Last month I talked about the importance of having relationships with those within our faith community. The benefits are incredible. You have people to encourage you when times get tough, to correct you when you go astray, to love you when you don’t feel worthy of love, to support you when you cannot stand on your own. As we receive (which sometimes takes humility) these amazing gifts from our fellow believers we are equally called to extend them as well to other Christians. Ideally, being a part of a congregation of people who are believers in our savior Jesus Christ can draw us closer to each other and to the one we serve.
But Jesus also calls us to be in relationship with those who do not believe in him. As we seek to be more like Christ, we study the word of God for behaviors to mimic in our own lives. We find Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners in Matthew 9:10. Jesus associated with people who needed him even at the rebuke of the religious elite.
In Mark 9:12-13 we see Jesus responding to the Pharisees. “…Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
In John 4 we see Jesus speaking to a Samaritan woman, a woman despised by the Jews because of her ethnicity. He spoke to her in the same way he would talk to his Christian brothers and sisters, with empathy and truth. Something beautiful happened following this encounter. A spark began in the Samaritan woman who then shared her experience only to return with others who wanted to learn from Him. He stayed two days with people, whom the Jews of Jesus’ day would have found completely disgusting and avoided at all costs. But we rejoice as we read the Samaritans response to Jesus found in John 4:42, “They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.'” Because Jesus entered into a single conversation with a sinner, many of the Samaritans from that town believed.
We know God’s desire is for all to know Him and Jesus gave us some great examples to learn from. He met people where they were. We each need to examine the opportunities around us to do the same. For me it used to be a lot easier. Working in a factory I was surrounded by unbelievers. I worked with them, conversed with them, talked their language. I was a part of their culture. I made myself available and open in order to form a relationship. I was able to see God do wonderful things at Bendix. I would love to hear how you are reaching out in your workplace.
If you find it difficult to start conversations like I once did, try to find some common ground with those around you. Are they listening to a song you know? Do they have a T-shirt worth asking about from a 5K or softball league? Sometimes observations don’t do it and you may need to just jump in without having a starting point. If you start to stumble you can always talk about the weather. Any way you start just continue to build the relationships. And if you are following Jesus, people will see your honesty and integrity and you can begin to share with them that you are the way you are because of who you follow.
I now work among people who believe in Jesus, so my sphere of influence on unbelievers does not come from work. Are you in a similar situation? If so, we need to look elsewhere to enter into relationships. Even if you can build relationships at work here are some additional suggestions on ways to reach out. We can connect with people through our extracurricular events (sports, scrapbooking, sewing, book clubs, etc.) or with other parents at our children/grandchildren’s events.
This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In Matthew 28 Jesus tells his disciples “all authority in heaven and earth have been given to me” and the next thing he says is “go.” Go and form relationships with people. Go and influence the world for Jesus. And the promise after this is Matthew 28:20b, “and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus tells us to make that first step because he has all authority and power. Then he says once you take that first step, rely on me. You are not doing this alone, the most powerful being in the universe is on your side. Be encouraged and go out and form purposeful relationships to bring Jesus to more people.