Make Disciples (5)
Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” John 4.10
A teaching moment begins when we – who are called to be witnesses and make disciples – discern an opportunity, under the prompting of God’s Spirit, to engage a conversation with someone around us. Teaching moments can arise with other disciples, providing us opportunities to encourage and edify our fellow believers. Or they can crop up with an unbelieving friend, neighbor, or co-worker, as an open door for bringing Jesus to their attention.
Not all such opportunities will result in a teaching moment. But they will be more likely to if we are prepared, alert, and ready to step forward in faith and obedience. We shouldn’t simply wait around for such opportunities, but take the initiative as we are able. We don’t need to worry about everything we’ll need to say; Jesus promised His Spirit would give us the words we need, as well as the power (Lk. 12.12; Acts 1.8). Make up your mind each morning, in prayer before the Lord, that you will be available as He leads to launch into every opportunity to bear witness and make disciples for Jesus.
Many of the conversations we will initiate won’t last very long. That’s OK, too. Even though we don’t get beyond the step of initiation, our doing so will be an act of obedience and will equip and encourage us for the next such opportunity. Additionally, our effort may serve to affirm or encourage the person to whom we’re talking. He or she will come away knowing that we paid attention to them, are interested in what interests them, and can talk to them courteously and in a friendly manner. That kind of opening may lead to further teaching moments.
Plus, each time you exercise this conversation muscle, you grow a little stronger in it, and a little more confident in your ability to be the teacher and disciple-maker every disciple ought to be.
If we succeed at starting a conversation, we’ll want to let it go its natural course for a while. Don’t be too quick, especially with unbelievers, to rush into the Gospel. Pay careful attention to what your conversation partner is saying (Jms. 1.19). Ask some questions. Share an opinion. Good listeners encourage others to be active talkers, and the more a person is willing to talk with us, the more opportunities we will have for finding something to connect with, to take our conversation to the next level.
And that next level is finding some smooth way to launch the conversation into a new theater by injecting the reality of the spiritual world into the conversation.
You see how Jesus did it here. His conversation with the Samaritan woman began with water. But it didn’t settle there. After her initial response, Jesus simply mentioned that there is a “gift of God” available for any who may be interested in it. Don’t miss the strategic way that Jesus made this connection between the seen and unseen realms. First, He mentioned a “gift.” Who isn’t interested in getting something for free, something of value that might do them some good? This is as true in our day as it has ever been.
But, second, Jesus connected the idea of a gift with the mention of God. Most surveys indicate that well over 90% of Americans still believe in God, to some extent, at least. Mentioning God in a conversation, while it might momentarily startle, will not be a deal-breaker. And mentioning God in the context of a gift might be doubly piquing, especially since many people don’t think of God in terms of what He gives, but of what they suppose He demands of us.
So, the conversation is developing around, let’s say, some current political scandal (there’s usually plenty such fodder). We might say, “We are truly blessed to live in a free country – a gift of God to us through our forebears. But do you ever wonder how God looks at our nation’s politicians?” Or maybe the person is discussing some aspect of his job, which you have asked him to explain. It’s easy enough to say, “I’m grateful for my work; God is certainly good to give us so many kinds of work to do.”
Again, it’s not necessary to know where such conversations might lead. The Spirit will act in response to your obedient initiative and take it where He will. Listen for His leading, and He’ll give you the words you need.
Any and every aspect of our lives can be connected to God’s giving grace. As Paul asked, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4.7) As we learn to see every facet and aspect of our lives as a good gift from God, we will be better prepared to help others see His goodness as well, and to use any particular gift of God’s goodness as a launching pad into a teaching moment.
Alert to “launchers”
Since God is sovereign over all of life, it shouldn’t be too hard for us to find a way of connecting our conversations with some aspect of God’s relationship to the world.
William Wilberforce, the great 19th century social and religious reformer, was a master at this. He used to think up and write down what he called “launchers,” phrases he might use in imaginary conversations to connect a mundane moment to eternal truths. The more of these he wrote, the more prepared he was when a teaching moment arose. He would take whatever the conversation was, bring it into the light of God’s grace, and use it as a launcher for elevating the conversation into the spiritual realm.
It’s not a bad idea to practice this, if only in your head, as you watch the evening news, listen in on the conversations of others, talk with members of your family, prepare for your day in prayer, or read the daily paper or a website. Start a journal in which you write down phrases or questions that can connect the here and now with the realities of the then and there.
And don’t think you need to do this in every conversation. It must be smooth, natural, and in flow with the drift and mood of the conversation.
For example, in the middle of a conversation about favorite foods, you don’t want to say, “Well, enjoy them while you can, because God is going to judge you one day.” How much better to say something like, “Thank God for all this wonderful food!” By doing this you introduce a new perspective into the conversation and launch it up to a new plane, a plane where, as the Spirit continues to lead, you will be able to unfold more spiritual truths clearly as the teaching moment continues.
1. Explain the idea of a “launcher.” Give some examples that you have used or seen others use:
2. “Since God is sovereign over all of life, it shouldn’t be too hard for us to find a way of connecting our conversations with some aspect of God’s relationship to the world.” How can we become more aware of and alert to the ways God is revealing Himself in everyday situations?
3. A certain measure of fear comes in whenever we think about “launching” a conversation to the spiritual level. Why is that? Is this justified? What do we have to fear in doing this?
Next steps – Preparation: Take five minutes right now and jot down two or three “launchers” you might use in conversation with someone today. Try one out and follow the conversation as the Spirit leads. Share with a Christian friend the results of this activity, and so launch into another teaching moment with a fellow disciple.
T. M. Moore
Working Your Personal Mission Field
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.