Before we ask how or what we are supposed to do, we must ask why. Why do we interact with the world? Why are we on mission? Questions like these can be dangerous because they can bring clarity--life-changing clarity. I experienced it myself in a powerful way two years ago. The Spirit used a question to change my life.
It happened in May of 2011 while I was visiting my friend, Seth McBee, in the Seattle area during a Soma School. Seth and I spent one day in Seattle just walking and talking while he showed me the sights.
Seth was already familiar with the "dangerousness" of asking the right question at the right time. Asking the Spirit, "What's next?" has been as life altering for Seth as it has for me (read more about Seth's experience in this GCD article). However, there was a question I needed wrestle with before I even got to "what's next?" I needed to struggle with the question: "Why am I interacting with the world?"
It's a question that asks "Why am I missionary?” You see, the "what's next?" question is about how and it is a good question. Before the "how" we must ask the "why". Two years ago I thought I had a pretty good answer for why I was a missionary. My answer was to make disciples for God's glory. Pretty decent answer, right? At least it sounds right.
Two Christians Walk into a Muslim’s Smoke Shop
Seth and I’s trip to Seattle had took us to Capitol Hill in search of a cigar shop. We walk into a smoke shop owned by a Pakistani Muslim and engage in conversation with the owner. Quickly our conversation moves from business to religion as the shop owner shares his views about who God is and what we have to do to be right with him. Neither Seth or I say much of anything, we just listen. While the owner shares lots of rules with us, another customer comes in to buy a pack of cigarettes but stays to eavesdrop on our conversation. Seth looks to him and asks, "What do you think about all of this?" Keith, the tall, African-American man with dreadlocks says, "Man, I just don't know how you guys go on like that. Why do you keep trying to convince people about God? I'm Native American and think you guys cause more problems trying to convert people than if you lived at peace, man. Besides, how do we even know if there is a God?"
Before Seth or I could respond, the shop owner began to explain the evidence he had as a Muslim of why there is a God. He used lots of arguments we've heard before and drew upon his own experience. As he was sharing, I watched the newest member of our conversation, Keith, listen and look completely disinterested. It was as if he had heard it before and was totally unmoved. His reply was something like, "So, I've gotta believe that this God I can't see is real so that I can obey his commands and be accepted by him?"
I could sense the Spirit challenging me at that moment. "Gino, does your telling others about me sound like this? Does it sound like a burden to people or does my gospel look and sound like good news to the people around you? Are you pointing to God’s commands or God’s love?” Conviction came over me like a cold shower. I was speechless.
Immediately after the conviction was my repentance to God. "Forgive me Father. Please, I don't want to burden people. I want to show them the hope found in you. I want them to find joy in the gospel. Spirit, show me how to do that."
All of this happened quickly as if time stopped around me because the next thing I heard was Seth's response to our new friend. It went something like this:
"What if we weren't trying to convert you or anyone else but just loved you regardless of your beliefs? What if we just loved you and others because we've been loved by God and want you to see what he is like?"
Keith had a wide smile on his face and the look of happy disbelief. "Well, I guess we'd hang out a lot and get to know each other," he said.
"Yep," Seth replied, "we could have meals together and just share life without any barriers."
Keith said he had to run and thanked us as he left. I'm really not sure if the questions had much of a lasting impact on him or not, but they opened my eyes.
What if we didn’t try to Convince People?
The rest of the afternoon, I must have driven Seth crazy, because I just kept thinking and saying, "We don't try to convert people, we just show them what the Father is like." I may have heard those words before but I had never heard those words before.
God is so gracious and faithful to teach us. He didn't just leave me convicted that I was in danger of burdening others rather than sharing good news. Instead, he met me there and used my brother to provide an answer for why we are missionaries: we aren't here to convert people, that's the Spirit's work. We are here to show the world what God is like through our words and our actions.
Please read that again. Let the words be an encouragement to your soul. If you, like I had been, are stuck trying to convince people of who God is and what Jesus has done, relax. Let these words ease your burden and remind you of your job description. We aren't here to convert people but to show them what God is like. The Spirit opens blind eyes to reveal the glory of the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). We show people what God is like through both demonstration and proclamation. We show our neighbors the gospel is real by experiencing it ourselves. There is great freedom in this! The heavy weight of trying to do more to convince more people of the truth is gone. That weight isn't ours to carry anyway. Jesus says,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. -- Matt. 11:28-30
The work of a missionary is hard. Actually, impossible apart from the Spirit. Yet with the Spirit, this same hard work is filled with joy because the burden of "success" is carried by Jesus.
The Pressure is Off with the Gospel
The pressure is off when we make disciples in the Spirit's power. We are filled with God's love and we allow it to flow into others’ lives. We are freed up to enjoy people and love them rather than struggle to change them. Gone is the desire to control their beliefs and behavior. Gone is the pressure to convince them that God's ways are best. In its place is the desire to love them because we are convinced God's ways are best!
I said it before, questions are dangerous. They can lead to conviction and clarity which will necessitate change. God used the simple questions of my friend to call me to dramatic change as a follower of Jesus. If you are ready to see some Spirit-led change in your life, consider the question, "What if we aren't here to convert people but to show them what God is like?" Then, ask the Spirit, "What's next?" Watch the Spirit do his work. In your heart. In your family. In your neighborhood. All the while, praise God for it all.
Gino Curcuruto is a disciple of Jesus, husband to Jill, and father of four. He is a chiropractor by trade and missionary by calling. Gino enjoys making disciples in the everyday: at home, at work, on the block, and within the church. Twitter: @ginoc
Read Proclaiming Jesus by Tony Merida.