus.

I took the liberty of using the word ‘faith’ and letting each letter stand for a comment about effective outreach. So far we have seen:
F = Find someone to talk to. God is giving you opportuneness daily to touch lives with His love
A = Assume that they like you. To do this you must first like you and then give others opportunity to come to know and like you
I = Initiate conversation freely, frequently, and naturally. Be authentic – people can quickly spot a phoney T = stands for “transition the talk to Jesus.”

The “H” is that we need to “Honour the soul you desire to reach.” We need to recognize that we are not out selling Jesus to potential customers who may or may not want to purchase Him. We are not trying to build a networking scheme or collecting notches on our Gospel gun. We are out to rescue souls and lives that are made in God’s image but that are lost, alone, and without God in the world. It is about placing a high value on the price that Christ paid to win the lost and realize that there must be something so valuable to God about each soul we seek to reach.

Regardless of how riddled with sin, struggle or dysfunction a person may be, we seek to redeem and honour the soul God has called us to reach. The best way to “honour” someone is to share with them the way, the truth and the life Jesus offers. Compassionate conversations, of course, help us to do just this.

So, the question is: When the opportunity to be a witness comes your way, will you be ready to respond to it in FAITH?

The Fourth Step Of Effective Outreach

We are looking at one way of reaching out effectively to those who are close to us – family, friends, work associates. We have been looking at the word ‘faith’ using the letters to head up our outline for this short series of teaching blogs.
F = Find someone to talk to. God is giving you opportuneness daily to touch lives with His love
A = Assume that they like you. To do this you must first like you and then give others opportunity to come to know and like you
I = Initiate conversation freely, frequently, and naturally. Be authentic – people can quickly spot a phoney

The “T” in the word ‘faith’ stands for “transition the talk to Jesus.” I had a mentor for many years who taught me how to do this. He also said that if you have not done this in the first 20 minutes of a conversation you won’t manage to do it no matter how long you continue to talk with the person. I have found this to be true now over many, many years.

To move the conversation towards Jesus you need to realize that outreach is not an argument, it is a conversation that always ends in an invitation. In sharing our faith it is important to remember that we are called to be witnesses, not prosecuting attorneys. We are witnesses to what Jesus has done for us and what He has done for the whole world through His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Sharing Jesus with people involves sharing His grace and truth with them. Compassionate conversation often creates a place where people del free to share their challenges, their struggles, and their needs. These become opportunities not only to share Christ, but to practice His ways of love, concern, and healing in serving.

This step means we are focusing on Jesus as He is the only genuine focus of Christian outreach. We are simply witnesses to Him and to what He has done for us and for the whole world. The most essential part of that kind of conversation is not found in your eloquence, but rather in our sincerity and passion.

Of course, you will need to be able to present the Gospel of the Kingdom in a number of ways. Then you have more than one canned or packaged method of sharing the good news. I learned a new one (I have over 20 ways to present the Gospel) the other day. Let me share it (it is not mine originally but I am adopting it)…
Jesus says:
I’m going to leave my place
I’m going to come to your place
I’m going to take your place
And then we are going to go back to my place!

Tht’s great isn’t it. It is so simple and easy to remember. It is clear and avoids all the religious Christianese we often use to explain the good news. You can use it with any person regardless of their age. I have found that the simplest ways of sharing Christ are always the best way. An entire conversation about the gospel can be wrapped around those four simple statements.

The Third Step Of Effective Outreach

We are looking at the word “faith” and examining the five basic steps to effective outreach so we can better tell others about Jesus and His offer of salvation and new life. We have looked at the first two letters:
“F” stands for Find someone to talk to – watch for opportunities the Lord is giving to you
“A” stands for Assume they like you – we are called to love our neighbours as we love ourselves

Today – Let’s look at the “I” in the word ‘faith.’ The “I” stands for Initiate conversations freely, frequently and naturally.

People today are good at sniffing out times when they are being played or manipulated. They want things to be natural and authentic – including relationships and conversations. Authenticity in our outreach conversations is perceived by others through our genuine compassion drawn from the example of Jesus.

