Like many Christians, I struggle to find tangible ways to put my faith into action. It seems easy to follow Christ when I attend services on Sunday or meet with church fellowship groups, but it becomes much more difficult when I step into places where the people I meet don’t share my beliefs. I grew up in a Christian home and attended a Christian school where prayer requests and talking about faith were a way of life. It wasn’t until college that I first found myself surrounded by people who didn’t share my beliefs. I realized fairly quickly that my background and lack of exposure to the “non-Christian” world hadn’t prepared me to share hope in Christ with people who were skeptical or unsure of what they believed.
Last fall my wife Lisa and I decided to join a study group that would explore ways to meet God in the neighborhood and live out faith in God’s kingdom. We called ourselves the Incubator, and our goal was to come up with tangible ways to bring the hope of Jesus to our neighbors.
Through this discussion I started to see church as something far bigger than just the physical building. I began to think of church as a body of believers who were sent out into the world to share hope and be examples of God’s love. We might consider many people in the community our neighbors—the checker at the grocery store, a barista, your barber, the mail carrier, and of course those living adjacent to your home. For me, I kept coming back to the people that I spent the most time with outside of my family: my coworkers.
I began to think of church as a body of believers who were sent out into the world to share hope and be examples of God’s love.
I am fortunate to have worked in the same job with a wonderful group of people for the last five years. When I first started I felt pressure to fit in and struggled to express my beliefs. Whenever I heard about “being a light” at work, I pictured that coworker who everyone found a bit strange; someone that was never really able to be friends with their colleagues because they were focused on not being “of the world.”
After spending time with the Incubator group, however, I realized that treating my coworkers as neighbors was more powerful than proselytizing to them. I decided I’d commit myself to two things: 1) I would pray that I could engage my colleagues in conversations as friends and listen to what was going on in their lives, and 2) I would pray for the things that came up in our conversations.
I started with my carpool. These were the people I spent an hour a day, five days a week with in a confined space. That kind of proximity can lead to honesty and openness, or it can lead to a lot of complaining about your job. It was hard to break away from rehashing the work day and move to sharing our lives with each other, but I decided to just listen and ask questions. I didn’t want to be awkward or pushy, but simply to listen to what they had going on. And soon I became very close to this group. I prayed for more conversations, and God had no problem granting this prayer request.
I never had a negative reaction from telling someone that I would pray for them…the only reactions I ever got were ones of graciousness and thanks.
I think a lot of the people I interacted with at work didn’t have anyone in their lives to be open with, and all kinds of things came to the surface—illnesses, miscarriages, crumbling marriages. The veneer of professional life was wearing away as the stresses of personal life bubbled to the surface. For each issue, I was able to pray for the person or situation. At first, I kept this to myself, but as more opportunities came up, I became more open with these neighbors. I listened to their stories and was able to tell them that I would be praying for them. Sometimes I asked permission, and sometimes I just said that I would do it. The first time I verbalized this, I was terrified at what the reaction might be. Would they think I was creepy? Would they say no? Would they never want to talk to me again? That never happened. I never had a negative reaction from telling someone that I would pray for them. In fact, the only reactions I ever got were ones of graciousness and thanks.
I believe that sometimes Christians think that because other people don’t go to church or profess faith, they must be hostile toward Jesus. My experience showed me the opposite.
By sharing hope in Jesus with those who don’t follow him, I was able to show his love to them. People want to know that others are there to listen, and even if they don’t follow God or are unsure if he really exists, they like the idea that someone they know does believe and claims his love for them.