I don’t like it when God is shoved in my face.
Once, as a freshman in college, I was innocently walking across campus when two girls appeared out of nowhere. They must have said “hello” or something – I mean, surely – but all I remember is an abrupt and aggressive invitation to their Bible study.
I was confused. These girls didn’t know me at all. They didn’t know that I was a former youth group president, or that I already had plans to go to seminary. Forget all that – they didn’t even know my name.
“No thanks,” I said. “But I’m going to a Bible study tomorrow night. Want to come with me?”
And… they walked away.
Looking back on this story, I feel pretty sure those girls had good intentions. But their poor execution left me feeling kind of ticked off and insulted. And I’m a Christian; how would it make a non-Christian feel to be confronted like that?
Exactly. That’s why I don’t like God being shoved in my face, or anyone else’s. I bet you don’t, either.
So how do we share our faith with others?
Because we do have to share our faith. Jesus’ parting words to his disciples in Matthew included the commission to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). That ain’t gonna happen by being really, really nice to people and hoping they figure it out on their own. We’ll have to say something at some point to invite them to Christ.
Those of us who dislike confrontational, scare-tactic evangelism can feel tempted to not say anything about Christ at all. But remember, it’s not that we dislike offering people Christ – it’s that we dislike the shove-it-in-your-face approach. So let’s find another way, shall we?
Another way that is excellently modeled by Paul.
Paul is in Athens. The people there are smart and intellectually curious. Think of it like a college town where there’s a high population of professors and students. What Paul sees there deeply bothers him:
It’s full of idols.
The people are worshiping these pretend gods instead of the one true God… and our God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:4-6). So Paul begins to argue with them in the marketplace. He argues with the Epicureans, who believed that life comes from chance not from God. He argued with the Stoics, who were hard-core rationalists and believed the deity was in all things. All this arguing sounds stressful and confrontational to me; but remember, he’s in Athens. He’s acting like Socrates. He knows his audience, folks who “would spend their time in nothing but hearing or telling something new” (Acts 17:21).
See? This is already better than, “Hey, come to my Bible study.”
When Paul was walking around town inspecting all these idols, one in particular grabbed his attention. It was inscribed, “To an unknown god.” This is a light bulb moment for Paul; I imagine him running back to the marketplace to use it in the verbal sparring they love so much.
“I know you’re religious,” he tells them. “Look at all the gods you have! And there’s even one for a god as-yet unknown. Well let me tell you: I know that God. God is the God that made all things, the God too big to be held in a tiny human-made shrine. God is the God that made all of us in his image – not the other way around. God is the God that will judge the world one day through Jesus, the one that perfectly embodied his image. This is the God you didn’t know, but were looking for all along.”
In other words: Paul simply points out where he sees God. Paul didn’t bring God to them, as though God hadn’t been present in Athens before this apostle-to-the-Gentiles arrived. Neither does Paul keep cruising past Athens, not saying anything, hoping they’ll figure it out on their own. He serves as a kind of holy tour guide, helping them to understand what they see.
When I went to visit the Holy Land – Israel and Palestine – we had a tour guide named Deeb. Deeb equipped all 35 of us with earbuds that connected to his microphone. Everywhere we went, Deeb’s voice would jump straight into our heads and tell us about things we would have otherwise missed. “See that gap in the mountains? That’s the trail Jesus would have taken to Nazareth from here.” “See that basin? It’s almost certain Jesus once washed his hands in there before going to synagogue.” “See that crumbling circle of rocks? That was Peter’s mother-in-law’s house…”
God was most certainly already present in the places we visited. But we would have missed so many God moments if Deeb hadn’t explained what we were seeing. He was our holy tour guide.
This is one of the best ways we can share our faith with others. We seldom do it as literally as a Holy Land tour guide. More often, the Holy Spirit is helping us see where God is at work… and we get the blessing of pointing that out to others. Like Paul recognizing the “unknown” idol as the One True God. He didn’t read that in a history book; he got that from the Holy Spirit.
We don’t have a lot of idols around here, though, so maybe that’s a tough model to follow. Fortunately, the best example I can think of draws on something we have plenty of here in Andrews: mountains.
I started backpacking with Wilderness Trail when I was in high school. At that point I was already very serious about my faith, already confident I was called to vocational ministry of some sort. I already had friends who weren’t Christian and was struggling with exactly how to share my faith in a way that wasn’t, well… shoving God down their throats.
During my weeks of backpacking with Wilderness Trail I noticed two things happening that amazed me. 1: The staff shared God with us in a very clear, almost undeniable way. 2: It did not feel at all like shoving God down our throats. They weren’t trying to scare us with threats of hell or pressure us to come down to the altar. It all felt very… natural.
This natural-but-powerful way of sharing Christ was a big part of what drew me to stay involved with Wilderness Trail. As I entered college I weaseled my way into a summer staff position. As a leader I became more aware of exactly what it was this organization was doing that made the ministry so effective. In short, I realized that I was a holy tour guide.
In the evenings we gathered around the campfire and did this very intentionally. I told the story of Moses and his discovery of holy ground in front of the burning bush. Then I asked the teenage hikers to share their own holy grounds from the day. “Where have you seen God?” I asked. Sometimes these are simple things, as they can be in life: a deer spotted, a Pop Tart shared. Sometimes they were more intricate and unexpected: a brokenness healed, a challenge overcome.
But a good holy tour guide doesn’t work for just one hour out of twenty-four. All throughout the day I found easy opportunities to point out God at work. We’d stop at the top of a mountain, the wind cooling down our sweaty bodies. As we took in the view, I had an easy opportunity to play tour guide. I could say something like, “Can’t you imagine God speaking these mountains into being?” Or maybe: “The hike up here would have been miserable without you guys telling jokes the whole way. Isn’t it cool how God gave us each other?”
Easy, right? As easy as saying, “I know who the unknown god is you’ve been worshiping.”
But we can miss these chances to say something. We figure that it doesn’t have to be said; we get nervous at the last second and keep our mouths shut. We put it off for later (or never). The Athenians will figure out who that unknown god is eventually. The teenagers will see that mountain and think of God, surely.
But not necessarily.
We could hike right past that view with our heads mostly down, glancing up just long enough only to think, “Oh, hey, that’s pretty nice.” We could spend a whole morning miraculously encouraging each other but fail to see the miracle taking place. If someone doesn’t say something, sometime, then we could walk right past the basin Jesus washed his hands in and think nothing more than, “Looks at that old bowl.”
That’s why God calls us to be holy tour guides.
God uses us to point out when God is at work. When the sun is shining and the mountains look particularly gorgeous, we give thanks to our creator God. When things come together and some would say it’s coincidence, we say it’s God. When a prayer is answered we don’t keep that all to ourselves, but spread the word that God did something here.
But in order to point out those things, we have to see them. And they can be easy to miss, if we don’t train ourselves.
So for homework, I want you to do what we do at Wilderness Trail. At the end of every day (campfire optional) pause to remember the “holy ground” you saw. Where was God at work? In creation? In your neighbors? In your soul? Name these moments to yourself in a journal, or to your household in an evening devotion.
Do it for at least 4 days, and I promise: You’ll start to see God working more and more.
God is at work everywhere. In Athens. In Andrews. On the Appalachian Trail. Even – yes – wherever you are right now. When you see God at work, name it. Say it. Share it.
That is not shoving God in anyone’s face.
That is simply giving credit where credit is due.