I couldn’t possibly write an Elders’ letter this month without at least making reference to that amazing night in Madrid on June 1st and Liverpool FC’s historic sixth Champions League trophy. Non-football fans…please don’t switch off!
Of course, I celebrated wildly after the full-time whistle as Liverpool had beaten Tottenham 2-0. The friends who watched the game with me were probably a little bit fed up by my smugness but as we watched the coverage on the television of various players celebrating on the pitch, something caught my eye.
As different players were draped in the flag of their national team and others had scarves wrapped around their head, my attention was drawn to Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker. He had removed his goalkeeper jersey and had swapped it for a white T shirt with a simple message on it, clearly written in marker pen. The shirt simply said, ‘cross = love’. It was plain to see and couldn’t be mistaken - this was clearly a case of the player taking a pre-planned opportunity to share his faith on the biggest of world stages, after all it is reported that 400 million viewers tuned in across the globe. Throughout the whole trophy presentation, he was right there at the front of the group clearly displaying his message on the T-shirt. This of course isn’t the first time that a footballer has taken the opportunity to share their faith on the world stage, but it really got me thinking about how often I take the opportunity in my life to share about Jesus when it is presented to me.
In the book of Colossians, Paul is clear when writing to the Christians in Colossae that they should ‘make the most of every opportunity’ (Colossians 5:5) to share their faith with others throughout their lives. Again, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul urges Timothy not to be afraid of his testimony (2 Tim 1:8). There is a clear call to Christians in the New Testament to take every opportunity to share their faith with others, not only that but to do it with boldness, confidence and expectation that God will use the opportunity to bring others into a relationship with him.
This is a challenging thought. Imagine all of the opportunities you have to share your faith with other people, the work place, the school gate, social media, family gatherings, sitting on the bus, at the supermarket… the list goes on and on! Thinking about all of these opportunities, I am challenged to think about how many times I actually take the chance to share my faith with others. Often, I’m too busy in my own world to even think about taking the opportunity to speak to others. I’m not saying that every conversation needs to be about Jesus - we need to be real of course - what I am saying is that we should all be looking for those situations to share our faith with others. Quite a lot of people are actually interested when they find out you are a Christian. I had a conversation a few weeks back with a gentleman who was shocked to hear about someone in his 20s choosing to follow Jesus. To use his words ‘isn’t the church just for old people?’. It is a bit of a myth to say that people don’t want to discuss faith issues - that simply isn’t my experience for the most part.
I have loved going through Nicky Gumbel’s bible in one year again this year. (If you have never done it, let me encourage you, it has an app and everything!) Over the last few weeks I have been studying the book of Acts as part of this. I was reminded of the fascinating story in Acts 16 of Paul and Silas’ time spent in prison in Philippi.
Let me quickly set the scene for you: Paul and Silas had been travelling around different places preaching the news about Jesus, which had led to a few difficult situations, but many, many conversions. Lives were literally being transformed every single day, God was clearly on the move! This angered some people within the city as their comfortable, albeit sinful, lives were suddenly being affected. This resulted in Paul and Silas being stripped and beaten with rods by a crowd before being thrown into prison.
Now, this would be enough to put anyone off sharing their faith ever again! Paul and Silas, however, are completely undeterred and actually ended up singing hymns and praying loudly within the prison. The bible says that the other prisoners were listening intently to them. Towards the end of the story we also see the prison guard giving his life to Jesus and being baptised along with his whole household! – What a story!
If I wasn’t challenged before, I am certainly challenged now! What we see is an amazing example of continuing to use every opportunity to glorify God and share about him, however unpleasant that opportunity may be! Now the reality is that most of us won’t end up having to share our faith in prison, but we will have many many other opportunities - it is up to us to take these chances.
It isn’t just about taking the opportunities either, it is also about being active and aware enough to look for them. There are so many situations that I find myself in where the conversation naturally moves towards an opportunity to mention Jesus that are lost because I am not aware enough of them! My advice would be to pray throughout your day-to-day for God to open opportunities up. Pray for an awareness of these opportunities but also wisdom to know when it is right to speak about Jesus and when maybe it isn’t.
There is also something important about being prepared for these conversations. In 1 Peter 3:15 it tells us to always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks about God. Are you prepared? I think of countless times when people have asked me why I’m a Christian and I have given some half-baked answer that I just came up with on the spot. If only I had prepared, how much better it could have been!
The way to be prepared is to grow in your understanding of God and who he is. That way you can be clearer to people when they ask you about him - you can give answers that are based on what the Bible says about God. The more you grow in that understanding, the deeper in love you fall with Jesus, and the deeper in love with Jesus you are the more passionate you are going to be to talk about him to others.
So, Summer is here and you may be going away soon or taking time off with family and friends. This is my challenge for this month, take inspiration from Alisson Becker and take your opportunity to share your faith! Look for these opportunities, it could be someone you meet by the pool on holiday, it could be an old friend you run into. Whoever it is, wherever the opportunity comes, be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in you - you never know where it might lead! Imagine what our upcoming Alpha Course will look like if everyone one of us takes an opportunity to share our faith.
The age old question of whether Christmas gets earlier each year. Perhaps it points to something deeper than we think.