Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What next?

So what do you do about an emotional barrier to faith once you've identified one?

So let's assume for a moment that you've had a relationship with a friend for long enough that you have started sharing with each other deeply.  And along the way, you start talking about how your faith has affected your life, and you start hearing stories from your friend about what he thinks and feels about faith.  Maybe it comes out in stories of things he remembers from church as a child.  Maybe it comes out in stories he tells about his father, who went to church all his life but didn't really live it at home.  Because of these things, you see he's skeptical about whether faith is really real in anyone's life.  He's been hurt by the church and by the faith of his father, and he just can't get past it.  What do you do?

Do you have a rational conversation, explaining that all Christians are not hypocrites?  Do you go through the Biblical truth about sin and salvation?

For me, neither of those approaches has been relevant or helpful.  Instead, I'd suggest a few other ideas.

First, I think it's important to engage in active listening.  One of the most difficult things about emotions and emotional barriers is that they're difficult to identify.  We don't necessarily talk about the world in emotional terms, and we often don't like to admit that emotions are driving many of our decisions.   Many times we can't really explain what we're feeling because we were never taught the language to use to describe different emotions.  One thing you can do for your friends is to listen carefully to what they are saying and reflect it back.  Sometimes it's amazing what can happen when you simply articulate back to someone something that he said.  Once they have words to describe what they're feeling and feel like their feelings have been validated, they're often able to interact with it in a different way.

But there are times when a person is not articulating any emotional barriers or anything that you can identify as emotional.  In situations like that, sometimes you just have to pray and ask the Spirit to show you what's going on in their hearts.  Many times he will and this will open up opportunities for you to articulate those things or reflect those things back to the person.

Eventually though, you get to a point where you seem to have reflected back pretty much everything that the person has expressed to you, and there's not really anywhere else to go.  They're not at a point where they're ready to really look for knowledge of God.  Once people get to that point, it seems like the next thing they generally need is to be connected with a group of people who are following Jesus.  They need to see authentic faith lived out by different personalities and within a group.  It's at times like these that I start inviting my friends to hang out with my Christian friends.  When I don't have a Christian group to invite them to, then I start praying that God would bring other Christians in their lives.  He is amazingly faithful to do that because he loves them so much more than I do, and he's the one who is pursuing them.

And then, finally, there usually comes a point when people are ready to seek more information about God.  At that point in my relationships I have begun to invite people to my house to go through the Encounter Jesus stories.  You could also invite someone to do a more formal Bible study or to come to church.  It kind of just depends on the person.  But this is where the stories of God and the stories of how God has impacted your life begin to make sense and bear fruit in another person's life.

So this is the general ebb and flow that I've noticed in my relationships with people who may have started out hostile toward God and eventually chose to follow them.   What point in the process do you think your friends are at?  Do you have a group of Christians that you would want to invite your other friends to know?  How might you begin to think and plan now for how you would share the information about God that a person moving toward faith would need?

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