So, to engage someone in a conversation about Jesus we need to really care about the person and not just see them as a target for your gospel presentation. You need to genuinely care for them because God does. Once people know you care, the best tool I know for initiating conversations is asking powerful and sincere questions. A few weeks back I was out with a small group of young high school teens and I asked one of them what he thought happened after death – and what would happen to him after he died. I sincerely wanted to know. And, he openly shared his thoughts and beliefs even though it was the first conversation we had ever had.

Jesus used questions all the time – no less than 12 times in the Sermon on the Mount alone. The questions we use with others communicate the level of interest we have in them. And one of the things many people find quite irresistible is genuine interest. Dale Carnegie once said, “You’ll gain more friends in three minutes by getting interested in others than you will in three years of trying to get them interested in you. In order to be interesting, you must be interested.” The apostle Paul said something similar when he told the Philippian Christians to “put the interest of others before your own interests.” (Philippians 2:4).

The truth is that while a good question can open a conversation, a great question can open a soul. Effective outreach flows best from the lives and voices of those who are genuinely interested in others, from those who care the most.

So, be sincerely interested in others and initiate conversations freely, frequently and naturally.

The Second Step Of Effective Outreach

We looked at the “F” in the word “faith” as we began our journey into becoming effective as living witnesses for Jesus. Witnessing is more than living a life that Jesus would be proud of. It always involves more than lifestyle – it must involve vocalizing the Gospel so that people hear the Gospel of the Kingdom.

We saw that the “F” stands for ‘find someone’ and we do this on a daily basis and intentionally. I missed an opportunity early yesterday morning when taking my car in for servicing. I needed a ride back to my office and so asked for one. The man behind the counter asked, “Where are you going?” and I told him where my office was. Instead, I should have said, “I’m heading for Heaven in the long term, but today I need to get to my office….” Never mind, tomorrow is another day.

The “A” in ‘faith’ stands for – ASSUME THEY LIKE YOU.

This is often the most difficult hurdle to overcome. However, the Bible states in the Great Commandment that we “are to love your neighbour as you love yourself.” So, if you don’t like and actually love yourself you will never believe or imagine that others could like you. Thus you are immediately defeated. If you can actually like who you are and believe that you are likeable (at least on your good days) then you can overcome the fear, hesitation, and reluctance about engaging people in a conversation about the Lord that often prevents us from opening our mouth.

Charles Stanley, a Baptist pastor, states, “In order to win people to Christ, you need to know how to win them to yourself.”

This step is really believing in the possibilities of actually reaching out and winning someone to the Lord. Too often we do just the opposite, don’t we? We doubt ourselves and question whether people will be open to us and to what we have to ask and say. Isn’t it better to assume that people will actually like you? Get that thought worked into your mind and keep it there. Give people around you the chance to know and engage you in conversation and friendship. This will require that you be real and authentic.

Church Swindoll puts it this way” “Know who you are. Like who you are. Be who you are!”

Remember, witnessing is not just something that you do – rather, a witness is someone you have become. It is a part of your identity.

The First Step of Effective Outreach

To reach out effectively today we need to remember five things. They can be formed into an acrostic for the word “faith” with each point beginning with the letters in the word. This is good because it reminds us that to be an effective witness we need to step out in faith and simply obey the command of the Lord Jesus to “go into all the world and make disciples…”

The “F” stands for – FIND SOMEONE

The first step of effective outreach, both personally and as a church community, is about seeing the opportunities of outreach all around us. We simply need to find someone in our lives to engage in conversation each and every day. This conversation should be about Christ. To do this we need to slow down our pace and make the time to see the opportunities that the Lord is giving to us and that the Holy Spirit has prepared for us.

As we slow our busy schedules and minds enough to see – really see – the people God has placed around us, we soon find that there are so many of them: people at work, people at school, at stores where we shop, in our families, in our neighbourhoods and so many other places – people who need Jesus. But for God to notice people, the people of God may simply need to notice them. Developing this kind of compassionate eye-sight that Jesus had involves praying for these people and asking God to open our eyes and hearts more fully to their needs.

Remember: Talk to God about them before you talk to them about God.

Remember: They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Effective outreach always starts with slowing down and seeing the people around us who need to be reached for Christ. Then our prayers and our faith have a focus. Each day find that certain someone who you can share the love of God with. They are there waiting for you.